Lessons in Customer Service from a Small Business

by / ⠀Startup Advice / July 11, 2010

customer serviceEarlier this year we had the opportunity to interview Fan Bi of Blank Label. He shared some great advice and gave a lot of insight into the start of Blank Label and its future. Recently Blank Label went through a great and awful experience at the same time as they saw their sales quadruple within a week. For a small start-up company this was something that they were simply not ready to handle.

We had the chance to ask them a few questions about how they handled this situation and what lessons in customer service they had learned….

Could you explain what happened to Blank Label recently?

Blank Label received great media coverage after no more than six months since launch in outlets like the NY Times, MSNBC, Consumerist and many others. All this positive attention was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it was premium exposure to a massive audience at no cost to the company, but a curse because we weren’t ready for it. Simply put, we grew way too quickly for us to handle. Our total sales since launch quadrupled within a week. Our tailors couldn’t handle all the orders. Having a small scale operation making 10 shirts for us a day, we couldn’t possibly expect our suppliers to produce 100 quality shirts daily to keep up with demand on our end. It was outrageous, but we didn’t know that. So we had to try scaling up production, but that was a nightmare. We pushed our tailors beyond their normal capacity, and we got a few shirts wrong. Some orders were coming in late too, but we apologized to our customers and continued to learn about growing our co-creation startup.

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Why are you being so up front about this? You could just keep it behind closed doors and move on..

We believe in transparency with our stakeholders. The truth was, we grew up too quickly and we weren’t ready for it, and we expected our truest customers to really care and understand, and while not everyone did, those that really believe in our vision and were interested in seeing us continue to change the way men shop were more than happy to wait a few extra weeks to receive their product. They even understood when some of their co-created dress shirts came in with a few minor errors (luckily there weren’t too many mistakes on our end). We were learning, and we were very sorry, and they really took that in the best way possible. We didn’t want to keep the truth behind closed doors because we wanted to really connect with the stakeholders who really believed in us.

What measures are you taking to tackle this situation?

To stay true to our transparency, we told our customers who already ordered with us that their co-creations would come late and offered them the option to cancel or wait. Most decided to wait, which was a positive sign that our transparency wasn’t blowing up in our faces and that our customers actually cared about us and not just receiving their purchase. We are also working with a new supplier now who can scale with us, and are getting back on track with orders. We even put several notices on our site that new orders would be delayed two weeks so customers would be fully aware their shirts would be arriving a few weeks later than the normal expected delivery since we were well overcapacity.

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Have you seen any feedback yet? Are customers responding in a positive or negative way to your engagement of them?

Surely there were some angry people, as there will always be in life and in business, but more than 90% of our customers responded positively. They were empathetic to the fact that we were a small business and they knew that features they saw us in which brought them to our site and converted them into customers didn’t just bring them alone, so they were more than happy to see our new and unique business growing and trying to manage our problems as best as we could.

What do you think is the biggest thing Blank Label has learned from this situation?

The biggest thing that Blank Label has learned from all of this is that we have to be smarter about opportunities that come our way, and do our best to make sure we have the resources to scale and grow as needed, and not be cheap about it either because one problem we came across when we received media coverage was our site crashing because we didn’t have strong enough servers. We had to buy a new server once the site crashed and so we switched over all of our information and our website to the new server within hours of the site first crashing. That would have brought in a lot more support and a lot fewer frustrated visitors. Also, if we invested more resources into auditing how scalable our suppliers could be, we would have been in a better place because we would have ensured that we could properly fulfill all orders on time, or at least close to on time with fewer errors and a stronger, more loyal community.

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What is your advice to other companies who face customer service issues?

Some advice that I would share with other businesses facing customer service issues would be that it is important to respond to customer and visitor inquiries as soon as possible because your stakeholders are always anxious to hear back when they ping you, and that you should make a strong, active effort to communicate what is happening with your business to your customers so they aren’t the ones asking the questions and you are the one providing the answers first. They really appreciate that when you take that initiative to be honest and transparent.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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