When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.
A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!
When is a stupid question from a customer not a stupid question? You can read my latest column at the Fine Art Views website here.
A great tip on customer care just in time for your summer shows!
Never forget the love you have for what you do. Remember the blessing of being able to make what you make.
Here’s something to consider the next time you feel a sharp retort rising to your lips when someone in your booth asks a “stupid question”. (Which, in case you don’t already know, isn’t so stupid after all.
The times I find it hardest to deal with problem customers, is when I am not in a good space myself.
There will be times in your life when things get hard. When nothing seems to go right. When you body simply can’t do what you ask of it, not the simplest task. When worries about money seem to overwhelm everything else. When your spirit is exhausted.
There will be people in your life who make things difficult. People who are impossible to please. People who are threatened by what you do. People who are envious of what you have.
There will be stages in your life when you question everything about your work. Is it good enough? Is it still my best work? Does the world even want it? Do I still believe in it?
And just like the times when a difficult child needs your love all the more, this is the time to remember the love you have for your art.
Here’s how that happens for me:
I’ve been head-high in frenzied preparations for my upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. On one hand, it’s my tenth year at the Fair, and I pretty much know what to do. On the other hand, every year there’s something major I forget/mess up/leave to the last minute. Every year there’s a big scramble to deal with it, with frantic phone calls, late nights and the inevitable last-minute make-do. (Which almost always seems to work out better than my original intention.)
This year is no exception. But I have some secret weapons.
The first is modern medicine. After waiting years for the brain buzz of menopause to wear off, I realized it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t even getting better. I realized I’ve always had it–it was just getting worse with age. I sought professional help. I’m now seeing an excellent therapist who specializes in working with creative people. And I’m on a very low dosage of anti-anxiety medication. (Don’t worry, not the addictive stuff!)
For the first time in years, I am sometimes sleeping through the night. I don’t wake up in a panic with my heart racing. Get this–my blood pressure (which used to be low normal but has inched upwards for five years) dropped almost 25 points–in a month! My doc isn’t sure why, but she says we’ll take it. (She thinks it may be the relief from constant worrying.)
I feel more at peace with myself. All the issues I knew intellectually how to manage, but couldn’t emotionally let go of, are softening. I know enlightenment can’t be found in a pill bottle, but it sure makes it easier to actually listen to my heart.
The second secret weapon is my work. The Fair is a concrete “deadline” which helps generate creative energy. Simply immersing myself in making new artifacts always centers me. Okay, partly I bury myself in making bears and otters and horses because it’s much more fun than figuring out how to make new covers for my jewelry case pedestals. Procrastination is a powerful tool in my life for getting something else done.
The third secret weapon is the Fair itself. Despite all the hard work getting ready for, and just being at the Fair (3 days of set-up, 9 days of show), there is a lot of good energy at the Fair.
My daughter, to date, has always found time to come and work with me again, even if only for that first, very busy opening weekend. She’s worked in my booth at both retail and wholesale shows for over eight years now. She’s not only very good at it, she’s simply a joy to be with.
There are old friends to catch up with, new exhibitors to meet, wonderful work to see (and buy!), music, wine and the incredible beauty of Mount Sunapee itself.
And my customers are a big secret weapon, too.
Opening day at the Fair is tough. It takes me awhile to get my “sea legs”. (Would that be “Fair legs”??) To get into the rhythm of being “on stage” instead of “in my studio”.
But when I catch the rhythm, I can dance all day. All week!
People who have bought from me for years, come to see what’s new. People who bought something for the first time last year, come back to tell me how much they love it. People bring their friends to introduce them the artist. (Moi. Maybe in my normal hours I look like a dumpy middle-aged woman, but at a show I am an artiste.) People who lost an earring or broke a necklace rush in to see if I can make their favorite piece wonderful and wearable again. People who I encouraged to pursue their own creative destiny stop by to share their own lovely work.
Even years when the Fair is slow, the energy from seeing my old collectors and meeting new ones, is a spiritual high.
In the midst of all this wonderful, powerful energy, I would be a small person to let an off comment or odd interaction here and there, to bring me down.
But I would be human, too. Because that’s what we do–we hang on to the one hurtful comment or ignorant act.
Remember–as artists, we can choose:
We can wallow in indignation and anger.
Or we can remember that the work we do is blessed work. Not only for us, but for the world.
What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!
A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.
Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.
It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.
It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.
I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.
I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.
Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.
And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.
The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.
My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”
As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.
As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.
After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.
This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.
