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Make Your Buyers Happy
By James M. Theopistos


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Having your orders drop shipped makes the process of printing and shipping your art to your customers easier than before. It eliminates some of the time and stress associated with doing it all yourself. When you consider the expense of materials to make a print, cost of shipping, shipping supplies, not to mention the time spent actually making the order and possibly time waiting in line at the post office to ship it, a service like ours is perfect if you are getting started in the art print market. With your printing and shipping infrastructure taken care you can spend more time on your art and your customers. Attracting new buyers and making them happy customers should be a top priority. Making them happy buyers is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you are building a successful art based business. 
 
At some point you may need to address issues brought up from your own customers you had not have considered or been prepared for. Fortunately being in the middle of it all we are in a great position to share with you some scenarios.
 
A while back I had done some prints for a customer. Outside of photography he was in the educational resources business. He had been fairly successful at selling his wares ranging from books to DVDs online. It was  just him and his partner working out of a small office they leased next to his studio They did not actually inventory anything they sold but relied on a large number of vendors to drop ship the orders they received through their website.
 
Around the time they were getting ready to start their second year in business he called with some questions about re-ordering some prints he wanted to send to one of his clients. We got to talking about other things and I asked how his distribution business was going. He replied back and said they had made a lot of mistakes their first year but he expected things to be much better in their second year. They were actually quite profitable their first year having processed several thousand orders with little overhead. What he had not anticipated was the time he would need to spend with his customers either on the phone or e-mail.  
 
He said the three most common customer service issues they addressed regularly were "when will I get my order ", "it was not what I expected", and "why was my order damaged". What struck me as interesting was these were the same issues people that have drop shipped with us are also asked. 
 
"When will I get my order" probably tops the list. Sometimes you will have a buyer which is simply impatient but that’s is not the norm. If you clearly spell out the time it may take for them to receive their order before hand they will likely be fine. My previous client had not done so very well on his website so once he made it more clear he eliminated half the calls and e-mails he dealt with regularly. If you are selling your prints via your own website or even a third party website hopefully you will have tools which allow you to update the status of your customer’s order as well as notify the customer of key updates like shipping. If you don't have any order status updating tools you might want to develop an e-mail form letter in which you can paste information like shipping notices and tracking information. If for some reason the tracking number does not update right away, tell your customer to not be too worried. UPS, FEDEX and the US Postal Service don't always scan the packages right away so there can be potential delays in tracking information. 
 
"Not what I expected" is going to happen once in a while with prints. Occasionally artists do accidentally order the wrong print for their customer but primarily we are probably talking about either image quality or differing color perceptions. When it comes to image quality it is always wise to proof or order a trial print for yourself. This way you can see if there are issues you need to address in your image such as the tones, resolution or other areas not readily visible in your digital file (see my post about 3 ways to proof your work). Recently one of our customers had a print drop shipped for the first time. Everything would have been okay except the shot taken of the artwork was out of focus. She had not bothered to zoom in and inspect her image close up on her monitor so the lack of clarity was overlooked. Needless to say her customer was disappointed with the print. As for color differences I have seen a few of our artists becoming very alarmed when their customer contacts them about this. They may have placed an order for themselves as a test and had been very satisfied with the results. But later when their buyer writes back and tells the colors in their print look off the artist will wonder if something went wrong in the printing process.  In all likelihood nothing went wrong but the customer was relying on their computer screen. To address this beforehand I tell artists setting up their website or other online shop to include a friendly but brief statement indicating that colors on their screen may appear different in print. Place it someplace where it will be hard to miss. Ideally on the product page the print is being sold at or even in the shopping cart system you are using. If you can do both, great, but make it obvious.  While the vast majority of your customers will not even notice any difference in their print versus their screen you still want to be have an answer ready for those that do.
 
"Why did you ship me a bent print" is going to happen to you if you ship or have someone else ship your products. There is no way around it.  Let's face it: prints are fragile and can be damaged if the package is crushed, bent or the print itself shits inside the package. As for marking your package as fragile, intuitively you would think that would lessen the likelihood of a shipment being damaged. Actually packages marked as fragile are more likely to be damaged according to Popular Mechanics* which did a study and found that packages marked as fragile tended to have a higher number of bumps and jolts. A delivery driver I knew who worked for a major delivery service said for some of his more disreputable co-workers a package marked fragile was like a big red sign that said throw it on the truck a little harder.  I have seen various statistics and discussions on the web about damage levels of packages shipped by UPS, FEDEX and the US Postal Service and have concluded roughly 1% of packages being shipped are damaged to the extent that the merchandise inside is also damaged.  As for us we tend to range at around 0.5% which is good considering the conditions most packages look like when they arrive, but this will not matter to that customer who will think "you" damaged the print prior to shipping it. All they see is that the print arrived damaged. First don't let this get you down or even angry. You will always have customers like this. The important thing is to address it as quickly as possible.  The first course of action is to gauge if the outer packaging was damaged. This is important to us since in some instances we need to file a claim with the carrier. In almost every case there will be visible damage to the package so kindly ask the customer to text or e-mail a photo of the outer package and the damaged print. Once you receive this forward that to us by e-mail. Most customers will be happy to oblige. The sooner we receive this the sooner we can ship out a replacement at our expense. If for some reason we need to file a claim for damage, we will provide you instructions you can give your customer. Usually this merely involves making the package ready for the shipping service to retrieve. We will stay behind the scenes so your customer does not know we are the ones issuing the recall for the damaged print. All they see is you being on top of things as should be the case. Finally if there is no visible damage to the outer packaging then it is possible the print somehow shifted during the shipping process and became unsecured. If you think this may have happened, let us know as so we can get those replacement prints to your customer quickly. 
 
If you have been selling and having prints drop shipped for awhile you know the majority of your buyers are satisfied customers. But don’t let those unexpected experiences be your unpleasant experience. Instead rest assured we are there to help you get your order to your buyer as well as take the necessary steps to make things right for you and them. 
 
Category: Selling and Self Promotion
Created: Wednesday, March 5, 2014, Last Updated: Friday, August 8, 2014


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About James Theopistos Aside from being an enthusaistic promoter of the visual arts field as it relates to individual artists' success, he also serves as the acting Chief Development Officer for FinerWorks.com, an online color print lab for artists and photographers.
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