Kickstarter Lesson #130: Maintaining Peace During Shipping Season

11 December 2014 | 9 Comments

Currently I’m knee-deep in what I call “shipping season.” It’s the time when backer rewards are shipping out to backers around the world–in my case, Tuscany and the Treasure Chest are shipping at the same time, so I’m fulfilling rewards for over 8,000 backers in December and January.

Because of the various fulfillment services we use, I don’t actually see or ship any of our Kickstarter rewards myself. It’s still a very, very busy time–not just in terms of creating all the shipping spreadsheets and weekly project updates, but also because of the increased amount of one-on-one customer service related to the following:

  • damaged products/replacement parts
  • missing packages/products
  • address updates
  • tracking requests and confirmations
  • questions about the product

Most of the time spent on the above areas falls into the category of “troubleshooting”–that is, trying to identify and fix mistakes (yours and others) in a way that is respectful and satisfying to backers.

What I’ve found is that I’m going to make mistakes, but if I’m responsive, transparent, and respectful to backers, they’re appreciative and understanding. Conversely, if I’m uncommunicative, secretive, and defensive, backers will turn on me–and rightfully so.

I’ll give you an example of the former (if you’re a Treasure Chest backer, you already know about this):

For our Treasure Chest, backers had the option of pledging $33 for a Treasure Chest in January or $39 for a Treasure Chest in December (we called this “early-adopter shipping”). We were able to offer this option by air shipping the early copies from our manufacturer to various fulfillment centers around the world.

Normally when I ocean freight products, I include plenty of extra copies of everything, as it’s really helpful to have a buffer to make up for mistakes, lost/damaged packages, etc. However, air freight is really expensive, so I reduced that buffer to only a few extra copies of each SKU.

When the early adopter products arrived at Ideaspatcher’s fulfillment center in France, I was informed that we were short 100 or so copies of metal coins and wooden stars. It turned out that I had made a miscalculation when telling my manufacturer the number to ship. We had made more than enough, and the extra copies were still headed to the EU, but they were on the middle of the ocean.

As soon as I learned about the problem, I figured out who the affected backers were, and I sent them an e-mail explaining the situation. I explained what happened, apologized for the mistake, and told them that we were going to send all in-stock portions of their rewards now, followed by the coins/stars when they arrived later (double shipping at our expense). The next day I followed up with a big note about it in a project update.

The backers responded really, really well to the news. Obviously a few were disappointed, but as a whole they were completely understanding. My perception is that the vast majority of backers who weren’t even affected by the miscalculation still appreciated knowing about it in the project update–it’s that type of communication that reinforces the trust that I’m going to keep them in the loop, for better or for worse.

I was talking to previous guest blogger and Kickstarter feedback-giver extraordinaire Timothy Cassavetes about this, and he mentioned how he see shipping season as a pivotal time for creators to gain or lose that hard-fought trust. He’s seen projects really turn sour when a project creator isn’t on their game during that time, and he offered a few pointers for maintaining peace (summaries of his statements are in bold, followed by my explanation/commentary:

  1. If you need to prioritize shipments in some way, focus on those who paid the most, as they have more at stake. I prefer to treat all backers equally, whether they pledged $1 or $1000. Also, any backer at any level can range from your most vocal supporter to the most difficult person to please. But in general, I think Timothy’s advice is good to keep in mind. When someone backs your project for a lot of money, they put a lot at stake, and they’re more likely to be very critical if you don’t follow through on your promises to them.
  2. Be responsive to people who feel like they’re out of the loop (even if you’ve been consistent with updates). In shipping season, I get a lot of e-mails and I see a lot of comments on Kickstarter and BGG about the schedule. Most of them are in the vein of, “Why haven’t I gotten a tracking confirmation?” 99% of the time the answer is: Because we haven’t shipped your reward yet (and you reference a project update you posted 2 days ago that clearly spells out that backers in that region won’t receive their packages for 2-3 weeks).
  3. Be responsive to people who didn’t receive their package as ordered (or not at all).  A few days ago a backer posted on the main Tuscany page that they were charged a ton for shipping after the project. I looked into it and discovered that they were talking about a completely different project (they assumed it was Tuscany, but we hadn’t even shipped Tuscany to this backer yet). I responded to the backer immediately and also messaged them privately. If you have a comment that reframes the story a backer presents, you want your comment to be higher up on the thread than theirs. This isn’t about being defensive–it’s about ensuring that backers know the actual situation so they don’t have to worry about their own reward if there isn’t actually an issue (or if there is, they know you’re on top of it).
  4. If you know something bad has happened (an error, delay, etc), share it as soon as possible. Definitely don’t wait for backers to find out themselves–be proactive. Ideally you will have a solution in hand when you share it, but sometimes the solution might take several weeks to figure out–you shouldn’t wait that long to share the problem and take responsibility for it.
  5. If backer complains about something, differentiate between problems that can be solved and negativity for the sake of negativity. This is a tough one. I’ll use the Treasure Chest as an example–the response so far has been excellent. However, I’ve gotten a few comments and messages that are essentially, “Hey, here’s a really negative thing I want to say to you. That’s all!” Sometimes the point of these messages is to make something better–like, someone might complain about the lack of padding in the package, and I can use that information to go to Amazon, Ideaspatcher, or Agility to tell them to pack things better. But sometimes it’s just a purely negative, non-constructive, unsolicited complaint that someone needed to get off their chest. There’s nothing you can do and no insight you can gain from it (at least not in the short term–in the long term perhaps you can derive some sort of insight from those comments). To those comments, I usually just try to say, “Hey, thanks for your feedback” (if anything) and move on.