Here’s how I think about it:
If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.
A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.
If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.
Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.
Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.
Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.
A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.
So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?
If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.
Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.
I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.
When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.
It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.
Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.
Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.
We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.
And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.
But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.
Expecting customers to already know how to do business with you, is not good customer care.
I had an
interesting–no, make that incredibly frustrating–exchange with the post office awhile ago. It got me thinking about customer care.
We may have different ideas of what giving good customer care is, but we all recognize when we’re not getting it.
If you want to read the conversation, I put it at the end of the article. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my point:
Nobody knows your business like you do. Nobody knows better than you how you prefer people to order, pay or ask for more information. Nobody knows better than you what your return policy is.
Yep, nobody knows better than you–not even your customers.
Nor should you expect them to.
Expecting people to know the ins, outs and idiosyncracies of your biz, and treating them like they’re stupid when they don’t, is not good customer care.
We all have unique ways of running our business. We have our policies and procedures for handling orders, mistakes, returns, questions and repairs. We know our hours of operation, our location, our inventory. After all, we deal with our business every day.
But our customers don’t.
We should keep in mind that our customers deal with many, many other businesses, every day–not just ours.
They deal with schools, banks, insurance companies, hospitals, shoe stores, hair salons, pharmacies, baby sitters, auto dealers, telephone companies, banks and post offices. They order online from Amazon, Blockbuster, Borders, eBay and Medco.
Each of these businesses does things a little bit differently. Each asks its customers to interact with them slightly differently. Each one has their own hours of operation, procedures, policies, forms, payment methods.
As wonderful and distinctive as I’d like to think my biz is, to my customers–even my loyal, loving, regular customers–it’s just one more operation with its own hours, procedures, policies, etc., etc.
Very few people want to expend a lot of brain cells memorizing all the nuances of each business, especially if their interaction is infrequent. After all, how many insurance claims have you filed in your life? Should you be expected to know the name of the form, the supporting documents you need, and the deadline for filing it? Especially if the procedure was updated since you filed your last claim eight years ago?
Even “standard procedures”–say, writing a check for cash at the bank–is tricky if we only do it once every few years. Do you make it out to yourself, or to the bank or for “cash”? Which method do you have to endorse? Which method does the bank prefer??
If we work at a bank, it’s obvious. However, if we rarely even visit the inside of a bank anymore, it’s not so obvious.
Remember–We are just one more business our customers deal with. There’s nothing “more special” about us that would lead us to expect they should memorize how we want things done.
We may think our website is easy to navigate. We may think our return policy is hard to miss. We may think it’s obvious how to use our product. But maybe it’s not. Or maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle.
It’s even worse when policies are non-standard or downright odd. I bet we all know businesses that are closed Sundays and Mondays. Or Mondays and Tuesdays. Some are only open 4-7 on Tuesday, 12-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays, closed Thursdays, and open Friday 10-3. Saturdays and Sundays by appointment only (but no phone number is given and they never answer the store phone.)
Am I really expected to remember that? Maybe for one biz. But for two? Six? Twenty???
Even something as supposedly stable as location can get dicey. Some businesses around here have moved three, four, even five times in the 20 years we’ve been here. Once I sent my husband on an errand I usually take care of. He called me fifteen minutes later–no store. Where the heck were they?, he wanted to know. He’d gone to their address from five years ago. It was already two addresses old.
It’s bad enough to assume people will remember all our quirky hours, or that we tend to move every three years. It’s bad enough to assume they know all the proper terminology, or are familiar with all the forms they need to do business with us
But it’s even worse to treat your customers like they’re stupid when they don’t know. (Hence my post office story.)
We can tell them, we can show them. Signage in your booth helps. (“We accept all major credit cards.”) But you’re still going to get asked, “Do you take credit cards?” After the fiftieth time you’re asked that, saying, “Read the sign!” is not good customer care. (Unless, of course, it’s the same customer asking fifty times. If that’s the case, I give you permission to say, “Hey, no, I don’t, but that artist (insert the name of your least favorite artist) over there takes credit cards.”) Saying cheerfully, “Yes, we do!” is smart.
Clear, accessible policies on your website helps. (“Custom orders are not returnable.”) Telling them helps. (“If this doesn’t work out for you, you can return this pin for exchange or credit towards another piece within 10 days.”) Putting it in writing helps. (“Items can be returned for exchange or credit ONLY with 10 days of purchase.” on your invoices.) Usually, terms such as your return policy must be posted visibly in your store/booth or printed on the receipt.
