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.
“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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!