I recently read a post on a soapmaking board about how Bramble Berry’s pricing is higher than the would be customer would like to pay. I don’t argue with customers on a regular basis, I usually stay silent when I hear comparisons about Bramble Berry’s pricing versus other, lower cost soapmaking supply providers.
But, I have a blog just so I can spout about anything that strikes my fancy. Today, talking about the true costs about running a business from a fanatical customer service standpoint, is something I want to talk back on.
Just the other day, I heard from a customer, “You’re pricing is too high!” I held my tongue when the same customer said in the next breath, “I just ordered from XYZ, and then took 6 weeks to ship my order! And they didn’t answer my 6 emails asking about the status. Can you believe their nerve?” When I politely inquired why they ordered from the other company, the response was, “Oh, they got my business because they were cheaper than you.”
Yes, and they are cheaper because….? Anyone care to venture a guess why there are cheaper soapmaking supplies out there to buy?
Customer Service. Fanatical, be-all, end-all, Herculean customer service.
Did you know that one of our very large, main competitors refuses to take phone orders anymore? I know why they don’t take phone orders. It makes perfect sense from a strictly financial perspective. And, most of their customers won’t ever know that they don’t take phone orders because, if they’re like us, 95% of their customers order online. And the 5% that don’t order online? I pay for a full time, expert soapmaker to work 8 hours a day answering their phone calls and taking that 5% of phone calls. It’s certainly not efficient from a pricing standpoint but it’s something that rings true for one of our five values statements “Be kind to our employees and customers.” Answering the phone is kind to our customers. Answering the phone raises my overall labor costs though.
That same person that answers the phone does a lot of other things for our customers too. Guess how many orders she’s taking? Maybe 5 a day. But that same person who is available to our 5% of phone ordering customers is also available to the other 95% of our customers that have product questions, technical support needs or just general toiletry making questions. We happily answer any and all phone calls, no matter how intense, long-winded or difficult. We even go so far as to make our customer’s recipes (usually 1 to 2 a week) when we cannot diagnose a problem over the phone. The 45 technical support phone calls per day plus the time and materials to test customer recipes all adds to my overhead as a business person. But the majority of our customers wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, do you want to be able to actually phone your supplier and talk to them or get the draconian “Email us, no phone calls, and by the way, we pick and choose what emails to answer and trust that you’ll figure it out on your own and eventually forget that we gave you sub par customer service.”?
We employ 3 full time staff members just to answer customer (and non-customer) emails. I’m willing to bet that most of our competitors don’t do this level of customer service support. Those 3 full time staff members literally sit in front of a computer all day, looking up orders, tracking Fed Ex packages and answering general soapmaking questions. Answering copious amounts of daily emails raises my overall labor costs. What I really love is when we get an email something like “I ordered XYZ product from your competitor. They won’t answer my emails or phone calls and so I don’t know how to use it. Can you help me?” And, in keeping with one our five values statements, “Be an industry leader,” we always try to help.
More another day on why going with the low cost provider isn’t always a great idea when you’re trying to build a soapmaking business or if you’re just a general shopper of any product on the ‘net.
Updated 2011: Bramble Berry now employs 5 full time staff members in customer service and 2 in marketing for this blog, our newsletter, our social media endeavors and SoapQueen.TV