GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #3: It Broke!!

Third in series of how to move certain people out of your booth at a craft show.

The next kind of “undesirable person” is actually very a little different. First, because they used to be a highly desirable person–a former customer. Second, because it’s not actually about getting them out of your booth. It’s more about getting them turned around.

It’s the person who bursts into your booth (why is it always when you have a bunch of customers??) carrying a piece of jewelry they bought from you last year, and exclaiming (and why is it always in a very loud voice??), “I bought this necklace from you last year, and it just broke for no reason!!

This is awful on so many levels. Where do I start?

It’s awful to go through all that time and effort and energy to sell my work, only to find out that person is unhappy with it. It just sucks bigtime.

Then there’s the terrible thought that you’ve made something that didn’t hold up. What does that say about my claims of using high-quality materials, having strong technical skills, and making good work?

Finally, here I am with a booth full of potential new customers, who are watching this little melodrama unfold with ‘bated breath. Here is the artist herself assuring us her work is beautiful, of good quality and will make you happy for years to come. Here is a customer who believed the artist last year, who spent good money on the artist’s work. And now this same customer is decidedly unhappy, waving a broken whatsit around in her hand, claiming it “just fell apart” and confronting the artist. Oh my, this is better than Jerry Springer!

First things first.

Realize the piece has “failed” because they loved it so much, they it wore it a lot.

Realize their consternation is because they are unhappy because they can’t wear it.

Realize the unhappy person may also have marshaled a lot of negative energy because she is unsure of her reception. She doesn’t know how she will be treated.

Most of us have experienced about the runaround we get when we are unhappy with a service or product. We are often met with indifference, or defensiveness, or disbelief about what happened.

She is afraid she will treated the same way.

And, worse, every single person in your booth is now thinking, “That customer could be me next year!!” They are watching and listening to see what you will do.

A lot is riding on what you chose to do next.

Do not–do not–go to the unhappy place. The place where you are embarrassed, defensive, angry, upset. Do. Not. Go. There.

It is so tempting to be defensive or to blame the customer. And I have to say here, in 75%-85% of the pieces I get back that need repair, it is not because of any flaw in my design or work, nor the quality of my components. In fact, the number one cause of damage to my jewelry is from the piece being worn to death. (Several customers have told me they wear my silk cord necklaces everywhere and never take them 0ff–lap swimming, into the shower, into the ocean. Oh dear….)

You must bring all your resources to bear to turn this situation, and this customer, around.

If you can hold those thoughts in your head, if you can see all the threads while you are being flooded with embarrassment and your pride is taking a beating, you will be okay. Not just okay–you can turn this whole scenario into an extremely powerful marketing opportunity.

You can show the world who you are. Or, at least, you can show the world the person you’d like to be.

The first thing out of your mouth absolutely must be the apology.

“I’m so sorry!”

Sincerely, heartfelt, sad. You must acknowledge that your customer is unhappy, distraught, disappointed, with absolutely no judgment or defensiveness. This is the only way to defuse the situation so you can figure out what your next steps will be.

In fact, I can say these words sincerely, because even while I am being flooded with dismay, with defensiveness, with resentment (because I am a small and insecure person at heart, just like anyone else), I can honestly say, “I am so sorry you are coming into my booth and waving that broken necklace around and making me out to be an incompetent, disreputable artist.” “I am so sorry there is a booth full of people watching us right now!” “I am so sorry you found me!!” And if I’m honest, “I’m so sorry I might have screwed up!!”

Nonetheless, an apology is needed, there is no need to say those thoughts out loud, and apologizing will smooth the way for everything to follow. You will feel better you did not bark first, ask questions later. And everyone will start to relax.

The next step is reassurance. You will take care of this. You will fix it. It will be okay. “As I told you when you bought your necklace last year, my work is guaranteed. I use good components and I stand by my work. I’m sure I can fix it.”

Not only that, I often thank the person for bringing the piece back to me. “I am so glad you like my work so much. Thank you for bringing it back so I can make this right!” And I apologize again for the inconvenience to them: “I’m so sorry you had to bring it back. Let’s look at it.”

There! The message is, “Even if something goes wrong, it will still be okay.” Again, everyone in your booth takes a deep breath. No Jerry Springer-style fistfights today!

Since you made the darn thing, you should be able to quickly tell what happened. Did the clasp fail? Was a knot improperly glued? Did the cord break? How will you fix it? Let the person know that you know what you’re doing. “Oh, I see what happened! This is an older clasp–I used to use these when I first started out, but then I switched to a better style. I’ll be happy to replace that for you! Let me take this back to my studio. I can fix it after the show (you knew that was coming, right?) and I will mail it back to you free of charge for your trouble.”

(I don’t advise trying to make even a simple repair at the show, unless you are absolutely sure it will work. First, it ties you up and takes you away from selling. Second, if you can’t make it work, you just come off looking a little worse.)

This inspection also gives you a chance to talk up your work. That older clasp, for example. Did she buy it recently? From you directly, or from a store or gallery? If she bought it from you, you can say, “Wow, that must have been awhile back–when did you get it?” If it’s a long time, you can say, “So you are an early collector of my work! I’m so delighted–thank you! And you been wearing it every day since? WOW!!” and so on.

If she bought it from a nice gallery, you can talk up the gallery: “Oh, yeah, that is a really great gallery! Very prestigious–they carry beautiful work by some of the top artists in the country. I’m honored they carry my work. Hey, you mean you picked my jewelry out of all the gorgeous work in that store?! I’m flattered!”

These things come easily for me because I am honored, and I am flattered, and I am grateful. I’m getting past the defensiveness, and connecting to the good and the positive and the powerful in this whole transaction.