Man, shipping season. As great as it is to finally ship rewards to backers, I have to admit that it’s a stressful time. Maintaining the peace can make a big difference if you can pull it off. Can other creators relate to this?

9 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #130: Maintaining Peace During Shipping Season

  1. Hey, where’s my tracking code!!?!!11oneone. ;)

    Your honesty and transparency definitely shows through Jamey. I read some research a while back that showed people have a HIGHER confidence in a company/person if a problem is dealt with well, than if the problem had never occurred in the first place. How you handle yourself when things go wrong shows a lot of integrity.

    It’s really appreciated :)

    1. RodeoClown: Ha ha, thanks for the humor in such a stressful season! If you find the source for that research, I’d love to share the article–it makes perfect sense to me from what I’ve seen (though I’d prefer to not make mistakes in the first place!)

  2. I can really relate to this article. I hadn’t really anticipated how much work it would be to keep up with everything (and we only had <300 backers!). As we just ran our first campaign, we definitely encountered some issues. We were about 2 months later than our projected delivery date, and then had a handful of people that found missing/broken pieces. With that said, I don't think we received a single upset or unpleasant message. As you do yourself, we just responded quickly with an apology and offered up a fair solution for them. I noticed on your update for Tuscany that you pre-emptively offered up the solutions for a smushed box, etc. I thought that was great. Do you ever feel like people take advantage of your generosity just to get a few bucks off their order?

    All of the correspondence with these issues can be draining, but you can draw a lot of energy from all of the feedback that you get from your backers. I wanted each backer to have a fabulous experience when they received their game, so I took it personally if they opened up the box to find X or Y missing.

    1. Seth: Thanks for your thoughts, and I’m glad you can relate to this busy time! No, I’ve never felt like anyone has taken advantage of anything we’ve offered (at least nothing that comes to mind). I’ve encountered a few very picky people, but they’re heavily outweighed by a lot of non-picky people. :)

      That experience when someone opens the box for the first time is such a pivotal moment, isn’t it? I want it to be as awesome as possible.

  3. Having recently dug into the BGG community, there’s a lot of caution around KS’s. Actually, caution is a generous word; often it’s unmitigated criticism and vitriol. And it usually stems from frequently being burned in shipping mishaps or lack of communication. So in terms of what creators can do to help the public perception of KS, and thus increase everyone’s chances of succeeding, this advice is INCREDIBLY needed. If everyone took this kind of care with their shipping, much of that criticism would evaporate.

    1. Mark: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Indeed, there are some people on BGG that really don’t like Kickstarter, and I think a few bad campaigns have soured them against many good campaigns. As a result, when a creator messes up, they impact all other Kickstarter creators as well.

  4. Thanks for another great article, Jamey. I’ve said it before, but you are my Kickstarter hero. I love your transparency, your generosity to other creators, and your terrific care for backers. It’s a real pleasure reading the comments on your campaigns. (I probably spent an hour reading all the responses to the recent misprint issue, because it was so inspiring to watch you work.) When I meet potential creators who want Kickstarter advice, I invariably send them to crowdcrux.com and your blog first. Keep it up.

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