Customer Service Still Rules

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

It’s a vital aspect of our art biz we often overlook.

(7 minute read)

Thank you with your patience as I continue to process the more than 100 comments I’ve received (on FAV, on my blog, and in private emails) on my column last week, on why millennials don’t buy our art. There were many thoughtful comments, and some very sad ones, and it will take some time to evaluate them, categorize them, and respond with insights and tips.

A few years ago, I teamed with another artisan for a show. One customer, another artist, bought a pricy piece from my cohort. My own jaw dropped at the price, but it was within reason, considering the time and skill it took to produce.

Less than a month later, the customer contacted them to let them know the jewelry piece broke. They arranged to meet and discuss options.

I happened to meet up with that client before the artisan showed up. The client told me they absolutely loved the piece, and they were heartbroken that it broke. They were desperately hoping it could be repaired. (I thought, “For what you paid for it, I certainly hope so, too!”) After waiting for almost an hour, they had to leave but would be back, and I told them I’d let the artisan know.

When the artist finally showed up, they went berserk. They ranted on about how it wasn’t their (the artisan’s) fault, the customer must have dropped it, there was no way it “just broke”. The artisan was angry and frustrated.

I managed to talk them down before the customer came back, but it was difficult. In the end, I reminded them that the customer had paid a lot of money for that piece, and if the issue weren’t resolved, it could be bad. An unhappy customer can do a lot of damage to our reputation, and the only way to manage it is to deal with it in a way that makes both parties happy.

This month, I made two online purchases from vendors, one for display pieces for my jewelry, the other for some very nice gems for same. Both sent me the wrong items. One was a mistake, the other was due to extremely misleading descriptions and images. And when I alerted each vendor to my situation, I had two completely different responses.

The display vendor totally owned making a mistake. Once they realized what the problem was, they sent me replacements. When I offered to return the original items, they said no worries, they were good, just keep it or pass it on.

The second company denied anything was wrong.

I’d included pictures, I included the description, which clearly showed neither matched the actual product. (I resisted telling them I realized after the fact that they’d actually hijacked the image from another site, it was not their own image.) I said I would like to return the item and get my money back.

The company suggested they’d sent me something better, so why was I complaining. (Um, because it wasn’t what I wanted?) They offered me a 50% refund. I said no, please tell me how to return it.

They refused. I reported the matter to Etsy, and I received a full refund.

Guess which vendor I will buy from again? Yeah.

The first vendor? I left them a glowing review on Etsy. First, I ran the review by them in case it landed wrong with them, but they loved it.

I said it was my second order from them, because I loved the product so much. And when I realized there was a discrepancy, the maker immediately set it right. And that I valued that even more than getting it right the first time. Because, moving forward, I know I can trust that person to do the right thing. I was valued as a customer.

The second vendor? I still have the item, but I still can’t use it. But since I didn’t have to send it back, I am eventually going to leave a very mixed review.

Of course, when we’re dealing with bigger, more expensive investments in art and fine craft, it may require more effort to manage an unhappy customer. But the basics are the same.

Here’s how to meet a customer where they are.

First, understand that in most stores today, we can simply return something, no questions asked. Some businesses don’t even require a sales receipt. Some customers expect the same. So make your return policy crystal clear, and for legal reasons, make it very public, so every purchaser sees it. (Mine says I take returns for exchange towards another purchase only, within 10 days of purchase.)

Second, calm down. Get centered. Don’t make assumptions about what went wrong. Assure them you will listen carefully, and make it right to the best of your ability.

Third, embrace the best reason why an unhappy customer is a blessing:

It’s a chance to discover what went wrong, so we can prevent it from happening again.

The first time I had a return, the customer was upset and defensive. I knew we wouldn’t get anywhere if I went on the defensive, too.

I assured them I could fix it or replace it. Once they were reassured, they calmed down tremendously. They explained they absolutely loved the work, they were just anxious it couldn’t be replaced or restored. Again, once I knew what the problem was, I told them I could fix it.

