Sunday, May 23, 2010

policing your policies

Over the years I’ve been forced to develop policies in my business. If you do not have policies in place, your customers will find that weak spot and exploit it, whether they mean to or not. I used to resist having policies, and frankly, I hate having policies. Like most artists, I like to have an open, fluid approach to issues and not be rigid with a policy or rule. And with everything else I do, I've had to learn the hard way that having policies is just part of having a sane business. For instance, I used to never take deposits on custom orders because I like to work for the money. Also, people can’t rush me when the piece isn’t paid for yet. I had to create a policy around deposits for big orders because of a person who ordered a huge dinnerware set and then never called me again after I sent her the first samples. I had to find out from her decorator that she did not like them and was done with the project. If she had $500 invested into the order she probably would have been more inclined to work with me on the design. That was very disappointing, but I couldn’t get mad at anyone but myself for not taking a deposit in the first place.

I thought I had myself pretty well covered on policies until I realized I didn't.
I had a customer who bought a piece from me at a show last Christmas season, a gift, and this person asked me if he could exchange it if the recipient didn’t like the piece. What kind of fool doesn’t like my pieces in the first place, I don’t know, but apparently the customer was worried that he may know one. I made a mistake right then and there by kind of shrugging and saying, “I don’t really do exchanges, but if you get back to me right away, we can probably work something out.” What I should have said is, “You have x amount of days to make an exchange on anything you're not happy with.” I've been in business for well over 10 years and I so rarely encounter people wanting to exchange pieces that I never made policy around it. And that’s the problem so many artists have, being ambiguous with policies because they hate having to lay down the law.

Months later, I get a message from this customer, though I don't realize at the time that it's this exact customer. He asks me to open my studio on the weekend because he wants to bring his girlfriend over to select something. Since I think I have a sale on the hook, I have no problem opening in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Turns out he didn't want to buy anything, he wants to exchange one of the pieces he bought at Christmas. It's possible I scared this customer a little bit with the steam that came out of my ears, but I did the exchange because I knew right off this whole thing was my fault for having a vague exchange policy. And now, the law has been laid down, and I have a hard and fast exchange policy.

Bottom line, don't be like me and let your mistakes dictate when you create your policies. Everyone who sells something should have a return and exchange policy that covers everything from breakage to lost shipping, a deposit policy, shipping policies, payment policies. In fact, just taking a look at the policies in etsy shops is a good place to start. Not only for yourself should you have policies in place, it also is assuring to the customer that they know what kind of experience they are going to have with you. It makes you look all professional and stuff.

As a side note, I know it makes some of you squirm when I talk about my annoying customers. Believe me when I say I have the best customers a girl could possibly want, except for about 1%. My most annoying customers usually teach me a lot, so they are not totally useless!


  1. Whitney, your pieces are so beautiful, I can't believe someone would not like a piece either!

    I love reading your posts. To a newby like me, they are an invaluable learning tool. Thank you so much.

  2. I agree, invaluable. I really do need to rethink my nonexistant shop policies.

  3. This it exactly the kick in the pants that I needed! Thank you for articulating it so well. I have also experienced the frustration of a months later exchange...still I have not created a policy for my business (no excuse for laziness!). Thanks again~

    PS- your work is stunning- I can't imagine anyone wanting to return your stuff :)

  4. I always take a deposit down on special orders. I found that if I didn't I'd put making them off. If I have been paid then I get the order made and get the rest of my $$. I appreciate your emphasis on policies. I have some in place now.

  5. thank you. really really thank you for sharing your mistakes and frustrations and triumphs so that we can learn from them.

  6. When I first put up my etsy store I had a clear return/exchange policy, but I decided to remove it. My thought was, if someone is unhappy with my pottery I will do whatever it takes to make them happy. I guess that just proves how new I am at this.
    You're right. Not having a shop policy allows flakes to get the best of us. Anyone wanting to return a piece of your pottery is just a total Ding-Dong. Thanks.

  7. This is a great post. I would like to add that once you have your policies straightened out, you have to actually *remind* customers to read them before purchasing.
    I recently had a customer outside the US who was furious that her order hadn't arrived 6 weeks after she placed it. When I told her 1st-class packages could not be tracked, she scolded me for not sending her order with a tracking number. I state clearly in my policies that all international packages are shipped 1st class without tracking unless the customer asks for an upgrade - apparently, she had not read it. She filed a non-delivery report with Etsy and asked for an immediate, full refund (in a very rude way!), to which I obliged.
    Now I may have to remind international customers to read my policies in every single listing, and in every single order confirmation e-mail.

  8. Oktak, that is totally true. Whenever I receive an order, I have standard confirmation email that I send to customers that states how the item will be shipped, when it will ship out, and where it's going. For international customers I remind them that the package will be in transit for 6-10 days, maybe longer!

  9. Thank you for creating such a lovely space : )

    I’d like to invite you to win a piece of my fine art through a giveaway on my blog.

    I wish you all my best.


  10. Good advice! I haven't been burned yet by the no deposit policy. It's probably just a matter of time, so I'm going to put something into place.

  11. You are right about the policies- I have had more bad than good experiences in the past and Etsy is sort of my last attempt to 'make good' but since I don't know what to put in policies I haven't written any. Well, having read this post I'm going to try remedy that just now. Thank you for the proverbial kick up the.....

  12. Anonymous1:00 PM

    Just loved your posts on 'annoying customers'. Thank you for your honesty & the 'been there done that' advice which everyone can learn from.
    I for one won't forget to 'police my policies' as I start out.
    Whitney, your work is charming and sweet and pretty and well...just lovely. You are a true artist that gives great business advice :)

  13. Wow, what a blog and work! Wish you lived so much closer. I would pick your mind. such talent!

  14. Thank you people for all of your kind words, it is very much appreciated. And caroline, you can always pick my brain via email!

  15. I'd love your opinion!

  16. dear whithney,
    my name is Hadas,i'm a potter from Israel.i love your works and recently read your blog .i like to thank you beacause i feel that you are writing it for me !!! you "put on the table" all issues,successes and challenges,that i'm dealing with in my career-and you help me a lot !
    so,I wish you good good luck,go on with your beatiful works and writing !all the best,hadas

  17. Hi Hadas,
    Welcome! And I am writing for you.