Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My customer, my friend

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's post is inspired by a conversation with some fellow small business owners, and it turns out this is a situation many of us have been in... Every now and then you get a great repeat customer who is wonderful, but also thinks that you are their new best friend and sends you long, rambling e-mails all about their life.

Sometimes this is awesome and you find that you have a lot in common with your customer and they actually do become your new best friend! It's great when business leads to amazing new friendships with someone who you never would have met if they hadn't wandered into your store (real or virtual).

But then there are the people who are perfectly nice, but you just don't have anything in common with them. Often times, the customers who latch onto you have a good reason for it. Either your work speaks to them on some deep level that makes them feel an instant connection, or they're leading a really isolated life and are reaching out for any sort of human interaction. As such, it feels horrible to not engage with them, to not give them that connection that they want or need.

However, when you're a business owner, time is often at a premium. Can you really set aside the time to respond to three-page-long e-mails detailing everything that has happened in your customer's week, complete with an outpouring of the emotions they felt? If it's an occasional message it's not that bad, but when it turns to weekly or even daily messages, and then they find your IM screen name or friend you on Facebook and send you constant messages while you're trying to list things on Etsy, well, it gets overwhelming.

I think the best option is to remain engaged, but a bit removed. Skim the e-mails they send you, and respond with something short but heartfelt that applies to the situation. Maybe include the occasional helpful website or inspirational quote. When time allows, send a longer e-mail from time to time. Be sure to make the occasional mention of how busy you are with your shop, so they will hopefully catch on that your e-mails are shorter than theirs because you are so busy creating the art they love, or stocking the supplies they use.

And what about the IM or Facebook convos? This is a firm but polite situation. Maybe chat occasionally, but in general say something like: "Oh, Jill! It's so nice to hear from you but I'm really busy editing photos, I don't really have time to chat right now. I'll e-mail you tonight once I have all these new items up. Take care!" It's friendly, it's sweet, it lets her know when she'll hear from you so she doesn't feel blown off, but it also sets some boundaries.

Too often, when you run your own business working from home, people think that since you are home all day, and perhaps at the computer all day, that you have all the time in the world to chat with them. You may find that you occasionally need to disabuse them of this notion, otherwise you will find your productivity plummeting as your day is suddenly filled with casual chats and e-mails. It's OK to tell people that you're working and you can't chat until your lunch break, or the end of your work day. Just because you're not in  an office doesn't mean you don't keep business hours.

Do you have your own business troubles that you need a polite way to handle? Or do you have some stressful holiday encounters coming up? E-mail your problems to and I'll help!

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