How to reply to a customer asking #whomademyclothes — clearly & convincingly

 

A deep, detailed, difficult customer question never happens when it's convenient.

Many customer care teams enjoy the quieter times after Christmas and the Women's Fashion Weeks. It's a good time to take a holiday, roll out some much-needed training, or upgrade IT.

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And then, it's #FashionRevolutionWeek. And social media is full of important questions which are tricky to answer. Especially in 220 characters.

  • People post selfies in their favourite clothes or pictures of their clothes' labels, tagging clothes brands and asking: #whomademyclothes?
  • They often send chaser posts after a few days; replies are often publicly evaluated
  • Many times, customers ask follow-up questions to find out even more detail about the factory and the workers that produced the item of clothing. 

Even if you work for a responsible brand and you already know how to reply to a customer query, these kinds of questions can seem really daunting...

  • It feels as if the whole world is in CC.
  • The reputation of your company is on the line.
  • And the questions ask for details about specific clothes — often bought years ago, and in any case part of a range that may include thousands of items.
    Those details are not always easy to dig out and share.

So here's a step-by-step guide on how to handle #whomademyclothes well. 

 

1. Reply fast.

Aim to respond within 4 hours. If you don't know the answer and need to do some research first, then tell the customer and keep them in the loop on your progress.

 Image used with permission (thanks, Laura!)

Image used with permission (thanks, Laura!)

Head of Proud PadsLaura Niehorster, contacted REISS more than eight months ago about this shirt she loved — without getting a response. "I was annoyed as I would have bought it if they'd told me something positive," she told us. "The clothes are expensive enough, so I feel we should at least be able to expect good customer service." 

 

2. Say where the item of clothing was made

To find out, you may need to do a bit of research:

  • Perhaps you need to contact the team that looks after your supply chain for help.
  • Perhaps your company intranet has a detailed log of which stock comes from which factory. 
  • Perhaps you have a lot of Annual Reports and Codes of Conduct on your website which you're going to search.

Be transparent. Tell the customer where you've found the information. Then break it down into everyday language.

For example: "Your [model name] [type of clothing] was made in the [factory name] factory in [country] in [year]. [number of people] work in that factory."

That's the level of detail Claire Aston, co-founder of Together Street, liked about the response she had from Oliver Bonas: 

 Thanks, Claire, for allowing us to use your screenshot.

Thanks, Claire, for allowing us to use your screenshot.

"I was happy with the speed of their response," she says, "and the amount of detail they included. The thing that still niggles me is that ethical codes of conduct are one thing, but knowing that a brand is actively monitoring whether those codes are being adhered to is another."

Which takes us to step 3:

 

3. If you mention codes of conduct, explain how you enforce them.

Codes of Conduct can be very powerful — or they can be toothless tigers. It all depends on whether factories are regularly and independently checked for compliance with the code. Most conscious fashionistas are savvy in this area, and they demand more than a reference to the Code.

 

 4. Check that you sound like you care.

Your customer cares.

Your factory workers care.

Since you're reading this, we bet that you care, too.

And yet, we still see many customer care responses that sound indifferent.

Surprisingly, even from M&S — whose policy changes all seem to point in the right direction:

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So, how can you make sure your customer care reply sounds genuine and human?

  • Avoid the words "commitment" and "committed". Years of PR and corporate communications have turned them into a parody of themselves.
    "We're committed to becoming more transparent" makes many customers doze off instantly — after all, if you're so committed, why not say, "we're making our fashion supply chain the most transparent on the UK market"?
    "Promise" is a better word to use. It carries more weight. Promises shouldn't been broken: something's at stake here. If it feels uncomfortable, that can be a good sign.
    But you might want to opt for something more concrete: "We're working on a project that will make us the most transparent fashion brand in the UK." 
     
  • Use words that normal people say in everyday conversation. Don't misuse a press release for a customer care response.
     
  • Thank the customer for asking the question, and tell them that you agree it's important. Don't just write, "Thanks for getting in touch! We always love to hear from our customers." It's too indiscriminately cheerful for such a serious topic.
     
  • Train everybody in every team on your sustainability efforts, and include them in practical projects. Let them experience in their everyday work that you care about making the world a better place and take these things seriously.
    Anyone in your company should be able to explain basic facts about where your factories are based and why; how you look after workers worldwide; and what you're doing to address the (inevitable) room for improvement. 
     
  • Make it easy to take in: use lots of white space. Also consider video, audio, infographics and photos to get your point across. This shows that you care about your customers' ability to process the info you share.
     
  • Prepare for these questions by writing email, letter and live chat templates. These can be quite loose and simply include pointers about structure, good sentence starters, words to avoid, or authoritative links to the info — think 'map', not 'autopilot'. They'll help with speed and confidence when the critical questions come.
     
  • Take care of the details, too: correct spelling, grammar and punctuationshow off your competence and respect for the reader.  

 

5. Make it easy for people to find out for themselves.

OK, this one's a whole-company effort — customer care teams usually can't do this alone.

Brands like PatagoniaWhere does it come from? and Rapanui let customers trace their garments through the entire supply chain online. This kind of documentation fuels positive conversations about your policies, essentially giving you free marketing when customers share the info on social media. And the fact that information is so easily available makes it almost unnecessary for people to get in touch with questions — a nice way to cut customer care workload.

 

Phew, all done!

Now it's time for you to answer a customer asking: #whomademyclothes?

Was this post helpful? Or do you have more questions? Let us know in the comments.

 

Where to find more help like this

Doing good: 5 tips for consumer questions about your ethics

What is good customer support? 3 criteria for service writing

How can customer care survive the plastic storm in our teacups?

 

If you ever get stuck, From Scratch is here to support you through writing, training and fresh ideas. All based on linguistics, psychology and research — because customer experience shouldn't depend on personal opinion. 

And if your fashion brand could do with more customers, mark 15 May in your diary.

That's when our friends at Ethical Brand Marketing are running a Customer Attraction Masterclass.

Our Sabine will be there, too — and if you book via this link, we'll throw in a special bonus for you, too. You get to choose what your business needs most right now:

Option 1

We'll write a free customer care template for you — to answer the question: #whomademyclothes? You'll be able to use it for social media direct messages or via email.

Option 2

We'll proofread a piece of copy on your website, in a brochure or on social media — up to 1,500 words, for free.