Clarity helps. Ensure your website is ridiculously easy to navigate. Redundancy helps. Make vital information incredibly easy to find, posting it in several places if necessary.
But most people (me included) simply let all your information leak into “overflow parking.” It’s human nature: Too. Much. Information. Making them feel stupid when they realize the bracelet is too hard to put on by themselves will put the kabosh on future sales. Offering them a different clasp when they complain, or offering the option of an exchange, will help.
Patience will go a long way when hiccups occur. Yes, some customers ramble and have to be gently reined in. But good listening skills, asking good questions, and simply being professional, courteous–and kind–will help you target what your customer needs from you.
And your customers will appreciate it.
In this case, I was out of the country for over a week, and it took me a couple of days to get through my mail. So almost 10 days had gone by before I found the a form notice that my mail carrier had attempted delivery of a registered item that needed my signature. It said the item was being held for me at the post office.
I know that some kinds of mail get returned if not claimed within a certain time, but I wasn’t sure if this would happen with my item.
Form in hand, I called the phone number for the post office on the form and spoke to an employee there.
The ensuing conversation read like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
PO: “Post Office.”
Me: “Hi, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and I got a notice that my carrier had tried to deliver registered package, but no one had been home to sign for it. It’s dated over a week ago, almost 10 days. Is it still at the Post Office, or had it been sent back to the sender?”
PO: “What’s the address?” (Spoiler: She probably should have asked if I had the form.)
I give it to her, she disappears, comes back on line.
PO: “There’s nothing there for that address. What’s your name?”
I tell her my name. (Spoiler: She probably should have said, “What’s the name of the addressee on your form?”) I start to ask if providing a tracking number would help, as there are a couple of numbers on the form, but she puts me on hold again before I can say anything more.
PO: “There’s nothing here under that name.” (silence)
Me: “Oh. Was it sent back already? Is there any way to track it? I have some…” (I was going to say “…numbers on this form” again but she says, “Hang on” and dashes off again.)
PO: “I’ve looked at all the packages and boxes, I looked in x, y, z places and it isn’t here.”
Me: “Oh, sorry, it says here that it’s a ‘large envelope, catalog or…”
PO (very exasperated): “Why didn’t you say so?? Hang on.” (Puts me on hold again, returns.) “Nope, nothing.”
Me: “Is there any way to track it? If I give you the number on the form…”
PO (interrupts): “You have a form?? Why didn’t you tell me that?!”
Me: “Well, I thought I did. Let me read you….”
PO (interrupting again): “Give me the number.”
Me: “Okay, there are several numbers on here, which one…”
PO (interrupting again, speaking louder and faster): “The (indistinct) number.”
Me: “The ‘what’ number?”
PO (angrily): “The (indistinct) number! On the back!”
Me: “Look, I can here you say ‘something number’ but I can’t hear what the ‘something’ is.” (silence)
Me (trying again): “I can’t tell which side of the form is the back or front, there are two numbers, one starts with…”
PO (interrupts again): “The (indistinct) number! On the BACK of the form!”
pause…. (I’m trying to stay patient.)
Me: “I can hear you say it’s a number and that it’s on the back. My confusion is it’s not very clear which is the front and which is the back of the form, and there are several strings of numbers. Is it the number starting with RF…”
PO (interrupts again): “No, no the number on the BACK!”
Me (cautiously): “Is it the bar code number?”
PO: “That’s not it! The BACK of the form!”
My tongue is now bloody from biting it so hard. I read her one of the other numbers, which thankfully is the right one. She puts me on hold again, and comes back.
PO: “Are you by any chance also known as ‘Durable Goods’?”
Me: “Yes, I….”
PO (interrupting): “Why didn’t you say so?? It’s right here. You can pick it up anytime.” (I refrain from telling her I answered every question she asked me, but she hasn’t answered any of mine yet.)
Me: “Well, actually, I’d like to have it….”
PO: “YOU CAN PICK IT UP ANYTIME!”
Me: “I’d rather….”
PO: “What else do you need??”
Me: “I’d like to have it delivered.”
PO: “You have to sign the form to have it delivered.”
Me: “Yes, I understand, I can sign the form, I just didn’t know if it were still at the post office…”
PO (interrupting, angrily): “Yes, I SAID it’s RIGHT HERE, you can pick it up anytime. If you sign it, you won’t get it til Friday.”
Me: “Friday is fine…Look, I…”
PO: “We’re busy, is that all?”
