Anatomy of an Art Sale | Providing Superior Customer Service

Above: “Nature’s Friends” by Gary Lee Price

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post on how you can provide great customer service by offering to clean your client’s artwork. Not only does this generate goodwill, it reminds your clients about you, and when they are ready to buy more art you have dramatically increased the chances they will think about you.

A recent sale illustrates the benefits of this strategy. Last fall we cleaned a pair of bronze fountain sculptures for clients who live in Phoenix. The couple had purchased the sculptures several years ago for the back yard of their new home. We have incredibly hard water in Arizona and a thick layer of calcium (and who knows what else) had built up on the bronze.  We scrubbed the figures, removed the deposits,  and waxed and polished the pieces until they looked new.

Including the time it took to drive to the client’s home and back to the gallery we spent about an hour doing the cleaning. The clients weren’t home at the time of the cleaning, but that afternoon we received a call from the husband letting us know how pleased they were with the results.

“How much do I owe you?” he asked.

“Not a thing,” I replied, “it’s our pleasure, and please just let us know when the pieces need to be cleaned again.”

I don’t remember his exact response, but I do remember that we had a very satisfied customer, as you can imagine.

When I offer services like this, I am not overtly thinking “if I clean this bronze the customer will buy more from us.”  Customer service doesn’t work that way, and there are many instances where our extra service doesn’t directly result in sales.

In this particular case, however, our service did lead directly to a significant sale. Nearly a year passed from the time of the cleaning until we heard from the customers again (though we of course were keeping in touch with show invitations, catalogs, etc.). Several weeks ago, on a Saturday, the couple walked through the front door of the gallery and began looking at sculpture.

One of my staff greeted and worked with them, and before they left they had purchased a fantastic bronze, “Journeys of the Imagination” by Gary Price, and put another sculpture on hold. They loved the second piece, but weren’t sure it was tall enough for their space.

The next Tuesday we took the sculpture they had purchased, along with the one they were hoping might fit,  out to their home. We helped place the purchased piece in their yard,  and placed the sculpture they were considering, a 48″ tall angel in their dining room. The piece looked great, but their concerns had been justified, it was too low to look right.

"The Messenger" by Gary Lee Price
“The Messenger” by Gary Lee Price

“If it were just 18 inches taller it would be perfect,” the wife said. As you may know, this moment, the moment when the client has expressed their desire to have a piece of art, but also expressed a potential road-block to the purchase, is critical. This is a make-or-break point in the sale, and finding a way to help solve the potential problem is critical.

In this case the solution seemed pretty obvious and I suggested a base for the piece – something that would raise the piece the desired amount. I also let them know we work with someone who could create a beautiful wood base for the piece.

“I just wish I could be sure of what it would look like once it was raised a few inches,” said the wife doubtfully.

"Journeys of the Imagination" by Gary Price installed in the clients yard
“Journeys of the Imagination” by Gary Price installed in the client’s yard

My father, John, had come with me to help move the piece, and said, “Jason has a small pedestal at the gallery that would be pretty close to the right size, what if we went back to the gallery, grabbed it and put the sculpture on it? Then we would know.”

The clients agreed that this was a great idea. We drove back over to the gallery, picked up the pedestal (which involved moving a pretty heavy sculpture) and shot back over to the clients’ home. Once we had the piece on the pedestal it was immediately obvious that it was perfect. Though we extended the offer to help with the permanent pedestal, the clients decided to have a travertine base made.

As we were finalizing the details of the sale, the husband told us a story about a bad experience with a gallery in New Mexico. “I am so glad I found you guys,” he said, “working with you has been a dream.”

As a gallery owner, I can’t imagine a higher complement, and this is exactly the kind of relationship we are striving to build with each of our customers.

So what can we learn from this sale?

  1. Go the extra mile. Providing service to your clients is a great investment of your time and energy. Cleaning, delivering and installing the artwork are all great opportunities for service. You can also help your client install or move other pieces in their collection (even if the art isn’t yours).  In the incident related above, I don’t feel I’m exaggerating to say that this $20,000 sale was the direct result of our customer service. Not every act of service will be equally rewarded, and sometimes it takes years of service to bring results, but make great customer service a top priority.
  2. Don’t let little bumps get in the way of a sale. Just as we provided a solution to the height problem by driving back to the gallery to get the pedestal, you can find ways to help your clients overcome their concerns as they go through the decision–making process.
  3. Build a relationship of trust with your collector. We are in a truly unique business that allows us the luxury of interacting at a deep level with our buyers and to spend time cultivating long-term relationships. Once you stop seeing people only for their credit cards and start building relationships you will see your repeat sales increase dramatically. A few suggestions to start building better relationships:
  • Learn and use your clients’ names. I know this isn’t easy, but remembering people’s names is a skill that you can learn. Challenge yourself to become better at learning and using  people’s names.
  • Ask questions. Getting people to talk about themselves (and then listening very carefully to what they say) is one of the most powerful selling tools you can have in your arsenal.

Comments?

Do you have experiences where providing customer service has lead to better relationships with your customers or sales? Have comments on the sales process in general or our experience with this sale? Share your experiences in the comments below!

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

12 Comments

  1. Sometimes customers can be a pain, but you always need to go the extra mile. You never know what you might miss out on, if you lose them because of poor service. I hear too often artists say “they weren’t going to buy anyways”. Not a risk I like to take.

