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Tracy

21 Century Customer... Perpetual Replacement Of Pottery

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Has anyone else noticed the "LL Bean Effect" with customers?  That is, they have purchased your pottery in the past and have broken it and now expect YOU to replace it free because, obviously, it was made improperly.  

 

At my last show a woman brought over a baking dish she purchased from me TWELVE YEARS AGO. She broke one of the handles.  She said it was inferior and did not withstand the weekly use.  Really?  I offered her a discount on another baker but she would have none of that.  She went off and got her girlfriend and the two of them basically bullied me into a free replacement.  I gave in due to having a full booth of customers and not wanting to create a scene.  But, I'm still steaming about it (obviously, LOL).

 

Just got an email from a customer who bought a mug last year and has used it daily.  It developed a crack and she wants a  free replacement with free shipping.

 

This has been happening to me more in the past few years than in the first 15 years I was in business.  Its annoying.  

 

Okay, I'm done venting.  Phew.  I feel better.

sketter likes this

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My friend who was an archeologist had a saying it is not the "good" pot that gets broken...meaning the everyday pot that gets used is more likely to be dug up in pieces. I'd say they got their money's worth from the pots. Sounds like a new trend you are getting ..and not a good one.

 

Marcia

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This is coming from a lot of aspects of society. 

 

The "customer service" focus that most companies are employing these days is one of them.  It is not too many people that are "removed" from hearing about the training that they or a spouse or relative or friend is getting at thier place of employment.  The focus is on making the customer happy and "empoweering" the employees to "make it right".  The basic philosophy is "the squeeky wheel gets the oil". 

 

People have learned that to get satisfaction (meaning 'get their own way')...... don't talk to the front line employee... ask for a manager or the owner.  If you make a stink.... you'll "win".  Since as the potter you are the "owner/manager".... you're on the hook.

 

And with ethics seriously on the decline in society.... for a lot of folks it is about the "win" not about what is "right".  Pots do break in use.  Inherent thing.  But they know that if they make a big enough fuss...... they can get another one for free or at a serious discount.  And that saves them money.  So they'll take advantage of that situation....becasue they don't care what is right... they are in it for self-interest. (screw everyone else!) .   

 

Then there are the plethora of consumer oriented publications that are trumpeting "don't pay the asking price for anything".  Some are specific about going to craft fairs and the line and "talking down" the prices.

 

So when people are buying what they see as "luxury goods" (handmade priced pots compared to Walmart priced pots)... they expect more.

 

Yes ... this is a disturbing trend. 

 

best,

 

............................john

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I always evaluate the breakage and need to see the piece.

Here is my last story

At Xmas show in Tempe Az after show a fellow called about buying a broken mug

I said bring it to me in spring show so I can see it.

It looked like it was hit on side with ball pene hammer

This could have happened while I was graving with it so I gave him a new one on the house.

I always want to see what happened and many get that broken handles are tier fault.

This guy was willing to wait 4months and come look me up with said item this in itself cuts out many a scammer

The customer is not always right but needs to be given his day in the pottery court (I'm the judge)

Mark

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I treat these situations similar to Mark ... within a reasonable amount of time, and given the right circumstances, I will give a free replacement pot. Overall my policy is to have no policy, every case and every customer will be judged individually. My responses will range from "I promise to make this right" to "go away."

 

I think the 12 year old baking dish most definitely did not require a replacement. There's plenty of ways the owner could have mishandled it during 12 years. I would have offered a discount on a new one too, It think that was a fair solution. I don't know, if I had other customers in my booth, and I sensed that someone might make a scene, I might have given her a new baker too. Just to resolve it as quickly as possible. An angry scene only hurts you, no matter who is right or wrong. The only thing I would have done differently is, when handing her the new baker, say "I hope this resolves the matter. Please never buy my pottery again."

 

On the other hand, the mug that cracked within one year would get its day in "pottery court." Probably replaced. Although she would have to send the cracked one back first so I could see what happened to it. Did it crack when boiling water was poured in, or did somebody drop it?

 

I used to make an item that consisted of three parts. One of the parts was delicate and small. On three occasions, customers brought back the fragile part broken. I gave them replacements on the house. One of them started crying. Another one handed me a plate of brownies a few days later. The third one returned to my booth an hour later and bought a $250 platter. So this type of customer service can benefit you in some circumstances. I will add that I stopped making that item, due to its durability flaws.

 

I recently had an online customer who, although he had bought a good quantity of work, it became clear to me that he did not understand what he was buying, in ways similar to the customer who thinks a 12 year old pot should be replaced. I finally told him "this is your last order." (This is one of the reasons I closed my online store.) My point here is that sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to tell a customer their business is not welcome anymore.

 

I would speculate this attitude is growing because of the growth of online selling, not because of LL Bean. Online selling implies things are supposed to be convenient, and customers get served while they sit on their couches. LL Bean and REI have had their generous return policies for decades. Actually REI dramatically scaled back its return policy last year, because they finally realized customers were abusing the policy.