That is what I want everyone in the booth to be aware of. That’s what I want the customer to be aware of.

There! You have shown this customer, and every potential customer in your booth, that you excel at customer service.

But what if it isn’t your fault? What if you can tell the piece has been mishandled, mistreated or misused?

Doesn’t matter. You do not want to assign “blame” just yet. You want to turn this episode into a positive experience. And interrogating the customer about how it broke will out her on the defensive again.

If I’m alone in my booth, I might take on this next step. Otherwise, I wait until after the show, either after I’ve made the repair (so I can call with the good news) or when I’m about to start with the repair, depending on what I suspect is the cause of the damage.

This is when you can begin a gentle, non-threatening chain of questioning to find out what really happened when the jewelry “just broke for no reason.”

First, I tell them the good news–it’s on its way back. I tell them what I did to repair it. (I also include an invoice with the piece, listing the repairs and services, with a cost, even if I end up noting “no charge”. I want people to appreciate the value of what I’ve given them. For example, “Restring and replace missing pearls and crystals, replace broken lobster clasp: Labor 1/2 hour @ $25/hr (no charge); Materials $8 (no charge), return shipping USPS Priority Mail $4.60 (no charge), etc.)

Then I ask them if they can answer a few questions for me. I tell them it’s an opportunity to learn more about what went wrong. Then I can make the appropriate changes in my designs to prevent it from happening again. It’s purely an information-gathering exercise.

By being genuinely curious, non-judgmental and without assessing blame, and because the customer now knows the piece is on its way back to them, they may now be more willing to say what happened.

For example, one woman confessed her dog used to jump up and snag her necklace repeatedly–until it broke. (I asked her if she wanted a stronger cord or a shorter length.)

One woman slept with hers on, every night.

Another woman confessed that when she was nervous, she would “flex the horse pendant” (there is sometimes a bit of “give” in the longer or larger pendants.) During a particularly stressful week, she bent and flexed the horse repeatedly–until it broke in two. (I couldn’t salvage the pendant–I made it into a pin instead, and made her a new one.)

Then there was that line of pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces I made that everyone wore so much, the silk cord would literally rot and fall apart. I don’t know how many of those damn things I’ve restrung, usually free of charge or for a nominal fee.

And I have a standard policy of replacing the first lost earring free of charge.

I know some craftspeople think my repair and replacement policy is ridiculous or extravagant. Sometimes, I think so, too. After all, it really isn’t gold or precious stones. It is polymer clay, and delicate silk cord, and antique glass beads. It’s priced accordingly. And all jewelry will tarnish or break or pull apart if it’s dipped repeatedly in a swimming pool or yanked by small children and large dogs.

But I see these incidents as teachable moments. It’s an opportunity to explain that, though my jewelry works hard and is meant last, it really does need a little bit of care and good treatment. That even silver jewelry can get tarnished and corroded, that gold chains can break when grabbed, that glass and pottery sculptures break when dropped. They end up seeing that they have some responsibility, too, to keeping my artwork in good condition, rather than seeing it as somehow flawed or defective if they don’t.

Sometimes, even if it’s a lot of work and not my fault, I still don’t charge for repairs. The woman who “flexed her horse”? She and her husband, an archaeologist who had actually been in the Lascaux cave, bought four necklaces (one for her, three for their daughters and daughter-in-law) and a small wall hanging that year. There was no way I was going to nickel-and-dime her on that repair/replacement.

And when these customers have calmed down, when they realize they are going to have their beloved piece back and they realize they will be able to wear it again, the things they say then make it all worthwhile.

“Oh my God, I’m so relieved!” one woman exclaimed. “It is absolutely my favorite piece of jewelry. I want to wear it every day–I never want to take it off! I was so upset when I broke it, I cried.”

Now isn’t that the best testimonial an artist could ask for? That is what I want everyone else in the booth to hear.
And here’s where this good energy can take you. Last week, when I was having a very bad day about all my injuries and setbacks, feeling very very sorry for myself, I got a packet in the mail. It was from a customer, one I’d done a repair for on one of these afore-mentioned pearl-and-crystal silk cord necklaces.”Damn!” I thought. “It broke again, and she wants me to fix it!” I opened the packet to find…

A copy of her latest music CD.

With a portrait of her on the back, wearing…my necklace.

And a little handwritten note thanking me once more for fixing her necklace, which she love, love, loves.

Isn’t that a lovely reward for good customer service?

P.S. Just to let you know, not all of my customers who need work repaired act this way. Most are genuinely anguished and apologetic when they bring a damaged piece in. This is just how to handle it when you get someone who doesn’t yet know what exquisite care you are going to give them!

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7 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, getting people OUT of your booth, mental attitude, selling, shows

7 responses to “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #3: It Broke!!

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. I love the story about CD, I had something like that happen to me. I made a very special order for a customer, and it broke. Quite a shock, I felt horrible. I fixed it, no problem, but about a month later a package showed up in m mailbox unexpectedly, and my heart sunk. I couldn’t even open it myself, I made my husband do it (as he had no emotional attachment!)…and it was a Christmas present, a beautiful little pouch, to thank me for the lovely pieces she was absolutely thrilled with.

    Phew :)

  3. Lovely story! We try so hard as artists to amaze our customers. Isn’t it wonderful when THEY amaze US?

  4. Ali

    Fantastic post. Being able to turn that kind of negative energy around is impressive. Great advice.

  5. Pingback: Art of the Firebird » Blog Archive » Best of the Week 2/17/2008

  6. Pingback: Getting people out of your booth | The Crafted Webmaster

  7. Pingback: Best of the Week 2/17/2008 - Art of the Firebird

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