The Bold, the Bad and the Ugly: You've Heard the Horror Stories, Now See How You Can Best Deal with Tough Customers-Without Losing Their Business

Article excerpt

If you've been in retail any length of time, no doubt you've met one or more of these customers in your store--"the bully", "the liar" or "the fickle." If you haven't, they'll probably be marching, storming or simpering your way sometime soon. While you may shudder at the thought of them or welcome their challenges, the way you handle them could have lasting effects on the success of your business.

"The customer who is shopping with you is vitally important to the future of your business" said Murray Raphel, a marketing expert and author of several marketing books. Studies show that an upset customer will share his or her woes with at least 11 other people. And in this case, no press is better than bad press.

In the art-and-framing field, the average retailer spends five times as much money to get a new customer than he does on the customer he already has, said Raphel.

The average business loses 20 percent of its customers every year for various reasons. Sometimes they die, move or switch to a competitor. "If you can keep half the people that leave you in a given year, you can double your volume in business," Raphel said. The point is not to let unhappy people walk out of your store--even the ones you'd be glad to have the door hit on the rear as they leave.

The following is a sampling of some types of customers who have sparked the ire of even the most experienced framers. Step into this little shop of horrors for a look at how framers handle each specific case. It may help you anticipate and prepare for these customers arriving in your own store someday.

The bully. A woman telephoned Row House Gallery in Milford, Ohio, to see if her piece was ready. Nancy Meyer, the gallery's president, had records that showed the piece had been picked up weeks before. The "lady" started to scream into the phone, calling Meyer a liar who had probably ruined her piece. At 2 p.m. the following Saturday, the company's busiest time of the week, the same woman flung open the door, marched in and started swearing a blue streak at the top of her lungs. The other mild-mannered customers stood stock still, mouths agape.

While ushering the customer out the door, Meyer told her she would find out exactly what happened and get back to her. After going through her records and credit card slips for the day of the pick-up, Meyer discovered that the customer's husband had picked up the piece. She phoned the ungracious woman, who said her husband had probably put the piece in a closet or in the garage.

The solution: Meyer was right to remove the bully from the scene as quickly as possible, said Lynda Martin, president and senior consultant for Goodwin Growth Works in Atlanta. What bullies thrive on is an audience, so moving them to a back room, an office or out the door can help defuse the situation. Listen to them while keeping your inner stance strong. Bullies know when they've found someone who will quickly fold and will continue to pick on them. Tell them you will find a solution or discover what happened.

Keep a record of each framed piece along with the date and time it was brought in and finished, and exactly who picked it up. It is common for customers' husbands or wives to pick up pieces to surprise their spouses when they get home.

The perfectionist. Another of Meyer's more memorable customers was a young man who, when he came to pick up his piece, discovered three silk hairs from a pre-mounted fabric sticking out from under the fillet. The gap between the mat and the fillet was the size of the double thickness of paper. The customer said he was very disappointed because he knew the quality of Row House Gallery's work. Meyer smiled and told him she'd make it right; that it would be no problem.

Meyer ended up taking the piece apart, ruining the fillet and losing the cost of a new fillet, extra board, wrap, build-up and labor. She said it's rare for her to get such picky customers, but when she does she always tries to accommodate them. …