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There is little respect for fine utilitarian crafts anymore.

When potters have to stand at the same level as import low temp, white ware that is findings it's way into the traditional craft markets, there's nothing but a flea market mentality of the customers.

Sad to say but this may be the new normal, if so, we  all will be  heading to the door.

Wyndhaam

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I have been thinking on this for a few days and I still cannot get over the 12 year use ... I mean 12 YEARS!!!!

Is her car 12 years old? Does she take back her old cars and demand a new one?

I cannot get over the fact that she found out you would be there, dug out the old casserole and hauled it back to you.

She was prepared and even armed with an assistant! How small and cheap can one person be?

 

The only thing I can think of in hindsight is you should have taken her picture ... telling her it would remind you to post a returns policy in plain sight in your booth.

Other than that ... Congrats on being a better person than her.

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I cannot get over the fact that she found out you would be there, dug out the old casserole and hauled it back to you.

She was prepared and even armed with an assistant! How small and cheap can one person be?

 

Wyndham kind of nailed it above. This is about respect.  How we, craftspeople, are thought about.  No.. she likely would not have done that with the car.  Because she knows that she couldn't get away with that there. 

 

But with the "lowly" craftsperson.... hey.... I'm the customer... I'm always right.  I have money,... I'm better than them..... I can control that situation.  I can't believe that they charged that much for that casserole in the first place!

 

 

best,

 

...............john

TwinRocks likes this

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Sad to say but this may be the new normal, if so, we  all will be  heading to the door.

 

This is not "politically correct" to say.... but I will anyway.

 

A "shakeout" in an industry is not always necessarily a bad thing for the health of the field.  Yes, it is for those "shaken" for sure....... but sometimes the overall field improves for it as it re-invents itself. 

 

In some cases the result is that the best of the best are the ones that are left.  Last person standing and all that.  Perserverence and determination.  Quality over quantity.

 

In some cases though, the whole field can end up dropping to the lowest common denominator.... (most crafts fairs did this long ago....a dead marketing horse that many are still beating) and then basically disappearing altogether.  BTW... anyone need a buggy whip for their surrey?

 

best,

 

.................john

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John,

 

Art festivals and craft shows are alive and well! Yes they all suffered during the recent recession, and many of them disappeared. But the ones that still exist have recovered. Maybe it depends on the region where one lives. I'll just say that this year's ACC Baltimore show was mobbed with people carrying lots of shopping bags. I surpassed my previous sales record by quite a bit. Throughout all of last year, my sales were constantly exceeding my expectations at shows. I do shows from the $50 church shows, up to the ACC level. They were all good to great.

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I have a relevant story from this week ... a customer emailed me because a platter she bought last December had developed a crack. She wanted to buy a new one. Yes she was willing to pay full price. I asked her to bring the platter so I could see the crack, and asked if she could explain what happened. She said she didn't know, but thinks her mom used it under the broiler.

 

She brought the platter to my house. The crack was obviously a thermal shock crack. It came in from the rim, then curved around the base of the floor. I thanked her for teaching me that I need to caution customers not to use my pottery close to a broiler element. And I offered her 50% off the new platter. She was thrilled. Then she said she needed to buy a gift for an incoming house guest, and she picked out a $105 vase.

 

So just because Tracy had a bad experience, take heart that there are great customers out there too. Trust me, I've dealt with the turkeys and crack pots too. But my experience is that far more pottery customers are like this example.

S. Dean and Arnold Howard like this

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Just to let everyone know. I tried to return a pair of my husbands LL Bean slippers two years after I bought them. The sole had come loose. They told me that was normal wear and tear and refused to take them back. LOL

 

I did enjoy reading everyone's stories and thoughts. I suppose I would have given a new platter. Unfortunately I have a relative like that, complains about everything until he gets it for free or deeply discounted.

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Excessive return policies are bad for the consumers and the stores.  My son worked at Sears when he was in high school,  working mostly on commission he worked in lawn and garden and exercise equipment.  Customers had one year to return purchases for no reason, lawn mowers would be returned in the fall and exercise equipment in the spring.  Some people would keep it until  a few days before the year ran out.  Sears would deduct the earned commissions from the salesman paycheck when the items were returned.  Some weeks my sons paycheck was in the negative, the policy also nearly put Sears under, they no longer have it and are barely hanging on.      Denice

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Hi I waitress. I find that in the extremely high volume restaurant that I work in (6 million a year) that there are people who eat almost every thing complain , then get it for free. Those who really don't like it but eat it anyway. Those who don't like it and insist on paying for it anyway. This restaurant insists that no one pays if they are not happy and aggressively pursues that policy . And they are a 6 million dollar restaurant . Their food is not he best, not the cheapest, but even the disappointed return.

