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Customer Questions at Fairs and Other Policies


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So Pres’s question of the week is inspiring me to actually move on a bit of an idea I’ve had for a while. 

Whether online or in person, customer service questions are something we all have to deal with. I happen to have some pretty specific training around how to handle difficult  or high maintenance customers, or requests that are out of the ordinary.* I find many people are uncomfortable in dealing with confrontation, and I happen to be pretty good at doing it with professionalism and kindness. And it IS a skill that can be learned. With shows beginning to open back up this year, now could be a good time to revisit and remember how to deal with the public, or if you’re polishing your website in anticipation of the holidays, to write some good customer service policies. 

The most helpful thing in dealing with confrontational or awkward situations is to have a plan, or some standard responses prepared. The second most important thing is to know how much information to give in order to satisfy a customer without escalating a negative encounter. Knowing how to word things just so can be really helpful! Pooling group knowledge is really helpful in formulating your responses.

So.

What are some questions you get asked a lot in your booth or in your online shop? Do you have good response for these, or do you want help with wording? Let’s share some info! Feel free to add to this as things come up.

 

 

*I used to work at a customer service desk for a health food store that served a lot of...interesting...human beings. I can’t even make up the things I witnessed.

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I’ll go first. 

A couple of weeks ago, a woman came to my farmer’s market booth and asked me if I would do a “set price” on 4 small ice cream bowls, which at the time were the least expensive pieces I had.  She was definitely angling to not pay full price for a personal purchase.

Me: “I’m sorry, I only do price breaks on wholesale quantities.”

Her: “I do own a retail shop. How many would be wholesale?”

Me: “24.”

Her: “Oh. For resale only then.”

Me: “Yes. If you’d like them for Christmas merchandising, we still have time to discuss an order. I’d be happy to make an appointment to talk to you about it in more detail, when I can give you my undivided attention.” *hands her a card with my contact info.

Her:”Well, I want to try them out first. How much for 4?”

Me: “(quotes price), including tax.”

Her: “How much if I pay cash?”

Me: “(quotes same price), including tax. My accountant is pretty strict!”

Her: (picks up 2 bowls the next size up for more money) “I’ll take these 2, then.”

Me: *concludes sale.

 

My wording here was chosen carefully. By framing my responses in such a way that I present myself as a professional and a business owner (not skipping taxes, defining when she WOULD be eligible for a discount) I not only made more on a single sale, I’ve also presented myself as someone who is experienced enough to provide an expanded service, had she been in earnest. I’m also offering to make time to serve her properly if that’s what she wanted. Because I think she probably wasn’t in earnest, wording my response in this fashion also serves to tell her I’m experienced and professional enough to not be taken advantage of without casting any kind of aspersions on her character, or suggesting that she might do this kind of thing. And because everything I’ve said was framed to be helpful, I’m impossible to argue with. I have defined the things I can or am willing to offer in an information-based way, and she can now choose how she wants to deal with that.

 

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Before participating in Craft shows, I spent 23 years working with small children.  I had no idea at the time how that experience would help me in working with and selling to the general public.  I have to say that I have not had many negative experiences at shows.  I have had people ask exactly what Callie's customer asked, "price for set" "cash price"  "tax included?" etc.  I use a similar line for the tax question, "the state of Colorado requires that I charge sales tax, in fact they are  at this venue checking licenses"  I smile and I am friendly as I tell them this is the price.  I do like your information about wholesale prices (I will remember that for the future) and if people want me to make a custom 3 tiered dog bowl with the dog's picture painted on it, I am clear that I cannot take custom orders at this time but after the holiday season I would welcome the opportunity to have a chat and that custom pieces include down payment and a design fee. 

There was one person at a show who was incredibly persistent about wanting a discount on a small $20 plate.  After a few minutes I realized she thought I would bargain like a vendor at a flea market.  I held my ground, and then she flung a $20 at me, and that was when I explained that The State wanted their share.  She did cough up the tax, and was smiling when she left.  I believe it was a game for her.  Takes all kinds.  

And yes, I agree with having your responses ready.  At a November show if I am asked about making a set of 8 mugs with the ranch's brand on it by Christmas, I am able to nicely explain that I would not have time to do that.  Perhaps for another occasion at a later date?  I have the tax question handled, and set price.  I think it also helps that I make most of my own glazes and understand my firing practices.  I have had a lot of questions concerning that.  I had a person ask about glazes and ingredients while looking for something without colorants in it (some sort of autoimmune problem I think) we were able to have a discussion.  But....I know that I do not participate in as many public shows as the rest of you, so I probably haven't had as many experiences as all of you.

 

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Have to say I haven't had many customers over the years who have been difficult or rude. Maybe I'm  just super fortunate but I find my customers (and looki-loos) really lovely people 99.9% of the time.

While the somewhat difficult comments are rare I find there are 2 main categories of them.

First are from people who think I will reduce a price down if either they a) pay cash or b) buy more than one of something.  My reply to a) is "No, price is the same so it's fair for everyone." I don't get into what is legally required because there always will be people who skirt the rules and I'm not about to start a debate about it. Reply to b) is "I'm afraid I can't do that, it takes me just as long to make pot number 4 (or whatever) as it takes to make pot number 1." I've lost maybe a couple customers by not giving a volume discount but the vast majority of people understand when I give my explanation. If someone is pleasant and does make a substantial purchase I gift them a small item but it's my choice to do so, not a given.

Second category of somewhat unpleasant comments are the ones from  misinformed people, most often making attention seeking comments loudly to their friends.  These comments are along the lines of it isn't safe to use brightly glazed pots because they contain lead or you can't put handmade work in a microwave etc. For these type comments my reply depends on whether they are saying them while leaving my booth or in my booth. If it's the former I just let it go, if it's the latter I politely inform them of the facts as they pertain to my work. I tend to give short and concise replies to loud attention seeking looki-loos as I've found it's rare they actually buy anything.