At this point I asked to speak to her supervisor.
PO: “Why? She’s not going to get that package to you any faster.”
Me: “Look, this is getting out of hand, I…” and she puts me on hold again.
Supervisor: “Your package is right here, you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I want to let you know how rude….”
Supervisor: “Hold on, the other phone’s ringing.” (puts me on hold) “Look, we’re pretty busy, you’re package is here and you can pick it up anytime.”
Me: “I know that, I’ve been treated very rudely by your employee. Don’t you care about that?”
Supervisor: “Well, I can’t help you with that. Goodbye.”(hangs up)
Now, I usually don’t engage in Post Office bashing. I think they move an incredible amount of mail at reasonable rates. And usually I am treated with courtesy in my interactions with them. Although I noticed the last time I was there that all the nice people have retired….
But if there were another option for mail service, I would have seriously considered it after this little incident.
All this, just because this person assumed I should know their procedures for registered mail. Which I get about once a year. And let me know how dumb she thought I was because I didn’t know.
If all queries are handled like mine was, I have my suspicions about why they’re so busy.
Using PayPal for online sales can be great, but know the drawbacks of PayPal before you get burned.
I found out the hard way that online shopping can be a dangerous thing.
I’ve shopped on Ebay for years, back in the day when its url was actually eBay with a jillion letters and stuff, and many vendors didn’t even post pics of their products. And I was an early user of PayPal, too. It guaranteed your money was safe with Ebay transactions, and it made everything soooooo easy.
As PayPal expanded its services to other online venues, I continued to use it in good faith. I heard rumors of “issues”, but figured it was mostly the kinds of transactions I didn’t indulge in–gold coins, international purchases, deals that were somewhat shady to begin with, etc.
So when I found an ad with a great deal for custom-printed T-shirts on Facebook last month, I didn’t think twice about ordering a bunch for our family. (“I’d Rather Be Watching FIREFLY”, in case you’re wondering.) I paid with my Paypal account, which actually had a balance for a change.
Weeks went by. No T-shirts. I checked back at the website to email the company.
When I clicked on the “contact us” tab, a funny message appeared. And not “funny ha ha”, either.
It said the company was experiencing “problems” processing orders. And it said to be patient and wait “a few more weeks”, as orders would be processed in the order they were received.
Warning bells started ringing. For one thing, the vendor hadn’t been proactive and contacted me. I’d had to track them down. And “a few more weeks” would put me outside the 45-day safety period where I could still file a claim with PayPal.
I immediately filed a claim with PayPal, thinking of their buyer protection guarantee. But that turned out to be a little more difficult–and ultimately problematic–than I’d anticipated.
First the process and the form to fill out was a little confusing. I was asked over and over to contact the seller myself to resolve issues. Been there, done that, did NOT get the T-shirt. Duh!
Then I was asked to submit “documents”. What documents are there in an online transaction?? I left that blank. For the rest of the process, a stern and rueful “You did not submit documents!” glared at me from my report.
Then I was told I had to escalate the claim before any action could be taken. But if I waited too long, the claim would automatically be dropped.
I waited a few days, then escalated.
I waited a week for a report on my claim. And the results shocked me.
PayPal had indeed determined that I had paid for goods I had not received. They had determined the seller was not responded to emails. And then they determined the seller had no money in her account. Hence, no money could be refunded to me.
So the case was CLOSED. Thank you for using PayPal, the safe way to shop online.
I could not believe it. I called PayPal, and got the same answer.
Short story: PayPal guarantees buyer protection only for transactions made through Ebay. No other transactions are guaranteed.
I think of the hundreds of transactions I’ve made over the years buying books, craft supplies, all the shopping I’ve done on Etsy and other vendors over the years, and I’m floored.
I asked what happened to the vendor who’d disappeared with my money. “Oh, we’ll watch and make sure they don’t open another PayPal account!” Huh? How are they going to do that?? They don’t have any way of contacting this vendor other than an email address, and yet they were sure they could “identify” this person if they ever open up another PayPal account…..??!! Yeah, we all know how hard it is to get a new email account.
I feel fortunate. I am sadder, $36 poorer and wiser. But all I lost was less than $50 and a few hours of my time. It could have been worse, much worse.
And I’ve learned my lesson. I now make sure that when I pay with PayPal, I select the “other funding options” which puts the money on my credit card instead. I may pay extra fees, but if I have a dispute, my credit card company will do battle instead. And I believe they will take better care of me than PayPal did.