Once they were truly at peace, then I asked what had happened.

They admitted there was a little “flex” in the little horse pendant. When they were anxious, they would bend it back and forth a little.

And eventually, it broke.

I tried not to laugh. I did tell them it didn’t matter, I would still fix it. But even metal will break if bent in such a way repeatedly. And when I sent the repaired horse (made into a pin, so they could still wear it) and the replacement horse (this is when I learned to make them thicker, with no “flex”, I included a letter explaining why I couldn’t make that horse into a necklace again, how I was able to make another horse that look very much like, and to please refrain from bending it, in a light-hearted manner).

My fellow artisan didn’t do as well.

The customer/artist is someone I know, and the next time I saw them, I asked them how it went with the artisan.

They said it was pretty clear the artisan wasn’t happy. It was awkward, and in the end, the customer had to exchange the piece for something else, something they didn’t love nearly as much.

They also said they would never buy anything from them again. They aren’t vindictive, but they also know a lot of people in our community. A lot of people.

Sometimes we have to learn the lesson the hard way.

I learned that most people bought my work because they loved it. When it didn’t work out, there were specific reasons.

When I worked with them on those, we both found a solution that worked for both of us.

In that first customer who broke the horse, they loved the piece with all their heart. They wore it every day. It gave them serenity when they were anxious. What a tribute to my work, is how I chose to view it.

Yes, there are some difficult people out there who will never be happy. Again, I’ve learned to simply get the work back, refund their money (I can choose to do that, though legally I’m covered by my prominently-displayed return policy) and return them to the river to go mess with someone else.

But there are also people who genuinely love and appreciate us for what we do, who invest their own hard-earned money for the work of our heart. We owe it to them to make sure that wonderful exchange stays positive, and compassionate.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out some Yelp reviews. Perhaps your favorite restaurant, or your favorite shop, or any biz you know has a good ethic around its products/services and their customers. There will almost always be a snarky comment. See how the business handles it. (These days, some businesses will simply delete the customer’s remark and block them from the site. But it’s better if they address the concern, either by explaining what really happened, or by sharing what they did to settle the issue, though the buyer wasn’t having it.)

And if you have a great return policy, share it! Explain how it’s worked for you (or not) and how you got there.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Ice Is Your Best Friend!

Luann Udell shares how we can choose to reply positively to the naysayers.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

The things people say about our work, and what we can CHOOSE to say back.

 (6 minute read)

 This “ice” remark is one I hear almost every day at the physical therapy place/independent gym where I work out.

When we are injured, sore, aching, our first instinct is to apply heat. A heating pad feels wonderful. And it can help, if we don’t overdo it. But ice is actually even more healing and therapeutic, especially as our first go-to therapy. Granted, it feels better on a hot summer day than a cold winter one, but it really does help.

How does this metaphor apply to our creative work?

There are certain things that never change in our artistic lives. There will be people who love our work and let us know. And there will be people who don’t care for our work, and they are eager to let us know it.

When things are slow at art fairs and fine craft shows, exhibitors often gather in small groups to chat and compare notes. One of the most popular topics is the rude things visitors say about our work.

When someone attacks our artistic skills, process, subject matter, integrity, how we choose to respond says much about us.

Instinct kicks in:

Our first response is usually surprise: “Wha…?”

Our second is disbelief: “Why would you even say that?!”

The third is anger: “Why, you…!!!!”

These are normal, human responses, hardwired in us to protect us from danger. And when someone goes out of their way to be offensive, when all they have to do is simply walk away and go find work they like better, this can register in our lizard brain as “dangerous”.

If we respond instinctively, we jack up the heat.

Instead, in the long run, it’s better to “stay cool” and apply ice.

The thing is, there are many reasons people say such things:

Curiosity: Your work is “speaking” to them, though they may not be sure why. They want to know more.

