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Dealing with Dissatisfied Patrons Part 1

With a 15+ year background in retail and running my own art business, I understand the ramifications of poor service and how damaging it can be when someone is dissatisfied. Over the years I’ve learned that you need to do everything in your power to make it right for your art patrons because this affects your brand. This week’s blog outlines how to take a positive and flexible approach to your art patrons and sales transactions.

I’ve included some stories in this post to help explain and highlight how impactful these approaches are. Next week’s blog post will bring you part two and highlight where you can see damage to your business when you aren’t providing the best service.

Returning Customers: It’s easier to have a returning customer than repair the experience with a dissatisfied customer. Once someone has purchased an item from you, the likelihood to return to buy in the future significantly increases. During a tough moment with a patron, a small refund, a freebie, or a bending of the rules can turn a bad moment into a long term customer.

Story: I had an art sale at a large, well-known art fair to a woman who bought a small print. I didn’t know her but I sold her the piece and provided a positive experience, A couple of months later, she came back to me and bought every single art work from the series. This one sale, and a positive experience made me sell 6 times the amount of artwork I had expected.

Returned Items: Patrons can come back with an item for a number of reasons, it broke right away, it’s the wrong size, the colors of off, etc. Don’t think about the lost of $20 bucks today, think of the long term gain of a promoter who talks highly of your product, company, or service. If you return the money they are asking a refund on, and create a great experience, they are likely to come back and spend more than that $20 rather than become a detractor of your company.

Story: I had a patron want to return a piece because she bought a large version of an art print and it was too big. I allowed a return and offered to mat and frame the smaller one. This meant I made almost the same amount of sales as selling the unframed larger but provided the framing and matting services. Because I allowed someone to bring something back something they were not satisfied with, I found a way to save the sale and make them happy.

*Making a policy of no returns leaves little room for you to direct how the transaction goes. It also tells the customer you’re inflexible and not willing to deal with customers on a case by case basis. However allowing returns of artwork probably does not apply to commissions, the terms of a commission should be written out in your commission contract.

Adaptations: Flexibility and (understanding that we are all human) is key.

Story: I had an art patron cancel on picking up work about six times. This meant I had been at the studio waiting to complete the sale that many times too. I could have become mad and said never mind I am not selling you my work, but instead I was patient and persistent. I decided to approach the transaction with purposeful positivity rather than frustration. I made a few hundred dollar sale, a sale I could have easily lost if I decided I was fed up.

Experience: Retail today is about experience. Whats great about this is you get the opportunity to design the experience people have with you and your artwork.

Story: Every time I have an open studio, I do my best to try to offer something different. New artwork to see, new product, etc. Why would an art patron want to come back every single year when what I offer is the same? I now have people who return and let me know they have come back year after year and want to know what’s new.

Add-Ons: Once something negative has happened, what else can you do to provide exceptional service? What can you do to make that person feel cared and listened to about with their dissatisfaction? Can you throw in an extra item, add an extra 10% discount, can you provide a free hour of service. It’s not about what the customer can get for free, its about how you can you repair this transaction and turn a detractor into a promoter.

Story: I’ve missed meetings scheduled on my calendar with clients before. Although it’s rare, it happens, we’re all human. I always reschedule and offer free consultation services ( I also never limit that free consultation to an hour). Sometimes this also means free additional help with editing or assisting with grant applications.

Customer Needs: Ask yourself how are you serving the needs of your customer when you are providing service. While you may expect an interaction to go a specific way, know that the customer may have a different agenda than you expect.

Story: I had a woman visit my studio who need a bathroom, she didn’t need my sales pitch, she didn’t want to see my art. She hardly walked in my studio doorway. But I was warm and welcoming, I gave her clear directions and helped her along her way to the restroom. A day later, I found a raving review online about how nice I was…all because I helped her find a bathroom! Her need was a restroom, and I showed up with my best customer service self to help her with her needs. Now people looking for reviews about my business online see a review about my positive and helpful personality which is so much more important compared to one sale.

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