The inbox and things in the pending stack:
So I have Maggie helping me out now (not my mother, though her name is also Maggie). She's brand new and has been training from scratch. She takes good notes though and we have made a little progress over the last week and change, but we have been at it non-stop for a while now tonight and will be at it for a while yet tonight. This new-assistant thing hasn't been going well since I had to replace Mary (that's such an understatement that it's almost laughable, but it's my fervent hope that we finally have a relatively stable assistant situation without any major scheduling conflicts built in and without any major disasters looming around the corner that will mean she will be out of the loop for any extended period of time). I really, really need a regular, reliable assistant with the patience and sense of humor to deal with both me AND an inbox sprinkled with irate and even abusive emails, so please, please don't take any of this out on her; if you're frustrated about how long it's taken to get a response, it's my fault, not hers. Let's not run her off!
One of the biggest areas of delay right now is the fact that some orders have some back-and-forth that needs to happen before the order can enter processing. Those get printed and responded to adn then go in teh pending stack, and then as responses/info come in, they get updated and put into processing. If no response comes, then reminders go out (ideally every week or so, but lately whenever somebody has a minute). Those started to get piled up when the assistant shuffle started and things got to the point where I feel like I should double-check everything myself rather than assume all the info got collected properly. So that means mojo bags and such, anything with customization and/or petitions involved, really, are going more slowly than usual - but I'd rather prioritize accuracy over speed (that has always been my preference and will always be). Thsi pending stack can be quite daunting for a new assistant - she's just now getting the hang of different types of incoming message and the different work queues and steps involved in collecting info and processing orders for different types of items/services. That's enough of a challenge when she's going through the inbox, taking one new message at a time, identifying what it needs and how to label it and file it, ascertaining what type of response it needs and where it should live in the meanwhile, etc.
But imagine being in her shoes and getting handed a clipboard with 30+ printouts on it, with handwritten notes on them from no fewer than 2 and sometimes 3 or 4 different people with different handwriting giving the info on what it needs, what the history of communication has been, etc. (never mind the fact that not everybody who wrote on those previously was any more familiar with the job than she is so far). She has the fact of the teeming inbox and the whole system of tags/flags, labels, customer and service files, and icons that she's still learning. And she has the fact of the clipboard containing every type of order/message she's learned about yet and then some others she hasn't. And her instructions are to go through those orders, match any new info in the inbox to its hardcopy order on the clipboard, ascertain what's good to go and what needs more info, remember how to tag/flag/label and file it, and be sure she's sent the right resposnes to the right places. That one single task all by itself is enough to make somebody run screaming, even before you add in a stressed-out me and a small handful of pissy, abusive customers who didn't read the info right in front of them and are well and truly insulted at the idea that we aren't groveling due to their asshattery (as I was telling Maggie tonight, I LOVE my customers and clients, and I am truly grateful for their patience -- you guys are awesome and have been putting up with an awful lot lately, and I am truly humbled by your understanding. But that doesn't mean I love everybody, and damn it, this is NOT Burger King - you can't have it your way - and I am not a human vending machine where you put yoru quarter in, turn the knob, and get a pretty little shrink-wrapped answer or product made with cookie-cutter corners and delivered instantaneously. You can't get that here, and I try like hell to make that clear so that folks who expect that kind of thing can GO SOMEWHERE ELSE instead).
Rest assured: your custom work or message relating to a custom order has NOT been lost. If we have any doubt about completeness or accuracy, we will contact you. In some cases, something unrelated to your message/petition has kept your order in pending (for instance, if I needed to special order an ingredient that I don't keep much of in stock due to its cost or the fact that I use it so rarely it might not be fresh if I just kept it lying around - all of this contributes to why I have the estimated turnaround/processing times, because there is always a need for flexibilty about the unexpected for custom-made and custom-finished stuff). And for reasons you can grasp from the above description, I'm sure, I am double- or triple-checking *everything* for accuracy and completeness. It is not going quickly, but nobody is going to get lost between the cracks.
Reports and other things that involve typing:
Still way behind, unfortunately. I get lights set as outlined unless I contact you to tell you I can't and see what you want to do, but the service does NOT come with a guarantee for when you will get the *report.* These take time to put together, and I'm the only one that can do it - assistants don't set up or report on altar work. Thing is, when I'm training a new assistant, which I've been doing since August now even though it hasn't been the *same* new assistant the whole time, that's where my attention is. We go through the various processes, but it goes slowly because she has to get what's going on, take notes, ask questions, etc. Until I get caught up, getting the assistant up to speed is a major priority or else I'll *stay* behind and might as well just close up shop. I admit I've been frustrated enough lately to be tempted to just close up shop, but I can't even do that since I have orders that would have to go out before I could shut everything down. And unfortunately, since orders are covered by buyer protection program but services are not (meaning you can't dispute a payment for a service with no tangible item attached under Paypal's TOS), that means I have to prioritize order shipments over reports. It sucks and I dont' want to make anybody wait, but this situation has been far from ideal for a while and I have to make decisions about which fires to put out first.