 

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I used to feel like I had to say “no” conditionally, such as, “No, but it could be a yes if…” This never ends well. The customer, who is already trying to push my boundaries, will sense that they have some leverage and just try harder to get something out of me.  Now I’m older and smarter and realize I was being somewhat passive aggressive, wanting people to be respectful without having to force them. Now I just say “no, there’s no discount.” I say it courteously, not with a cross tone, and people don’t seem to mind. I might lose some sales, but that’s ok knowing another customer will come along soon who doesn’t mind paying full price. 

Here’s my strategy for when a customer is being obnoxious (or their child is). It is a mistake for the artist to be cross with a customer out loud. Other people will hear you, not understand the context, and assume the artist is the problem. Instead I just stare hard at the obnoxious customer, and give them the evil eye. I don’t say anything, just stare at them. It makes that person uncomfortable and they will soon leave. Nobody else around notices what you’ve done. 

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4 hours ago, Roberta12 said:

I was talking to a maker friend about this a few minutes ago and we thought about the other vendors who want to trade items.  I have to say I have found that rather rude at times simply because of their approach.  

Another vendor one is when they ask for a vendor discount like it's common practice to do so. That too gets a "nope".

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I love Callie's comments about be prepared with a professional approach.

A different business, but I teach children (and adults) to ride a bicycle.  I started by teaching any age, but soon realised that the 5 year olds who didn't want to ride were more hassle than any fee could compensate for.

I started off by telling callers that I didn't teach under 7s, they needed a different approach.  After a number of persistent parent telling me their child was "mature for their age", I blurted out "but I'm not insured" to someone who was really pressing all my buttons.  Silence came down the phone line.  Eventually he said, oh, OK, I'll come back next year.

That made me realise I needed to think of every possible question I might get for other teaching problems, and have a ready, plausible, and professional answer.  I actually have a word document with them in, and re-read them at the start of the season.

 

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Another question that I hear regularly is “is your pottery lead-free?” I have a short answer and a long answer prepared for that, depending on the situation.

The short answer “I guarantee there’s nothing toxic in these pots and they are safe for food use.” 

The long answer is meant to address the word “lead” which customers still use all the time. “Actually, lead has been gone from American handmade pottery for a few decades now. But “lead-free” doesn’t automatically mean “safe” because there are other materials around that potters still use that could be unsafe if not used properly. Barium, for example. Or, if a potter isn’t formulating or firing their work correctly. It might not be toxic, but it might leak, or harbor bacteria. So the question you should be asking is “is your work safe for food?” And if you don’t get a confident “yes” from the potter then you should assume it’s not. Or, just use it at your own risk. And keep in mind that lead is still commonly used in glazes outside of the U.S.”

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I say this stuff all the time in my booth

I stopped doing custom orders a decade ago-is a common response

The price is the same no how many you buy.

They are all these things while pointing to my sign that says lead free- dishwasher safe. I have this sign on every dispay and at point of sale

They are all hand made

Its taken me 50 years to get to this level with clay-when asked how long it takes to make one item

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Before I started teaching,  I worked first year after graduation and marriage as a clerk in a small convenience store. I did not have many problems with customers, as in a store pricing is as expected and no one bickers. However, one incident sticks in my mind. Father and son came into the one room store, separated to look at things of interest. I kept watch through mirrors and regular eye. I really didn't expect anything, but happened to notice the son probably 12-14 push a novelty frozen ice cream down the front of his pants. I waited until the father was doing done and came to the counter placing his purchases, I rang everything up, including the ice cream. He looked at me saying he hadn't purchased that. I told him it was his son's. He looked at his son, and said he didn't have anything, and I looked at the son real sharp, he started crying. Pulled out the ice cream, father paid for it.  They went out to the car, and I watched that car with foggy windows shake for the next 10 minutes-windows were fogged up because of the cold.  I thought hard of how to have handled it better, and in the future let know anyone trying something sneaky that they didn't want to do that. Making a scene, embarassing a customer either because of what their children or they did, does not play well even though you are in the right. At the same time any craftsman should not have to deal with penny pinching rudeness or idle customers that loaf in their booth.

 

best,

Pres

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On 7/26/2021 at 3:37 PM, Callie Beller Diesel said:

Her: “How much if I pay cash?”

 

I have to say I have been open to cash discounts  due to credit card fees and hassles associated with system security running credit cards...but i will pen check the cash.  Regardless of the CC processing center, just the pci  compliance work required made that my full time job. I finally ditch CC and did cash or check with ID (and customer had to pass the gut check). Consumers really dont understand all the hassles and responsibilities that fall back on the seller.I do always ask private business if they prefer cash or CC. Most of the time cash is the answer, and many times they will give me a discount, However i never EXPECT it.

And yes when someone starts telling me how to do it, how long and thats to much...my response generally 1) educate about handcrafted vs stamped out production. If that doesn't sink in, then i  thank them for their interest and send them down the road. Qty discount ...takes me just as long to make 1 or 100 1's unless there is a repeatable "jig\setup process" that i can discount.

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Old old tale of the Native American potter at the road stand. . .  New York city dweller comes to stop at the stand.  After perusal of the ware buys a $20 pot.  Summer, Fall and Winter go by, and in the Summer the New Yorker returns, excitedly asking for 20 more of the same pot as he had bought. The potter says. . . .$100 dollar each! Why! I cannot charge for the joy of making the pot as it is priceless, but to make 20 of the same. . . .I have to charge for the pain of making all the same!

Discounts? Nope, fair prices, good value, and the real joy of making something that someone else will enjoy!

 

best,

Pres

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