Promises, promises

I love eBay.

It has connected me with many other entrepreneurial business people, like me and you.

And it's created a fairly well managed marketplace.

I typically only buy from sellers who have a positive feedback rating of 99% or higher. So I was surprised the other day when I had a truly bad experience with a seller who had tens of thousands of transactions and a near-100% Positive Feedback rating.

For privacy's sake, I'll change the details: I bought an iPod cover about a month ago for the impossibly low price of 99 cents. This sells at retail for $25, so I considered the item an amazing deal.

The seller promised:

What a great deal! I bought the item on a Monday and figured, with shipment on Wednesday I'd have it by Friday.

The seller went to great lengths in their listing and follow-up e-mails to stress how dedicated they are to quick shipping, near-immediate responses to inquiries, and receiving positive feedback.

Promises, promises.

First, I didn't receive shipping confirmation until five days after I paid for the item.

Second, the confirmation e-mail said the item would be shipped that same day, but it didn't ship until two days after that.

Finally, it was sent by regular US mail, not an "expedited" service, which I assumed to mean something like Priority Mail.

I guess when he said "two day turn-around" he didn't mean two consecutive days.

I wrote to the seller, and they explained that they left for a brief but unexpected family trip two weeks earlier. The seller – who ships more than 200 items daily -- left his high-volume business to a friend who promised to send everything out.

It was like Gilligan bungling the Skipper's orders on Gilligan's Island.

This is not a rant about eBay, it's a cautionary tale for any jewelry maker, whether you sell on eBay or online or not.

It IS about how to deliver on promises as a jewelry seller.

Almost all of the jewelry artists I know have other responsibilities in addition to managing their jewelry business. Many have families, other jobs, and the attendant responsibilities that those roles require.

Here are five things to help you keep your promises to customers:

1. Don't wait for an emergency to have a back-up plan. If your sudden unavailability would stop orders from being processed and mailed, have a plan in advance for ensuring that customers are notified and that the orders can be sent out, If possible.

2. Write out your fulfillment process step-by-step. Several years ago, I created a step-by-step outline of everything I do to fulfill an order. I keep this handy in case, in an emergency, I need to hand off this process to the few people who have agreed to pitch in on short notice.

3. Don't promise so much it strains you. Although most of orders I receive can be filled the same day, I don't state that on my website. That's because there are days when I'm not in the office, or leave early and can't package and mail the same day. Don't promise something that sounds good but would be impossible to do on a regular basis.

4. Exceed expectations whenever you can. You will consistently delight your customers when you deliver more than you promise. Faster turnaround, additional bonuses or gifts they didn't anticipate, and, above all, a handwritten thank you note for every order.

5. Offer multiple ways to reach you, and include those methods in each reply to inquiries. Don't offer just one way for people to contact you. Not everyone likes using e-mail, and not every e-mail reaches its intended destination. Imagine a frustrated client sends you a note that gets diverted to your junk mail folder. Now they are mad about what happened AND that you didn't answer the note they don't realize you never got. At least offer your telephone number and an e-mail address where people can reach you. On your voicemail, provide an e-mail address where people can send a note if they choose. On your e-mail auto responder, provide a telephone number if that would be a quicker way of reaching you. Either way, let EVERYONE know when they'll hear back. For example: "Thanks for your e-mail! We reply to all customer inquiries at 12 pm and 5 pm Eastern Time every business day."

The seller could have avoided what happened on eBay. Although they had an excellent reason for why things went south, they trusted someone to do the work for them without changing their standard website text and follow-up e-mails to indicate a longer turnaround time on orders.

With their high volume, I can only imagine that now -- after the fact -- they are spending five times as many hours responding to complaints as it would have taken if they had temporarily changed their promises to something they can actually deliver on during the period when he was on vacation.

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