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!