  2. Dear Jason, would you kindly advice on the following:
    Recently I went through an awful experience, one of my paintings was sold by a gallery. It was packed and shipped alright. After three days of its delivery to destination, just when we were expecting the check, the collectors decided they would not keep it. They said it did not match their home interiors. But the thing is that it was returned in perfect condition, too perfectly, for the crate was never opened. They never set eyes on it. I would have loved to offer them another artwork, a different possibility, but it was an online gallery, so how could I contact them? Needless to say, those were the worst days of my life, I felt so embarrassed and frustrated, I’ve never told anybody. The gallery behaved nicely, of course they said it was not my fault, that probably was a family matter. Any advice on how to heal something like this? I always go the extra mile, but how to do it in this case? And how to mend my broken heart…? Thanks

  3. It’s far easier to sell to the customer you have than to find and sell to a new customer. If you establish a good relationship with a customer and provide exceptional service they are more likely to be back. They are also more likely to tell their friends. If you provide lousy service they will certainly tell their friends. How many times has this gentleman told the story of the gallery in New Mexico? How many sales have they lost due to this?

  4. What I love about your articles, Jason, is that you keep emphasizing the fact that simply being a nice person to other people DOES have results. It is honestly so refreshing and beautiful to know I can look to your advice for a compassionate, open, generous solution to an artist’s problems. You are a hugely beneficial human being- thank you!

  5. Going that “extra mile” is very important. I always keep the attitude to treat my customers how I would like to be treated. Besides the fact that how much time effort and love goes into creating a piece and then having someone choose it, it only seems to make sense for both the client and myself to both have a good experience.
    Some pieces are harder to let go of and following up can ease the loss knowing both are doing well.

  6. salutary read: a client has bought a painting, and although it was not agreed at time of sale, I said I’d to deliver to their brother who was going to take it on. I prompted brother to measure his vehicle as it was a challenge to fit in my car. He didn’t, but said it would be fine.

    Left said painting with him, to have a message 3 days later to say it didn’t fit.
    And I am *** as I now have to go back, pick up and on. I realise I am being mean minded. But it sure has ** me off!

  7. I sold three paintings to a client who needed help to hang them. I said that would be no problem – in fact it would be so special to see where they were to be hung. So I went to her house and it turned out that the client was grieving terribly for her dog who had been such a wonderful companion for many years. It didn’t take much to sit and listen for a while and have a coffee.
    A couple of months later she rang me to ask if I would do a painting of the beautiful spot where the dog is buried. I went in the spring when the snowdrops were flowering and sat in a bedroom window looking down on the loveliest spot leading to a river. Happy painter and happy client!

  8. Jason, thank you for sharing this information. I have been trained in customer service in the arts but it’s good to be reminded once in awhile of how sometimes a relatively small act can build your following. It shouldn’t be a nuisance to nurture a customer relationship. We all want to feel appreciated. I enjoy the personal interaction with customers. It makes me feel good about where my art has found a home as well as showing appreciation for their purchase of my work. Stepping up that extra bit brings it to a fuller experience to be an artist. In the “big picture” it really is a small offering to help your customers treat and appreciate the works they buy.

  9. Hi Jason! Wonderful information on going above and beyond for personal service! Yes, it certainly is easier to know who and the location of where an art piece or painting gets exhibited in a customers home. I have done the same. A husband and wife came into our small town Gallery! They loved the 3′ X 6′ painting I was currently working on. They rode their bikes and had no way of transporting it. So I told them I would deliver it the next day, that way it could dry over night and they could keep it for a 2 night sleep over to see if they really liked it in their home. They agreed. So , as promised, I delivered it, hung it and it was the first thing to be placed in their brand new home. That night they had friends over for Chinese food dinner on paper plates…LOL ! They sat on the floor and critiqued my painting! The next day they phoned very excited about the painting and paid over the phone for their new addition! They were over joyed with their service and couldn’t Thank me enough for the pleasant service they had been given!!

  10. Jason, this is a great story. Aside from being an artist, my husband and I have a decorative painting and wallpaper business. We service people in a resort area of Long Island, the Hamptons. We talk about going that extra mile often and we’ve seen it come back to us! Someone already reiterated a good point that whether a customer or client had a great experience or bad one with you, they will tell other people! Make sure it’s a good one and viral marketing will take it from there!

  11. When I participate in art fairs, I fortunately have the help of my husband. Once a potential client expressed interest in a piece but wasn’t sure how it would look on her wall. It was a large piece and she was in a wheelchair. I offered to have my husband take the piece to her house to try it out. I wish I could say my offer resulted in a sale. It seemed all was going well until her friend breezed into the booth and in a loud voice said that’s awfully expensive- are you sure you want it? I was so taken aback I was speechless and the sale was lost. But at least I was ready to go the extra mile!

  12. Perfect post for today. I was a member of a co-op gallery. Haven’t sold one piece in almost a year. Pulled back to straight consignor and still haven’t sold anything. Expanding to other galleries. Still no sales. Entered shows – didn’t get in. Hard not to feel the rejection. Everyone who sees it loves my work. Or says they do.

    I am not good at marketing – even marketing my classes that I teach. Lately I realized I am not doing my very best work. To someone who doesn’t do art, yes, they look good, but not to other professional artists. So this year I am trying to change my course. I am a watercolorist. Don’t have much money for entering shows or marketing. I am looking for inexpensive ways to promote. And the most important things is I have spent the last week gutting the studio. Only keeping things that pertain to my watercolor and a little mixed media. No more playing with collage and other crap that isn’t really me. I know my niche and need to focus there. The studio has been like a big rock sitting on my shoulders. Got out my Feng Shui books and taking steps to remedy – clearing clutter. And updating the website.

    I have your book and have participated in your online seminars. Time to organize and reread those. Thanks for your encouragement and support!

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