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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?