Ignorance: They don’t know what they’re looking at, nor where it fits in their world.

Entitlement: “I will be the judge of your worthiness.”, “I am a better artist than you!”

Envy/Insecurity: “I can’t sit with the fact that YOU are an artist at this show, and I’m not!”

Antagonism/conflict lovers: They are deliberately looking to start a fight.

When we are attacked, we look for ways to defend ourselves.

There are groups on Facebook and other social media that relish this challenge. Everyone shares their awful stories about the horrible things toxic people have said. And everyone shares their funny/slamming/mocking responses in return.

We do this to minimalize the damage to our own ego. We find sympathy and support in our peer group. We share and memorize witty or snarky ways to respond, or even ask/tell them to leave our booth. Hurrah! We showed them!

I love reading the stories and the comments, and responses. I’m human, too!

But years ago, when I first started out, I sensed something “off” with this approach. It felt “hot”, and we were focusing on how to make it “hotter”.

It put me in a hard placeI felt encouraged to be my worst self, too.

I don’t want to believe people are deliberately cruel. I don’t want to be on the defensive. Taking the offensive feels like falling to their level. And it all circled around to watching out for the next attack.

Not a happy place for an artist to be. I don’t like who I am when I get in that space. All the joy I get from making my work is siphoned off.

Starting out in my industry, I was fortunate. I had the benefit of people who took a higher road, and a more effective approach. They generously shared their tact, and tactics, ways to take the conversation to a more productive place.

They showed me the power of “staying cool.”

There are ways to frame our responses that a) reduce the heat in the conversation; b) show that we can stay calm and centered; c) show mercy for the folks who truly didn’t mean to insult us; d) keep the conversation going on a better plane, or shut it down gently; e) remind us that other people are listening.

 When someone says, “My son makes these!” we can respond with, “That’s lovely! What shows does he do?” or “What galleries is he in?”

When someone says, “I just don’t think these are very well-made.” We can respond with, “My work is not for everyone, but the people who do like it, love it very much.”

When someone says, for the millionth time, “What are these made of?”, that’s an opportunity to expand the conversation and/or show them the sign that explains my process. (Because this gentle, well-intention question is actually them giving me permission to talk with them, and help them go deeper into my work.)

Everything changed when I stopped being annoyed by customer resistance to “plastic clay” and shared the reaons why I chose it as my medium.

Instead of being annoyed by folks who questioned my choice of media,

I promoted its advantages for my work. It worked!

If someone complains about our prices being too high, we may hear “Your work isn’t worth it.” But what they might be saying is, “I love it, but I will never be able to afford it.” (My great layaway plan can help here!)

The times I’ve had to deflect very toxic people when there are other people in my space, after the VTP leave, my other visitors always say, “WOW, you were so gracious with that *******!”

My main reason for choosing to respond this way? I feel like I’m being my highest, best self.

It’s really hard. But it’s its own reward. I’m not knocked off my pedestal (for very long, anyway), I gain the respect of my real customers, and I show that it’s okay to ask a question that might appear awkward/ignorant–because I will do my best to respond with respect and a peaceful heart.

In fact, often after an incident like this, everyone else in the room opens up with their own questions. I’ve shown I welcome the engagement, and I won’t easily take offense if they “phrase it wrong.” I’ve created a safe environment for them, and they can relax and open up.

 Truth is, truly angry/envious/aggressive people are looking for a fight. But we don’t have to automatically give them one. As a friend told me years ago, “You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to!”

If you do shows where you encounter a lot of these people, consider that you might be in the wrong shows.

If you believe your work is worth every penny of your prices, be prepared to show how much effort, time, and skill goes into it.

