This week I did something for the first time in my ten years in business – I fired a customer.
I love my customers, I really do. Most of them are lovely people who appreciate and value my work. They return time and time again, all thrilled with their jewelry. Many have become friends. Working with them is great fun.
Yet sometimes someone comes along who is just a nasty ornery person who is looking for something to complain about. Someone who wakes up every day determined to be miserable and take you down their little road to hell with them.
Oh the joys of retail and customer service.
When a nasty one pops up you must always keep your cool. Maybe that person is just having a bad day and is looking to vent a little steam. It sucks that they decided to use you as a whipping post but they did.
It is really hard not to get defensive when someone attacks your business or your work. When you have made something you are putting a piece of yourself on the line. Having someone criticize or complain feels like they are attacking you personally.
Many who are new to retail or new to business have a somewhat shaky level of confidence. It takes real guts to put yourself and your work out there in public. Having a bad customer can make you question why you do what you do and if it is worth it. That is just not right.
When you are dealing with your miserable customer always watch your language. Don't show impatience or place blame on other people or organizations. Try avoiding curt, negative, dismissive, or accusatory language or phrases such as never..., I'm too busy to..., it's not my fault that..., you must have..., etc. Sure, it can be really hard not to get defensive, but it will save you time and energy in the end when you patiently send a professional and friendly response at the outset.
Stand your ground. Do not let them talk you into giving them something for free, a discount or whatever else they want. It won’t make them any happier and you will have shown that you can be bullied. Your work and your time has value even if they refuse to acknowledge it.
Stay professional no matter what. Stooping to someone else’s level of pettiness won’t make it any better. Go ahead and write that scathing email reply but DO NOT send it. Take a deep breath and then respond.
Ask yourself these questions.
Is their complaint justified? Did you make a mistake? Sometimes it happens. If the mistake is on your part, acknowledge it and fix it. Sometimes an apology can go a long way to defusing a situation.
Did you communicate clearly along the way? Is the problem that the customer doesn’t understand what is going on? For online orders make sure you have your shipping policies and procedures and your refund policy clearly on your website. For custom work, make sure every single detail is written down.
Have you done your best? If you have, then the problem is not you. It’s them.
A mean customer can be a like a dog, they can sniff out fear. Add to that a feeling that “the customer is always right” and a crafter with a low level of confidence can find themself being beaten into giving the customer whatever they want. We try to bend over backwards to fix the problem because a sale is a sale, right?
Wrong. Sometimes the sale is not worth it.
If fixing the problem will take away too much time from your other work, walk away.
If a customer is rude or abusive, walk away.
When you are faced with a miserable customer ask yourself, would I tolerate this behaviour in my personal life? If the answer is no, walk away.
I have seen crafters put up with a lot because they think it is part of being in business. It is not. Do not allow your customers to mistreat you, you deserve better. It is important for us to stand up for ourselves.
Sometimes the best move you can make is to refund someone’s money and cut your losses. As much as we want to do everything you can to turn them all into smiling satisfied happy shoppers, there will be times when you are better off letting go.
For every one customer you have to fire (I literally told my miserable customer never to order from me again!), there will be thousands of others who make you smile and bring joy.
Shake it off and move on. Moving on is just part of business.