One bit of good news is that my custom-fit, variously-altered/finished system of "shelving" or whatever you want to call it that forms the "skeleton" of my main altar room was finally finished and installed/set up over the last few weeks (the system from my old place didn't fit because of major differences with room dimensions, window height and sheer number of windows, wall height/widt, the fact of the new place having plaster instead of sheetrock which makes such projects more delicate and complicated, etc). I have had the altars set up, of course, but they were not ideal and didn't have the full complement of background material, wall hangings and decor, various hanging and draped elements and embellishments, etc - they had the basic horizontal "tabletop" setup and the absolutely required elements, but *now* I"ve been able to start getting them from "alright" to "kick ass." It will be a while before they are photo-ready still - I'm getting a system set up so I can have fire-safe LED lighting working inside my paper star lanterns and setting up the proper hooks and brackets in the ceiling to hold the various strands of mirrors, beads, milagros, and origami that decorate various corners and sides of the room, and I"m still getting some smaller decorative shelving put up in a few places to hold stuff specific to particular saints that I work with often enough to want some dedicated space but not quite often enough to build an entire full-size altar module with a full "footprint" for. But we're getting there, and photos will be a lot more interesting to look at once that's all finished.
Ongoing altar work, previously contracted stuff, and work like runs and other overlapping and/or pre-prepped stuff hasn't been interrupted; it's just the reporting that takes so much time.
Order handling and shipping:
And since disputes and chargebacks keep coming in -- mind you, NOT from folks who have been waiting longer than usual but from folks who didn't read the damned listing/TOS/directions in the first place and put in chargebacks and disputes WAY before the published estimated turnaround/response/handling times had passed -- I am dog paddling when it comes to the business account balance and I have been having a lot of trouble managing to maintain a balance sufficient to pay my assistants (a big deal since I'm having so much trouble keeping them!), AND ship all in-house orders on time, AND keep necessary materials on hand (things like whole roots, diamond dust, containers that have to be ordered by the pallet, wax that has to be ordered by the case, and other stuff that means I have to place a large and/or expensive order when I need to restock). Right now, I have three international orders that are packed and ready to go, but i can't ship them right now because of a chargeback placed last week by a customer who deleted her order confirmation email; wrote through the contact form to say so (the worst way to inquire about an order: contact form inquiries are a lower priority than other new messages since the *only* thing that should be coming in through the contact form are brand new queries, and I prioritize messages about existing orders and services over brand new queries); didn't get a reply to her message within a week (this was during Thanksgiving week, by the way, so it was only three business days); and so filed a chargeback -- because she didn't get a response to her message over Thanksgiving.
The disputed amount gets frozen or even deducted, and then I can't use it to pay for shipping labels or anything else. Orders are even later to go out, customers who haven't been assholes get penalized for being patient, in a sense, because squeaky assholes get the grease (ew, sorry for that mental image), I get a few more grey hairs, my anxiety and frustration make my assistant anxious and wary, and the hole gets ever deeper. I have had more disputes in the last three months than I had in the previous ten years COMBINED. Some of it is a mystery, but some is related to the fact that I accepted direct credit card payments through Shopify for a while (bad, bad mistake that I am still paying for), meaning buyers could dispute a charge for any damned reason they wanted and they hold the funds *first* and do the investigation after, and some is related to the fact that the new storefront and site turned up in new sectors of the web when searches were run adn links generated, so I got a slew of new buyers who didn't know anything about the store or me and didn't bother to read any of the available info about shipping/handling, communicaiton, turnaround times, order processing, TOS, etc before ordering. The disputes are coming, by and large, from this quarter.
So if you are new, or even if you aren't, let me assure you that *I have a system.* I do not LOSE customer / client orders. If something goes wrong, like in the above scenario, then I have a system to catch that stuff too; if she had noted the usual response times and/or the fact that we aren't open on weekends or holidays, then within a few business days of her query, when we reopened, she'd have gotten an email letting her know that her order was in the pending queue because we hadn't received some info we needed, and here it was again reprinted for her ease of reference for whenever she had a chance to reply. I DO NOT LOSE ORDERS and I have processes in place to ensure that *even if the customer's account is deleted, her computer blows up, AND my dog eats every single piece of paper in my office,* she will STILL get a followup if her order is pending b/c of some info I need and it will STILL get filled and shipped just as soon as it is ready.
The same goes for queries about lost/late and damaged packages. I don't have any control over what the USPS does and they are going to respond even more slowly than usual to trace requests and everything else right now, because *it's the busiest time of the year for the postal service.* But if you are concerned about a package, and you don't get the response you want from us right away, I assure you that nobody is sitting here just maliciously deleting things and cackling over the chaos, and I assure you that we will figure out what's going on and get you your package or discuss alternatives with you in the event that a trace yields absolutely no info/results at all (that has never happened with a domestic order in the 10+ years I've been online). It may not be as quickly as you'd like, but that's not because I delight in making people wait - it's because it isn't all up to me in ithe first place. 99.9% of the time, when customers write concerned about a package, they are writing before the window for putting in a trace has even opened (20 BUSINESS days from the label SHIP date). We can't do anything before that point, and this is explained in our TOS, your confirmation email, and any response you get from us about a query you send in the meanwhile. But if/when 20 business days have elapsed, we'll put in a trace - and then we both need to wait for the post office to get back to us to see what happens next.
