Working Through Difficult Art Sales: The Case of the Hounded Clients

At Xanadu Gallery, we pride ourselves on providing superior customer service to our clients. We work very hard to engage with people who are visiting the gallery, to provide personalized and friendly service, and to go above and beyond in meeting our customers’ needs. This outreach has been, I feel, a critical part of our long-term success, and we get great feedback from our clients. I have buyers tell me that they love our gallery because the art is approachable, and the gallery staff makes them feel welcome and important.

Over the last month, however, we’ve had three incidents where things have gone less smoothly than we would have liked, sometimes disastrously so. We’ve certainly had these kinds of incidents in the past, but very, very rarely, and so it was odd to have three in quick succession. I feel like these incidents have served as reminders of the importance of customer service, but they are also reminders that in spite of every effort on our part to provide a great experience, sometimes things just aren’t going to click. In the coming weeks, I hope to be able to share what we’ve learned from each of these experiences. I’ll begin with what I call “The Case of the Hounded Clients.” (Names have been removed to protect the innocent)

Several weeks ago, I was at work in my office when a member of my staff came in and said that a customer “wished to speak with the person in charge.”

“Why, what’s up?” I asked.

“He’s upset about something,” she replied.

I stepped out of my office with some trepidation. My staff member lead me to the client, a middle-aged gentleman, who immediately began speaking with some tension in his voice.

“My wife and I have been looking around your gallery, and there are some pieces that we are interested in,” he began. “but we won’t buy them from [a certain member of your staff].”

I was caught completely off guard, and couldn’t even begin to think how to respond before he continued.

“[This member of your staff] followed us around the gallery and wouldn’t leave us alone. We’ve never had someone hound us that way.”

Now I was truly flabbergasted.

“I’m sorry you felt that way,” I replied, instinct kicking in. “We strive to provide great customer service to our clients.”

“Well,” he said, cutting me off, “we would like to come back when [the member of your staff] isn’t working to buy some art.”

Unsure of what else to say, I explained our schedule, including times when the staff member in question wouldn’t be working. Even as I was sharing this information, it felt like the wrong way to respond, but I was completely dumbfounded by what the gentleman was saying and couldn’t think of anything other than this lame reply.

The customer replied that the timing might not work for them, and then proceeded to quickly walk out of the gallery, and then up the street with his wife.

The entire exchange couldn’t have taken more than a minute, and I was left standing there scratching my head, feeling a little like I had just been hit by a bus.

The whole situation was very awkward. If you’ve visited our gallery before, you know that it is not large. My entire staff heard the exchange, including the staff member who had worked with the couple. I knew that what had been described to me simply didn’t fit with what I knew of my staff. They are very responsive and conscious of how much interaction to provide clients.

I went to the staff member to get the other side of the story. The gallery consultant described exactly what I would have expected. She greeted the couple as they entered the gallery, and they shared that they had been to the gallery before and were quite interested in one of our artists. The couple was very energetic and enthusiastic as they looked at the artist’s work, and the consultant carried on a dialogue with them about the artist and the pieces that were of interest to them. The couple then started to look through the rest of the gallery. As they stopped to admire work by another artist, the consultant approached them to share some information about the artist and his whimsical series of paintings. At this point, the consultant noticed that the couple wasn’t listening to her as they were having their own discussion, so she gave them space while they continued to look through the gallery.

The couple proceeded towards the front window display and started to chuckle, which cued the consultant that they must have seen another piece on display by the whimsical artist. So she started to approach them to talk about the piece, and it was at this point, that the couple exploded and, in raised voices, accused the consultant of following them around the gallery and talking to them too much. Before the consultant could respond, the couple dramatically stormed out of the gallery while loudly expressing their displeasure. This continued as they stood outside of the gallery (our front door was propped open, making it possible to hear every word).

After a few minutes, the husband returned and demanded to speak to the person in charge. The consultant immediately apologized for any misunderstanding, but the husband ignored her.

After hearing the story, I tried to reassure my staff member that I didn’t see that she had done anything wrong. This was probably unnecessary because it was clear to all of us that the staff member was doing exactly what we always strive to do – namely being welcoming and helpful. I immediately felt that I had failed to defend the consultant the way I should have. I felt I should have stood up to the client by expressing my faith in my staff, a faith which I feel is well-deserved.

