There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!
Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.
Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.
First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.
We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.
We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.
The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.
But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.
They said, “How are you today?”
I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.
So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.
The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)
And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.
They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”
Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!
I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”
Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.
Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.
Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.
And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.
Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.
And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:
“How are you today?”
“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”
“Are you enjoying the show?”
Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:
“How many years have you been coming to this show?”
“How did you hear about this event?”
“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)
By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.
What’s a better way to engage a visitor?
Don’t pressure them.
After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)
When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.
Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”
Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.
And so they dig in, and start looking.
Then I shut up and go back to work.
“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.
This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”
For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)
So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.
Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.
Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.
Today’s column at Fine Art Views, with a shout-out to Bruce Baker:
My nephew is getting married today in Chicago. He’s the first grandchild in our family, and the first one to get married, too. I wanted to be there.
(This is a long shaggy dog story about poor customer service, so if you’re not in the mood, just scroll down to the last few paragraphs.)
So I spent hours researching flight schedules and ticket prices. Found a great deal on Spirit, non-stop (bonus!) and acceptable times. (We live two hours from various airports, so 6 a.m. flights are not an option….)
I made my sisters & sisters-in-law (old and new) jewelry two days before. I went over my wardrobe the night before. I packed my bags, got a good night’s sleep, and printed out my boarding pass.
In hindsight, maybe I should have foreseen where this was all heading when I realized I had to pay an extra $70 to carry on ONE bag ($35 each way.) And to ensure an aisle seat (knee surgery last month, remember?), I had to pay an extra $20. So the “bargain fare” was beginning to look less and less like a bargain.
Oh, well. It was worth it, right?
We left for the airport with my husband in good time to catch my flight.
My husband dropped me off at the terminal for Spirit, and that’s where the real fun began.
I had a mental hiccup–do you have to check in if you already have your boarding pass? I asked one of the “line helpers” at a neighboring airline.
“You with United? No? You have to go over there for Spirit.” I told him it was a pretty generic question, but he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t “his” customer, so he just insisted I go somewhere else. Of course, I realized after one quick look at the ticket kiosk that I was all set. As I walked away, he followed me, saying repeatedly, “Miss! Did you get the answer to your question? Can I help you?” Well, thank you for the help–NOT.
I went through one of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen, with a nervous gentleman behind who kept trying to nudge me forward or snake around me. He finally succeeded in doing so, only to be pulled from the line to be searched. HA!
I found my gate and sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.
Finally, one of the other passengers went up to ask what was going on. Guess what? Our flight was cancelled. When were they going to announce it? In a little while. Why? There was bad weather in Chicago (which I found out later was not so bad and didn’t last long.) Our flight was not delayed, or rescheduled. Just cancelled. There would be no rebookings til the next day, in the afternoon. AFTER the wedding.
A bunch of us tried to find a new flight, but it was difficult. I realized I’d be arriving very late, if at all, and exhausted (still recovering from surgery, not much stamina.) I decided to just get a refund and go home. I’m glad I did, because I saw the other passenger two hours later, still trying to rebook her flight with another airline, with no success.
I called the hotel to cancel my reservation–I only had a couple hours before a penalty fee would kick in. I was put on hold several times. The agent asked for my confirmation code eight times. (No exaggeration.) She kept asking when I would be arriving. I kept reminding her I was cancelling. She kept putting me on hold to “check with a supervisor.” After being kept on hold for 10 minutes, I hung up and used my smartphone to cancel the reservation on their website. It took me one minute.
I decided to have lunch while waiting for Jon to come pick me up. I went to the only restaurant outside the secured area. I asked the man at the cash register if it was self-serve or table service. (It looked like both, and I wanted to be served.) “We have table service,” he said. “Sit anywhere!” I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After fifteen minutes, (and after several larger groups were seated after me, and waited on before me), I decided to just get a salad to go and eat it in the hallway. I picked a packaged salad and waited at the cash register. And waited. And waited. Near me were a group of waiters chatting. I waited about five minutes, then turned and walked out. As I walked out, one of them ran after me, saying, “Miss, can I help you? Miss! Did you want something??”
I got a quick sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts. (I was desperate.) Jon soon arrived, and we started home.
We decided to stop in Jaffrey and eat at a very nice inn. It was lovely. We sat on the screened-in porch and watched the world go by.
After a few minutes, I left to go use the restroom. Jon said it was kind of hidden, and to just ask one of the staff. After wandering through a few rooms, I saw a waiters station with three staff members talking. I waited til I caught the eye of one of the waiters and said, “Can you tell me where the restroom is?”
And he said, “Yes.”
I waited. He waited. I waited. He waited.
I know he thought he was being funny. I know he didn’t know I’d already had a 10 hour day full of waiting, disappointment, rude and pompous air terminal employees, and a long, hot drive still ahead of us. I know it was a joke.
Unfortunately, I was in no mood.
I turned around and walked out.
Of course, he came chasing after me. “It was a joke, I’m so sorry, the restroom is right there!”
We finished our meal, paid and left.
On the way home, I thought about the day’s events.
I wanted to be at that wedding. I tried hard to be at that wedding.
It’s nobody’s fault that I can’t be there, but it’s certainly not mine. All day long, I dealt with people who were paid to serve me, paid to assist me, paid to give me excellent customer service.
Very, very few of them did.
At one of the fanciest restaurants in the region, I was humiliated. I just wanted to know where I could pee. I politely asked a paid employee for assistance. All he had to do was point and say, “Right there” and I would have been content. Instead, at the end of a very long, exhausting day, I was made the butt of his little joke.
In fact, the best customer service I received that day was from the two cheerful, accommodating women at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were making minimum wage, and they barely spoke English. But that didn’t stop them from making sure my coffee was exactly the way I wanted it. (And yes, I gave them a big tip.)
So here’s the customer service point:
Whenever I write or talk about giving great customer service at a show, in your booth, when I write about how to answer customers’ questions about your work or your product, there’s always someone who insists that a funny, snappy answer is a good thing. When you ask, “How long did it take you to make this?” they respond, “It took me 30 years to make that!” I am here to tell you, it’s not funny to the person who asked you a question.
As a person who was exhausted, in need, and paying a lot of money to have a nice dinner, I just did not appreciate the “joke”.
In fact, I contend it’s not “a joke” nor “funny” to the person who’s at your mercy. It’s condescending at best, and passive-aggressive at worst.
Please. Don’t do this to your customers.
The best service I received that day was from a woman at Dunkin’ Donuts who barely spoke English. She simply kept asking if my order was “okay?” until I said yes. She put more cream in my coffee, gave me more napkins for my sandwich, till I was “okay!” Taking care of me wasn’t “beneath her”. She didn’t even need to smile or crack jokes. She simply took her job seriously, and I am grateful.
All the customer service advice in the world comes down to this, and it’s really very simple.
Treat your customers as treasured guests (until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt they don’t deserve it, and even them, simply move them on.) Okay, maybe they are stupid. But more likely, they are confused, overwhelmed or exhausted.
If you want your customers to become owners, treat them with courtesy. With kindness. With respect.
That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?
Here’s my latest article at Fine Art Views Newsletter called
QUESTIONS YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER: Do You Have a Website?
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!
Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.
We all know the scene:
Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”
If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.
Here’s my own personal observation:
Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.
Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.
There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.
Here are some ways not to talk about your art:
PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.
Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.
Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.
Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.
And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.
Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.
I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”
Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)
ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.
RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.
FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.
I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.
All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….
I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.
So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?
Most importantly… Why should your audience care??
I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.
When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)
They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.
That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.
Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.
And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.
How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.
If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.