So be forewarned. Read the fine print. If “guaranteed buyer protection” means “We kinda tried to get your money back but we didn’t have much luck”, then that’s a guarantee I can do without, thank you very much.
A reader left a question for me on this series:
“Would you discuss one other group of people that one sometimes needs to get out of the booth — the people with kids who think everything in your booth is something neat to play with?
OR the adults who think your booth is a cool place to let the kids handle everything? Especially with sticky, gooey fingers? I’m a spinner/weaver, and trying to figure out how to say nicely, “Only with clean hands, please…” Dirty sticky yarn doesn’t sell well…”
Actually, you don’t need to boot these people out.
How you deal with kids signals other potential customers how you will deal with them if they do something stupid. (Accidentally, we hope!)
A little patience, and some little tricks along the way, will go a long way to creating a relaxed atmosphere in your booth.
Use these moments to educate the kids about your work. They’ll either be enchanted, and you can work you sales pitch gently into the talk.
OR they’ll get bored, because now it sounds like school, and they’ll lose interest, moving on to the next exciting booth to manhandle.
Remember: Every other customer will be listening intently.
Trust me. One of the most important things I learned from Bruce Baker is that what people overhear you telling another customer is perceived as being the truth. Use this opportunity to tell everyone in your booth about your work. (Er…but not loud enough that people two booths over can hear you….)
I know there are some children who don’t behave well. But I’ve only had a very few incidents where the child was actually destructive or totally disrespectful.
For the sticky fingers, here are some ideas:
Keep a “special skein” available behind the counter for kids to touch, maybe even a few samples of roving–something you won’t care about if it gets messed up. Come on, we ALL have those dud projects hanging around somewhere. Now you can put it to perfect use!
I keep a package of baby wipes handy. When a child starts pick something up, I quickly say, “Here, let me help you.”
I ask in a friendly way, “I have a special yarn for kids to touch. Are your hands clean?” They usually get a little settled here. You’re starting to act like a teacher or a parent. They usually nod solemnly. “I say let me feel your hands.” You can tell instantly if a kid’s hands are clean! If they are, give them the sample skeins. If not, hand them a wipe.
I say, “It’s okay to touch my work, as long as you treat it gently and with respect. I’ve worked really really hard to get it to look just right.”
They usually respond with another solemn nod.
Then, depending on the age of the child, I talk a little bit about the horse. I point out all the tiny layers that make it look like ivory. I point out all the little details that make it special. If they are pre-teens or older, I talk about how four teenage boys discovered the first, and most beautiful Ice Age cave art in the world. They are enchanted that someone their age did something so incredible.
Okay, Alta Mira in Spain was discovered first, but no one knew what it really was until after Lascaux.
As I point out each detail, the parents start looking, too. And so do other customers. Everyone starts to really see the work. Sometimes I even see other customers finally reach out to touch a piece they’ve been looking at.
This permission to handle your work with care and with clean hands and under your supervision helps to create an air of respect for your work. The dynamic changes. Instead of “play time!”, you’ve created a teachable moment.
Use this moment to talk about your work with love and pride, and I think you’ll find that most kids will respond to that. And their parents will be grateful.
Don’t get your hopes up! I’ve found over the years that the parents rarely buy anything. You’ve provided that edutainment (education + entertainment) that Bruce Baker talks about so often.
View this as your contribution to fostering appreciation for the arts and crafts for a future generation.
Actually, sometimes parents do buy your work, if the child gets attached to your product and your work isn’t outrageously expensive. They buy it as a souvenir of the experience you’ve provided, or to foster a budding interest in the child. I have had parents buy $50 and $75 items because their child was so fascinated with it. (And sometimes those are the most difficult kids, because their parents do like to indulge their kids.) Don’t be too hard on them. We all know how tough it is to be a good parent, even the best parents have their bad moments.
You can adapt this script to work with other products as well. I keep a couple artifacts behind the counter, or pick up something sturdy like one of my netsuke animal artifacts. It’s neat to have two, because then the child can choose which one to hold, which adds to the fun (and helps capture their interest.) This also helps if there is more than one child, because then everyone can hold one. Fun for all!
If your work is just too delicate or fragile for such handling, have a sample of the materials you use, or one of your tools, or again, a cast-off piece that you don’t care about. You can actually use this approach for adults, too.
Treating children with respect and genuine warmth pays off in other ways, too. A regular customer brought his son in last year. The boy had visited every booth in the fair, looking for that special something to spend his money on. His father said, “When we finished, he didn’t even want to look again–he came right back here to buy this!”