I also said that I didn’t want to change anything we are doing because these customers seemed to feel that we were being overly aggressive in our sales efforts. I have frequently heard customers complain that other galleries ignore them or provide a low level of service. I certainly wouldn’t want this experience to cause us to provide poor service to future clients because we are afraid of overdoing it.

As I went back to my office and thought more about the situation, I decided that the clients were highly unlikely to return to buy anything, and were just saying they would so that I would take them seriously. Even if I were to take their claim that they wanted to buy seriously, I wished that had been more forceful in my defense of my staff and our sales efforts. I should have said,

“I stand 100% behind my staff.”

or

“You are being unnecessarily rude.”

or

“Go to hell!”

The fact is, though my clients are important and valuable to me, my staff is even more valuable and important to me. I think of us as family, and I knew I should have stood up more firmly. I don’t believe in the “customer is always right” adage, especially when the client is being unreasonable and rude.

I probably spent more time thinking about the situation than I should have, but I’m sure you’ve been in a scenario where you can’t stop thinking about what you should have said to someone.

I finally came to the conclusion that my lesson was learned and that in the future, if something like this should ever happen again, I would show more spine.

End of story.

Except it’s not. Several days later, the couple returned (on a day when the staff member they had complained about wasn’t working) and proceeded to purchase three significant works of art from us. On this visit they were, according to my staff, pleasant and amenable, though my staff, understandably, gave them wide berth until they requested help.

Now the situation was even more confusing. Had I shown more spine and fought fire with fire, we would have missed out on these sales. As a gallery owner I also have a duty to do right by my artists, and they would certainly appreciate these sales. Was I selling out my staff though?

I’ve been around and around the situation, and I’m not sure I’ve come to any satisfactory conclusion of what I should have done.  Perhaps my conciliatory instinct ended up being the best approach in the end? Maybe the clients were just having a bad day the first time they came in and my staff took the brunt of it.

Because of the way we pool sales for staff sales commissions, the consultant who took the abuse ended up making commission on the sale to these clients. Perhaps that’s the best kind of payback we could hope for in this situation.

How Have you Dealt with Unreasonable Clients and Confrontational Situations?

Have you ever run into a similar situation to the one we faced with our clients? How have you reacted? What would you suggest might have been the right response to the clients? Share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions in the comments below.

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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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

95 Comments

  1. Jason,
    I think this is a case of the clients have a personality disorder. We try to make sense of these people, but there is no way to do that. Their action are beyond analysis. You did what was right for your gallery. It benefitted all of you, and was the “last hurrah” from the client.

    1. I agree. Maybe one of them has bi-polar disorder, or PTSD, or maybe one of their parents just passed, or they have an extremely high-stress job and just wanted to wander the gallery without interaction. Maybe one had diarrhea. It takes a lot of discipline not to take others attacks personally. If you don’t take it personally, then you don’t need to pick the battle. And aren’t there enough battles in life to have to negotiate? This is from Don Miguel Ruiz four agreements:
      The Four Agreements are:

      1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

      2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
      Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

      3. Don’t Make Assumptions
      Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

      4. Always Do Your Best
      Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

      1. Really true! I love that book – its thoughts and teachings are like gospel! I think your response was perfect, Jason – because you didn’t make too much of the situation. Had you, they certainly would not have come back. And you obviously communicate well with your staff, and they know of your feelings and respect for them. You never know what is actually going on with someone, so best to keep that in mind and diffuse the situation as calmly and simply as possible.

      2. Spot on Tina! And thank you Jason for telling your gallery’s less than positive customer interaction and behavior. Congrats on the sales. Your truths remind us all of life’s ups and downs and appropriate behavior/ positive responses to situations.

    2. I can see two reasons for the attitude:

      1) They’re sore from a previous pushy salesperson. There are many franchises (restaurants in particular)where upper management/corporate insists their employees mention specials, suggest up-sells, etc., even if the customer has made it crystal clear exactly what they want. A string of these can sensitize a customer.

      2) They really don’t want “help” in making their decision. We live in such an extrovert-rewarding society, that many people (like Sally here, and a reviewer of the movie, “The Martian”–who thought it “wasn’t realistic” that Mark wasn’t bouncing off the walls after being all alone for an entire week) simply can’t comprehend that someone may not tolerate the level of intrusiveness that much of society regards as appropriate. Might want to have a copy of Jo-Ellan Dimitrius’ Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior–Anytime, Anyplace.

