In a relatively short time, Karen Locker has established herself as a steady, knowledgeable voice in the e-commerce industry through her former weekly podcast and, more recently, participation in Facebook's eCommerce Group. She currently sells through eBay, Amazon and Addoway, and also assists other sellers in marketing their products via multiple channels.
We talked with Locker about how she keeps customers happy—and how to keep your cool when customers just won't be satisfied. Our interview follows.
Schepp: When and where did you start selling online, and what did you sell?
Locker: Early 2008 was when I listed my first items on eBay. I had found some deli slicers and a friend taught me how to sell them on eBay. After I sold those, I realized it was a way for me to make extra money and stay home with my young children. My daughter was about 18 months old and my son was about 6-and-a-half years old.
My goal is to express that I stand behind my products, and I want my customers to be happy with their purchases
Schepp: What do you sell now?
Locker: The majority of my eBay items are Military Challenge coins with vintage collectibles I find locally, and other items I sell on consignment. I also sell on Amazon, and the majority of those items are new products I find via retail arbitrage or wholesale.
How to provide great customer service
Schepp: What would you tell newer sellers about what providing great customer service entails on eBay?
Locker: Always put yourself in the shoes of your customer. They are buying something that they have not seen or touched. Your customer service should instill trust in your buyers and show that you stand behind what you sell.
Schepp: Please tell us about your overall customer service policies, and your goal in providing them.
Locker: I offer a money-back return policy. If a buyer has a problem with an item she has purchased, she can return it for a full refund. My goal is to express that I stand behind my products, and I want my customers to be happy with their purchases.
Schepp: Over the years, are there specific strategies/policies you've learned to use to ensure a transaction goes as smoothly as possible on eBay?
Locker: I feel that during the listing process is the best time to ensure a smooth transaction. This includes making sure your images are clear, and any defects are pointed out both in images and description. I tend to keep my descriptions short, as more and more people are shopping on mobile, or scan the actual description.
I use social media to connect and interact. I still handle the majority of my customer service via emails or marketplace messaging
Customer emails should be answered as quickly as possible, and shipping within the promised handling time is important. When you create your listing, you are setting the customer expectations, and in this fast-paced world people do not have a lot of time and will move on to the next seller who can meet their expectations. So be realistic in your shipping and handling times when creating your listing.
Schepp: You are active on Twitter and Facebook. Do you use social networks to help with providing great customer service?
Locker: For me, social media networks are for connecting with others and interacting. I have very rarely used any of the social networks to either market or to handle customer service issues. I still handle the majority of my customer service via emails or marketplace messaging channels.
Dealing with problem customers
Schepp: Where do you draw the line when it comes to especially trying customers?
Locker: When working with any customer, I follow the same policy. If they are unhappy with their purchase, I offer a refund upon the return of the item. If I made a mistake, I rarely require a return and usually just offer a free refund. I realize you cannot make everyone happy, and after refunding the customer, there is really nothing else I can do.
When responding to a trying customer, I do my best to look at the situation from their perspective, and resolve it as I would like to have it resolved if the situation was reversed.
Schepp: Every seller has had his or her share of problem buyers. Can you tell us about one such experience and how you handled it well?
Locker: Honestly, I cannot think of a problem buyer for any of my own sales. However, when I was managing the customer service for another company, I had several trying buyers. I used a technique that a friend shared with me years ago: Validate their feelings, offer solutions, then empower them to make the choice and, when resolved, move on.
The tone of voice is very hard to convey via email or messages, so try not to infer emotion in a customer's message about an issue
Schepp: Did you ever wish you had handled a particular customer service challenge differently?
Locker: One time, I had a Canadian customer who purchased some vintage toys. When she expressed displeasure at the condition, rather than just acknowledge her feelings, refund and move on, I attempted to defend my description and myself, which caused a much more protracted resolution than was necessary.
Schepp: How helpful is eBay, do you think, in dealing with customer service challenges?
Locker: I feel that eBay is still working on creating a balance for both its customers: buyers and sellers. When eBay started, there was no involvement in customer service issues; then it started working on the tools for the buyers to deal with bad sellers. In the last few years, they have been adding more tools for the sellers to use to deal with bad buyers.
Schepp: What else would you like to tell readers about providing great customer service? Anything we haven't covered?
Locker: Remember, the tone of voice is very hard to convey via email or messages, so try not to infer emotion in a customer's message about an issue. It is business and, if you find yourself reacting personally to a message, take a step back and take a deep breath before responding. If something is really bothering you, ask a friend to review your response before you send it to ensure you are dealing with the issue professionally, and not as a gut reaction.
Schepp: Thank you, Karen!
Learn more about the Facebook eCommerce Group.