Forgive the nay-sayers. Forgiveness isn’t about letting them off the hook, or ignoring what they’re doing. It’s a way of letting us off the hook. We can stand back and realize we did not deserve their ire, and we don’t have to hold on to it. As I read in an old notebook last night, “Don’t let anyone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

Of course, this assumes you want to be a force for good in the world. That you care about who you are and what you do. That you are constantly trying to be better at it.

When it comes to dealing with difficult people, just remember: Ice is your best friend.

If you enjoyed this article, share it!

And if someone has shared this article with you, and you enjoyed it, you can sign up for more articles at my blog: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

HATERS GONNA HATE: You Aren’t My Customer

A problem shopper is a problem for EVERYBODY. And it isn’t about you. 

This weekend I went thrifting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s hitting as many thrift shops as I can before my husband wants the car back. (We are managing with one car since we’ve moved to California, and so far we’ve also managed to actually stay married.)

Some people would never consider shopping at a thrift store, and some people can’t afford to shop anywhere else. In between are those of us who love the thrill of the chase, and the lure of the bargain. It’s hit-or-miss, of course, especially if you are looking for a specific item. But if you have an open mind and a small budget, it’s almost as much fun as a yard sale or a flea market, and there’s usually air conditioning, too.

So far, I’ve become (in)famous with a small group of photographers, who gave a workshop on how to photograph your own artwork. They highly recommended a tripod. I used to have one in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut during the Big Move. Now I realized it’s critical to getting a crisp, clear image.

So on our lunch break, I ran out to a nearby thrift shop—and found a very nice tripod for under $10. (Actually, I found TWO, and bought them both for $13, total.)

The facilitators (mostly men) were gob-smacked. And very impressed! “We never thought of that!” they exclaimed. “And you just went out and did it and came back with TRIPODS!” (I AM good at thrifting. I has skills, people.)

So there I am at Salvation Army, in the mood for t-shirts and open to the idea of great pair of new dress pants, with the original sales tag, for $6, when I hear an angry voice at the cash register.

A large, older man is venting his frustration at the elderly woman at the counter.

“I HOPE WHOEVER DECIDED TO SORT YOUR SHIRTS BY COLOR INSTEAD OF SIZE HAS BEEN FIRED, AND IF THEY HASN’T BEEN, THEY SHOULD BE!” He boomed. “IN FACT, THEY SHOULD BE SHOT!”

He continued, “I don’t want a RED shirt, I want a LARGE shirt! And I shouldn’t have to check out every shirt on the rack to find one!”

The clerk looked nervous, but calmly apologized. She said their policy was not to sort clothing by size. “WELL, THEN, YOU SHOULD ALL BE SHOT!” he yelled. A few more similar remarks, and he finally left the building, fuming that his perfect shopping experience had been spoiled.

When I was ready to check out, I spoke to the clerk, telling her she had my sympathy. And that I love when items are sorted by color, because I was looking for specific colors and it saved ME a lot of time to find what I was looking for.  She was relieved. We chatted cheerfully, and I left with my new purchases.

Does this man have a point? Of course he does! If he really doesn’t care what color his shirt is, it can be frustrating to have to look at every shirt to find his size. He wants to go to one spot, find all the shirts that meet his criteria, and get outta there.

Except…..There are plenty of places you can do that. In fact, EVERYWHERE else. If you still can’t afford the big bucks, you can try Kmart, Walmart, Costco, or some of the other thrift shops in the area.

So is he justified to have this attitude towards the one place he chose to shop that day? Not really. And you want to suggest a change in a productive way, why would you go off on a person (who probably was a volunteer) at the one thrift shop that doesn’t do things “your way”?

Because you can.

Because you feel entitled. “This is what I want, and I expect to get it, cheap! Now!” And the thrift store is not accommodating you.

Because you are frustrated you are big, and the world isn’t accommodating you. Because you don’t want to spend money (why else would you be in a thrift shop?) but you want a great selection, and you also don’t want to spend a lot of time. (Remember the three kinds of printing available—good, fast, or cheap? And you can get any two, but rarely three? That applies to shopping, too.)

