On December 13th Liz Gumbinner, editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks, included my personalized placemats in a Today Show segment featuring last-minute personalized gifts that could still be ordered in time for Christmas. Within 24 hours I received more than 550 orders including more than 900 placemats, which we print and laminate in-house.
My employee, Jen, and I are used to getting about 30-35 orders per day during the holiday season, which keeps us both busy working full-time. Even though I knew the week before that there was a good chance our placemats would be included in the segment, we were completely overwhelmed and unprepared for such a huge number of orders, all of which needed to be shipped within seven days so they’d arrive in time for Christmas.
For the next week we both spent almost all of our waking hours working at a frenzied pace. My husband took two days off of work to help out, and several other friends and family members pitched in as well. Miraculously we had all of the orders shipped within a week. I was thrilled with our accomplishment, but my celebration was short-lived.
I knew that with so many orders and working so late every night there would undoubtedly be some mistakes. I’d planned on handling customer complaints like I always do – cheerfully exceeding customers’ expectations and figuring out ways to make everyone happy.
What took me completely by surprise were the rude, mean, and downright nasty emails that I received from several Today Show customers (mostly due to shipping delays or misunderstandings about which items could be shipped in time for Christmas and which items could no longer be guaranteed to arrive before Christmas). I began to dread opening emails, and I really struggled to maintain a positive attitude in my responses.
Around the same time I began analyzing my 2011 sales, as I do at the end of every year. As I was looking at where my customers came from, I noticed that 37% of orders in 2011 were from repeat customers, 14% had heard about sarah + abraham from a friend, and 18% found me through Etsy. It was an “aha! moment”.
These are my people. These are the customers who understand and appreciate that sarah + abraham is a small operation, and my products are handmade. When my customers email me we speak to each other like you would to a friend. They’re (almost) always kind and respectful and a true pleasure to work with.
The Today Show was a great boost in sales and a valuable learning experience, but during that crazy rush of orders and the messy aftermath I really missed my usual customers. The experience helped me to clarify that in 2012 I want to focus even more on providing personal attention and outstanding customer service as I cultivate relationships with loyal repeat customers. I plan to be extremely picky about where I advertise and what promotions I offer (if any).
Of course I won’t turn down any great press opportunities that happen to come my way (and I’ll be much better prepared the next time if they do), but I won’t spend my time or energy actively seeking them out.
Has anyone else had a similar experience? If so, I’d love to hear about it!