      And if it’s any consolation, I had a teacher of a school group that came to our theater call up and complain to the manager that I gave them the freedom to decide their own seating arrangement instead of telling them exactly where they could sit. (Personally, I would have kept each class in a cluster with its teacher, so she could see if any of them started getting out of hand. but I knew they were used to having all the kids in one big block, so I gave them the choice. Silly me, letting people exercise freedom in “the land of the free.” What was I thinking?)

  2. Sometimes it’s not about you. The staff member’s interaction may simply have triggered a response to something that upset the couple earlier. I was going to guess the man’s diatribe served as a cover for anything from shoplifting to simple embarrassment.

    Your response then, the blog post and noting that your employee benefitted from the sale show good management. Too often clients become the focus for businesses at the expense of internal clients, your staff.

  3. Wow! What a tough one. I hate being hounded in galleries and generally nip it in the bud by saying I’m an artist and am always interested in other’s work which is true. But the best year I’ve ever had in the open studio event I’m involved in was the one where I had 2 very enthusiastic friends hauling paintings off the wall for a closer look etc.
    Andrea Cleall

  4. Wow. I really feel for your staff member, and for you. Confrontation always feels horrible, and especially when it comes out of the blue. My father-in-law always said that just because you think someone is a horse’s ass you don’t need to tell him so. Taking the polite high road is probably the best thing you could have done, although next time with some polite defense of your staff (Gee, she is normally so well liked by our clients!). Saying what you really think (go to hell) doesn’t reduce the confrontation or, in the long run, make you feel better about it. And the final result – the gallery, artists and staff all seeing 3 sales – is a nice way to end it.
    Hope you get nothing but delightful clients from here on out!

  5. The customer is always right, even when they aren’t. We recently had a piece of stained glass that had been installed that the client complained about. There was a small bubble in a piece of the glass in the border. Our designer, who had sold the project explained to them that glass has flaws and this small bubble shouldn’t be a problem. They took a week or two deciding to have the piece of glass replaced. We didn’t charge anything for the replacement but we did charge for the contractor firm who had to drive there, bring the glass back for repair and then had to take it back and reinstall.

    When we got the glass back into our studio, the bubble was 3/16 in size and we couldn’t be sure if the offending glass was one or another since the piece next to it also had a slight flaw. We replaced them both and the issue was resolved. But it did make us wonder, because they were so picky. They were really wrong but if we hadn’t resolved the issue, they would have had to look at that bubble and it would have ruined there joy with the piece. It’s always better to make piece because the ripples of reputation are fragile and it’d been our experience that you may have a hard time getting customers to let others know how you’ve done a good job, but they will howl long and loud at any misstep.

  6. You were right! All the clients needed to do was say, “We’d just like to look around quietly.” My take is that the man is just a very nice person — as long as nobody irritates him. And that he gets unpredictably irritated. In working with the public, you have to tailor your approach to what works with most clients, adjusting to any cues you receive from the client. But you cannot possibly predict every quirk.
    I think your employee understood that you value her professionalism.

  7. I do think its an art to know how much space to give a visitor looking at art. You want to engage, and yet not interfere with the clients own process of connecting with the art. And some people just want to be given a wide berth! It could be that the couple felt they’d already interacted with the staff member twice, and wanted to have private enchanges as they encountered more art. I think after establishing one good group discussion, the staff member might have waited for the clients to reapproach, and give a signal they wanted more help, rather than to keep inserting him/herself. But its a delicate dance, and it could have gone another way. You would have to read cues and body language very well!

    1. I agree, Karen. As a gallery “shopper”, I like to be greeting in a friendly manner and then left alone for awhile to look around.. If my initial interaction with gallery staff was positive, I will approach them later if I have questions about the art..
      On the other hand, as an occasional staffer at a nonprofit, member-run gallery, I find it hard, at times, to strike the right balance of helpfulness versus intrusion. So I usually go with a friendly greeting and offer to answer questions, followed by a friendly” Thank you for visiting” as they are leaving. But I do worry that I miss many sales opportunities by not being more attentive. I’m constantly trying to read the needs of our customers and confess it is not east! I appreciate Jason’s willingness to share this situation with us.

  8. Jason, I think you did the right thing the first time, all the way through. The couple was obviously upset over something, probably something more than what they said, and you were right to try to defuse the situation. Standing up for your employee is also the right thing to do, but at that point, you hadn’t heard her side. She was just doing her job and the couple misinterpreted it. We’ve all been there.