He pointed to a small wall hanging for $350. That boy had saved a lotta money!
I was honored a child would be so enchanted with my work, he would actually buy such a fabulous piece.
And I was doubly glad that I deal with kids the way I do!
Here’s another reason–a BIG one–why you don’t really want to get these people to leave:
Human beings are born yearning to touch things.
Touch is how we explore our world, and we rejoice in the experience.
“Feel how soft this sweater is!” we exclaim as we shop. “No, not this scarf, it’s too scratchy.” “These pears are too firm, but those pears are just right!”
We constantly talk about how things feel: “Oh, this puppy’s fur is so fluffy!” “I love to walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and feel the wind in my hair, and play tag with the waves.” “I can’t stand wearing that shirt because the tag is scratchy!” “I love it when my kids hug me.”
When we tell children not to touch, we are asking them to go against their very nature. Our very nature. When you see people enter your booth with their hands behind their back, it’s because the temptation to touch is so strong (and they know they “shouldn’t”) they have to physically hold themselves back.
I’m lucky to use a material that’s sturdy and durable. I know not all artists have that luxury. But when I tell people that it’s okay to touch my work, and to feel free to pick up a piece to look more closely, their relief–and joy–are palpable.
It creates an incredible feeling of participation and delight in my booth.
Try to find ways to let people touch something in your booth. Your customers will be happy, your visitors will be charmed, and you will feel better all around.
Some of you are probably getting the hang of this now. “Promise them something later…okay, I get it!”
But aren’t we letting ourselves in for all kinds of time spent doing all kinds of favors for those people? After all, “after the show” comes up…well, right after the show. Just when you want to kick back, take a breather, and then get down to filling those special orders and making those repairs.
Well, this is the best part…
You will never hear from most of those people again.
Here’s a look at the dynamic:
There’s something about being at a show that affects us all.
Customers are excited: They’re shopping! They get to see dozens, maybe hundreds of cool little booth-shops, all lined up in rows. There is wonderful new work to be seen, interesting new jewelry and clothing to try on, fabulous new objects to marvel at. And the artists–such an odd breed! They look different, they sound different, they just do stuff and make stuff and gosh, they just have such interesting lives. As Bruce Baker says so enchantingly, “To ‘normal’ folks, artists are people that ran away to join the circus!”
Those same artists may be exhausted, hot, excited, anxious, cold, flattered, suave, frantic, happy, hungry, shy, nervous, polished, bored, thrilled–sometimes all in the same day.
At a show, the rules are different. It isn’t like shopping at TJ Maxx. But it’s not like being at the museum of art, either.
A show does look a little like a circus. There may be “acts” (demonstrators and workshops), fun food, music. Children laughing (and crying.) Serious collectors and Looky-Lou’s.
It’s also impermanent. A few days ago, this wonderful fair may have been an empty gymnasium, or a parking lit, or an empty field. Now it’s filled with tents and tables, crowds and people and noise, noise, noise.
And in a few days, it will all be gone, like fairy gold. It will magically disappear and the gymnasium, parking lot or field will reappear again.
Is it any wonder that some people are at their worst? Especially those who “issues” to begin with?
Is it any wonder that tempers are frayed, that attention wanders, that our skins are thinner and our patience is shorter? That the comments and actions of annoying people suddenly take on monumental proportions?
And that’s why sometimes all we need is a breather. A few seconds to calm ourselves and get centered again. A deep breath so we can get to our happy place again.
It’s the same for those annoying people. They may annoying, but they are bound to be even more annoying. They are out of their element, their normal routine is disrupted, the normal “stops and guards” on their social shortcomings are not in place.
That’s why distracting people with other choices, other options, is so effective. It gets them out of the particular situation that brings out the worst in them (the show), out of that moment (in your booth)–and on to another place, another time (“after the show”).
That’s why getting people to deal with you after the show is so effective. When everyone is back in normal life and normal time, sometimes the annoying behaviors disappear, too. The urgency they felt to get something from you, the negative energy they carried, simply dissipates.
It tends to dissipate so much, the problem simply goes away. I think that of all the people I ask to contact me after the show, probably less than 10% actually do.
If I’ve asked them to follow up by e-mail (which is the most convenient for me), it may take me only a few minutes to take care of all their requests and answer all their questions.
Use those magical words “after the show” like a giant fairy wand, making everything weird and nasty and annoying just disappear into a puff of smoke.
Best of all–you can wave it more than three times, too!