I know it is hard to deal with the scammers, I get quite a few. I used to feel like it was hurting the restaurant( I have worked there20 years). But I don't think so anymore. Those people who were in your tent watched you back a product after 12 years. Hell I would buy from you, Walmart might take it back but their products are quite inferior ! Standing by a product is really important. Of course there are going to be scammers, but I am an optimist and I believe there are more good people than bad. People will buy more crafted items if the people who make them stand by their crafts, I do believe that. Jolie

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I have had one or two people say that their mug broke. Maybe the handle came off, whatever. My guess is that either they knocked the handle while washing it or maybe the handle was defective and I didn't notice it, or both! I just tell them to pick out another mug. I want them to tell their friends that I replaced it. Period.

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I had a woman come in to my previous studio. We had a gallery there. She carefully took some time and picked out a mug she liked. Then she showed a mug of mine that had a broken handle. It was not broken where the handle attaches to the mug body, but in the middle of the handle. Both ends of the handle remained attached to the mug. I knew that she had broken it, just by looking at it.

I said;"So, are you going to pay for that mug that you have picked out?"

She was shocked that I expected her to pay for the new one. I told her that the handle was not faulty. She put the new mug back and stomped out after exclaiming that she thought that I would replace it. I regret not just giving her another mug. I lost a customer.It was not worth the hassle.

TJR.

Dale pots likes this

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What do you all think of this email I recently received?

 

"My name is [ ... ] and I bought one of your beautiful pottery pieces (a small vase) at the [ show ] last year for my Godmother, who I knew would love your work as much as I do! Unfortunately, as my six year old was handing her the package just recenty, in his excitement, he dropped the bag and her beautiful vase shattered into many, many pieces. I'm emailing to see 1) if there is anything you offer in these situations 2) if you might consider wrapping your beautiful work in a piece of bubble wrap (vs. just paper) to give it some extra protection until it makes its way to a final destination?"

 

Right now, I have no intention of giving her any credit for the broken pot. I might have, except that she implied that the pot broke because I didn't wrap it well enough, not because her child dropped it. This is not the type of customer that I want to attract. What do you all think? I'm willing to be open-minded if anyone has a different opinion.

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I'm with you on this one.

The passive aggressive tone of her fobbing it off on your packing rather than her child breaking it is very annoying. She obviously thought it was well enough packed that she did not bother with adding any extra for the trek over to Godmothers house.

 

" dear DA ... I am so sorry your child accidently dropped the beautiful vase I spent many hours creating. I'm afraid pottery by its very nature is breakable, so care must be taken by everyone who handles it. Thank you so much for your purchase."

Venicemud likes this

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Ha,ha! Chris, good one! I think you gotta use "beautiful" a lot here. You don't owe her anything.

As we all know, six year olds are evil and can't be trusted with a "beautiful, expensive pottery anything"

I had a principal come to me with a broken teapot. A student was supposed to present it as a gift to a guest. They dropped it . He [the principal]brought it back for me to make another one. He fully intended to pay for it. Unfortunately, I am not making Majolica any more. It's been six years.I will get to it eventually.

TJR.

Chris Campbell likes this

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Well I would just giver her another one for half off. Bet it means a few more sales and some good publicity with her in-circle. Seems worth it. Yeah the barb was uncalled for but I bet ya she was just grasping for something to hang her request on and not trying to piss you off. she told you the kid broke it so she has made it clear that you are under no obligation to do anything.  

 

Just note the expense under targeted marketing.

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I expect her 'in circle' is not much better at accepting personal responsibility than she is.  I would think it a good thing that she and they shop elsewhere. 

 

Do you tell her she was buying child proof pottery?  

 

I didn't think so.

I think child proof pottery is called plastic. : - )

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Thanks for all the feedback. And some laughs :-)

 

I don't plan to reply to her email. But if she seeks me out at the same show again and brings this up, I'm going to start with Chris's suggestion "Pottery is breakable by nature, and should be handled with care."

 

I was thinking of adding the following "This sounds like a good opportunity to teach your child that everyone makes mistakes, and it's ok. If you take responsibility for them, nobody will hold it against you."

 

If she acknowledges her accountability, then I'll offer her a discount on a new pot. Or if she gets offended and leaves in a huff, oh well.

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I wouldn't suggest offering any sort of parenting advice in a customer service encounter. It's like trying to put out a fire with kerosene.

 

If it was me in the situation, I'd offer her a discount on the purchase of a new one. (Four year olds like to play with stuff they're not supposed to. Mommies know this). No freebies.

I'd offer to wrap her purchase in bubble wrap, if she felt strongly about it, but you could point out that paper is far more recyclable and environmentally friendly as a packing material. You of course, (ahem) have a personal policy of doing your best for the environment. (Insert disarming smile here )

 

Passive aggression is best dealt with by taking the words said literally, and utterly disregarding anything implied. You're actually very hard to argue with when you're honouring everything that's being said out loud.

TallTayl, S. Dean and Stephen like this

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