Buyers who have not been assholes will not be left empty-handed, no matter what (though buyers who have been assholes may find that the Terms of Service/seller protection program limit my liability for certain issues, and so any redress in that case has to be filed through me, on my terms; if buyers screw that up by filing a dispute, they will lose the dispute AND they will lose my goodwill, and where I would probably have reshipped the order even though I wasn't required to acc. to the TOS/payment processor terms, I will be a lot less inclined to do something out of generosity and goodwill when I haven't been shown any in return).
Maggie and I are working, however slowly, to get caught up. I realize I have been saying this for months, just with different names in the sentence's subject, but I'm hopeful that Maggie is with us to stay. As she learns her way around, it will go more quickly. As I get in-house orders finished up and shipped, query emails, disputes, chargebacks, and general ill will should stop coming up, and my business account will get stable again. Once the account balance is stable, I will be able to keep necessary materials in stock to fill orders with less delay and I will be able to pay for and ship labels with less delay. But this is the craziest time of year for retail business AND the post office, meaning it's the craziest time fo year for my suppliers as well as my payment processors, so even without this veritable 8-car-pileup of disasters the last few months, things wouldn't be going super-quickly. But I am hoping that I will be have at least resolved/begun the resolution of every issue / message currently in my inbox by the end of this calendar week at the latest. Orders, I'm afraid, are just going to be subject to the black-and-white realities of my bank account balance - if I can't ship your order on time because of this ridiculousness with chargeback stuff, I am deeply sorry that you are having to pay for the asshattery of other people, and rest assured I have not forgotten about and did not lose your order and I'm not taking your patience and goodwill for granted - I'll add lagniappe to the package if it isn't already sealed up, or make a note in your customer file to get you some extras either next time or by adding a credit to your account or something like that.
Folks, you do NOT have to do a chargeback to get your stuff - I've been around a while, and I"ve had an online shop for over ten years. I don't rip off my customers, and I don't normally take months to respond to queries either. But every damned panicky, non-listing-reading buyer who resorts to calling their credit card company when they don't get 24 hour customer service or amazon.com shipping speeds *starts this whole damned cycle with the money BS up all over again.* If people would just STOP with the damned disputes and READ the information they've been sent, things could all be back to normal. I am really afraid, in my more frustrated moments, that with the amount of personal debt I've gotten into over the past few months to keep the shop afloat that I won't be able to recover from this winter sufficiently in time to come out of tax season in one piece. I'm sure I'm just feeling pessimistic because I'm tired and frustrated with the almost unbelievable run of crappy luck and the wrong kind of customers, but suffice it to say that if you're a little frustrated or peeved about the speed of my communication or shipping, I am HUGELY frustrated and peeved, and it is my fervent wish that things be back to normal ASAP and nothing like this ever happens again.
look at these adorable little earrings with tiny little St Benedict beads which have nothing to do with the post but which do serve to break up the huge blocks of boring text somewhat with a little visual interest!
I will be doing a few drawings for goodie/gift baskets - definitely one for everyone who placed an order or booked a service between September 1 and October 31st and one for everyone who placed/places an order from November 1 until the end of this month. I haven't done the Sep/Oct one yet because it will be a while before I can put the basket together and send it, and people seem to get a lot less pleasure/fun/excitement out of winning something when they then have to wait a while for it than when they find out they won and get it very soon aftewards. So I will wait 'til I've gotten caught up (and I also need to filter through all those orders and make sure I exclude those of people who later filed friggin' chargebacks or disputes -- sorry, I reserve the right to NOT give free stuff to people who *screw me* and my ability to feed my daughter because they couldn't be arsed to read information that was *emailed directly to them*).
I was going to base the Sep/Oct one around a family of spiritual formulas and send an assortment of items and products related to that formula or condition, depending on what the winner preferred. And I was thinking of basing the second one around new items/formulas and sending a small container or a sample size of all the new stuff I've made or restocked lately, with the option to do larger/full sizes of a few things if the winner knew for sure that's what they wanted (and that could translate to some stuff that s/he could give as gifts/stocking stuffers as well). Honestly, though, I'll probably just see what the winner prefers, and if it's something else, i'll do that instead.
But you don't have to do anything to enter these - if you placed an order during this time and you *didn't* open a dispute or chargeback, you'll be entered to win and I"ll announce the winners as soon as I've drawn them, which will be early in January.
I want to do some smaller item-specific ones as well, like a large custom-poured container candle, but those will have to wait 'til I get some fires in the inbox put out tonight and the next couple of days. In the meanwhile, though, here are some current coupon/sale codes.
From now until midnight, Dec 8 (Central time), use code beatclock35 to get 35% off any order placed through the shop.
From Dec 8 until midnight Dec 9, code beatclock30 gets 30% off.
From Dec 9 until midnight Dec 10, code beatclock25 gets 25% off.
From Dec 10 until midnight Dec 11, code beatclock 20 gets 20% off.
For instructions on using coupon codes, see the applicable heading in the FAQ.