Because you are a big, loud, angry man, and the clerk is petite, and elderly, and frightened, you can blow your stack and since it looks like there’s nobody around who’s going to stop you, you can get away with it. She’s a captive audience—she can’t walk away, she has to mind the store. And you’re the “customer”, and she has to listen.

Sometimes, that’s the damaged, angry, entitled person who comes into your creative space, and trashes you, your work, your display, your aesthetic, and in the process, maybe your soul. 

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your work. It isn’t about your color choices, your prices, your artist statement.

It’s all about them, and you are simply available. You can’t leave your space, and they are the customer.

Except….they’re not!

As I write this, I’m trying to think if ANY of the truly difficult people I’ve encountered while selling my work…the REALLY rude, patronizing, insulting, angry people….have actually bought a piece of my work.

And the answer, I realize, is no. They have not.

They aren’t really my customers at all. Just people taking advantage of the fact that I’ve (figuratively) invited them into my space, and I can’t leave. I am their captive audience, they figure, and they are entitled to your attention, and your hope, and your dreams.

If any of you are still harboring thoughts about people/family/customers saying hurtful things, about whether there is a grain of truth in their statements, about how to defend yourself, here is the living, walking, shouting truth:

There is no way to make this person happy. And you don’t even have to try.

All you have to do is smile, apologize, walk him out, maybe even point him in another direction…(another thrift shop? Another studio/booth/gallery? An artist you personally dislike? OOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD???) and count your blessings.

Because these are not the droids you’re looking for.

Because YOU made all this wonderful, wonderful work. The making of it brought you happiness. Putting it out into the world built your courage.

Your TRUE customers–the people who love it, and the people who buy it, will be happy, too.

And all it took was for you to stay in your happy place and move the unhappy baby…er…person…out of your space.  And for your real customers to cross your path today. Or maybe tomorrow. Soon!

Oh, and you have some pretty good responses and answers to their comments and questions. But we’ve got you covered there, too.

You’ve got this!

HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.

Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!

 We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.

 Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”

True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”

The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.

And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.

Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”

So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?

First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.

Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”

And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”

So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.

If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.

And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.

You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”

Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”

(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)

In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.

I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)

The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)

At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)

Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.

Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.

  

Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)

Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.

Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?

Because that isn’t really what people are asking.

Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…

I have a vision.

I have a story.

I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.

I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.

My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?

The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.

After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?

So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?

What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?

What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?

What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?

Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.

Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.

Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.

—————————————————–

KIDS AND ART

Find a way to welcome these younger visitors to your work, your vision, and the world of art. It pays off for everyone.

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I absolutely love my MOO mini business cards, for lots of reasons!

I had an open studio last weekend, a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.

I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!

There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.

I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in this studio.

I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them to touch my work.

You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine. The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holyone artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.

I quit offering food in my show booth because I don’t need it anymore. It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping the wife’s purchases. But now, instead, when I greet visitors, I tell them it’s okay to touch the work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else.

So why do I welcome kids in my art space?

Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors, especially those who are new to my work.

First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.

Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.

Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.

Finally, the education bit.  Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.

I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how  “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”

I’m baffled by this. When did regularpeople ever appreciate fine craft or art?? I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.

When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing and paper mache and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations, there was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teacher simply didn’t have the time for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (She was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year.) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go. I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as “home ec” and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.

We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade and fine art. People can easily find craft and art online. It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.

So who will teach the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the collectors and admirers of tomorrow?

Yup. Us.

When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.

I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too.  But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that work.

I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. I’ll ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.

I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!

I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.

Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that Bruce Baker, noted speaker on professional development skills for artists, advises, if your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.

Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block.

At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!

It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!

P.S. I can’t seem to post images in the comments section, but I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth!  Send your pics, and I’ll add them!

Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!
Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!

MODERN TRAVELS/TRAVAILS

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?