NEWSLETTERS 101 #21: Share Your Customer Service!

Some roadblocks to my latest Shrine Series resolved, full steam ahead!
Some roadblocks to my latest Shrine Series resolved, full steam ahead!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #21: Share Your Customer Service

How a family-run business has made me a lifelong customer!

(4 minute read)

You get a pass today. I started today’s column on a different note, getting all the details just right. Which meant, of course, that it ran on and on. Then I accidentally deleted it. So…a shorter read today!

I wanted to share a new topic idea for your email newsletters that your readers will appreciate.

A project dear to my heart has been blocked for years. I ran into a few roadblocks on a new series of box shrine. I was using a silicon construction adhesive to join the boxes. It worked until it didn’t, and I was at a loss of where to go next.

I came up with two different solutions: Mechanical connections (which was a whole nother can of worms, until I worked my way through them, too) and epoxy.

I bought a tube from a local hardware store. But it went south the first time I tried to use it, and in frustration I reached out to the company. I described what happened, asked if it were shelf-life related (yup, some glues and epoxies have a shelf-life.) And waited for a reply.

My experience with customer service regarding defective products hasn’t been good.

I fill out all the forms online, then wait weeks for a response. IF I ever even get a response. (This is my usual experience, especially from companies too big to care  very much.)

So I nearly dropped my teeth when the company care rep for J-B Weld responded the next day. In less than 24 hours. (They’re in an earlier time zone, so it was impossible for them to respond any earlier.) The rep not only responded quickly, he sent me about a dozen tubes of epoxy, fresh from their factory line. Some were the same I’d purchased, but he added a variety of others for me to experiment with. For free.

He refused my offer to pay for them. And when I followed up a few weeks later, sharing my success with some the glues, but the same issue with others, he promised to send even more glue! Even after we realized part of the problem was the temperature in my studio (it’s usually 48 degrees in the winter until my space heater gets going), he still made it his personal mission to help me get my project moving forward.

As you can imagine, I am now a life-long customer!

Why am I sharing this today?

The first reason is obvious: Good customer service is vital for any business, and small businesses often do it better than mega-businesses. As artists, we need to understand this, too. I’m not suggesting you overwhelm your collectors with free epoxy. I mean, art. But when something goes wrong, I do my best to make their experience as positive as possible. Listening carefully, sorting out the options, and making things right.

The second is just what I’m doing here: Sharing my powerfully-positive experience with you. Letting you know that, whatever your need for epoxy, this is a company who stands behind their products. They want to know if you have a problem, and they want to help you fix it.

And your experience is something you can share in your email newsletters.

A lot of artists subscribe to my blog and newsletter, and of course, to Fine Art Views. Sharing what manufacturers you can trust is a gift to them. For my collectors, they may benefit, too. But it also shows them I really get what great customer service looks like.

Sure, there will always be that rare client who we can never make happy. And I sincerely hope you don’t buy some J-B Weld epoxy just so you can complain and ask for a box of more epoxy, free.

But they reached out to me, quickly, with full support. They believe in their products, and acted accordingly.

Just as we do the best work we can, and work to fix it if something goes wrong, with our own collectors.

And that’s the third reason to share: Do we want our customers to complain about how we handled an issue? Or do we want them to sing our praises?

We can share our own story/stories about how we created the perfect experience with a customer, or we can share our own personal experience, like the one I had with J-B Weld.

So today, I’m giving a shout-out to Chris Fox at J-B Weld (thank you, Chris!), who figured out what the problem actually was, so I can move forward.

And you get yet another idea of what to share in your next email newsletter!

Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Share this Fine Art Views article, or view more like it my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

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.