    I’ve only had one person complain to me about a painting of mine that he’d purchased. He had seen it in my studio, and then a few years later, out of the blue, he contacted me and wanted to buy it. We made the sale and I shipped it to him – which was expensive as it was 55″x40″ and he was about 600 miles away. A couple of weeks later, he contacted me again and was very upset about a paint drip coming off the figure’s foot. He thought it was a distracting mistake and wanted it fixed. I was flummoxed because that drip was part of the painting process and had always been there. After thinking about it a few days, I finally told him that if he paid to ship it here and back, I’d do what I could to make the drip go away. He decided to keep it, probably because shipping was expensive, but he also seemed very happy that I’d even considered his issues. I still get an occasional cheerful email from him.

    Here’s the painting, by the way … look at her raised foot …https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Ann-s-Slander/13766/2681146/view

  9. Personally, I think despite the awful situation that these bizarre clients put you in, your instincts kicked in to act exactly as you should have. If you had replied in kind to these people, no matter what the real reasons may have been for their abhorrent behavior, your gallery would have lost the sales. In the end, I’m sure that your staff person, who got the last laugh with a portion of the commission, agrees. Yeah, sometimes you have to kiss up to erratic people (for no good reason), and that has to be part of good customer service. My husband (also an artist) probably would not agree, as he is not as willing to grovel as I am. Congratulations on the sales!

  10. Hi Jason. I’ve never been in this position about my art but I have had a student who confronted me about a grade and when I wouldn’t change it, complained to my department chair. Because I believed the grade was correct I refused to change it and defended my reasons before the school board. The grade stayed.
    I’m a non-confrontational person by nature and did my best to avoid future contact with that student. Strangely enough, two years later that student met me in the hall one day with some of her friends and introduced me as her favorite teacher saying she had learned so much from me. I was dumbfounded but thanked her.
    It is difficult to understand what kind of impact you have on a client. All you can do is exactly what you did and tell the consultant that you knew she would never do what she accused of, that you believed in her. The problem was the clients not yours or hers. It sounds like he was on a power trip trying to impress his companion.

  11. I haven’t been in the same situation but I think you handled it correctly. If you had been at all rude, the difficult customer would have spread the word. Your consultant knows how you feel about her and that’s the most important thing. What you did regarding giving a commission to the consultant was not unlike a waitress spitting in the drink of a rude customer.

  12. Jason Horejs,
    That was an uncomfortable situation…but in Consumer Service..the customer is always right….remember it is from their lens view….so even though your staff was being very conscientious ….these customers might have needed more body space as they were getting serious about buying art…maybe they needed a wider birth so that they felt free to discuss what they wanted among just themselves…..without someone being so close to hear anything. Also…if they are intuitive decision makers…they not only needed their alone space but uninterrupted time and space. You did well to accommodate them by giving them time with that one assistant would not be there. It event could have been a personality issue…like he or she reminded them of someone else or a previous experience in life. Congratulations on the Sales.

  13. I think your approach was correct. There is no need to overthink it. What is worrying you is your loyalty and friendship with your staff, which is easily addressed by showing them you care in private. I have always been taught that the customer is always right and it would have angered me to hear you stand behind your staff 100% therefore making the me wrong. This is common thought these days and I suspect its a generational thing, but if I had received that rebuke from you I would not have returned to purchase nor would I enter the gallery again. Where I put my money is a choice and I dont put it anywhere where I’m made to feel wrong or less than. Obviously the buyers felt the same way and when they had cooled down were happy to spend their money in your gallery. Chances are they will be back.

    1. I agree that your approach was the best one. I am one of those people who needs a lot of quiet space when shopping and I get really irritated when someone follows me around…actually I feel hostile…especially if I have given the right signals (which usually means that I don’t respond to their comments at all). Body language should be enough but if it isn’t I usually tell the staff member that I need space which usually does the trick. I also agree that if you had stood up for your employee, it would have made the customer feel they were not taken seriously and were wrong and they would not have returned. Also, you assured your employee that she was doing her job well which was what she needed.

  14. Hi Jason,

    I am a former owner of a Fine Art gallery. As in any type of “retail” there were a mix of very pleasant clients and the odd client who was rude for no apparent reason. Perhaps having a bad day? Looking for a target to vent at as they perceived themselves to be in a position of power? Some would just snap “just looking” before I had even greeted them.

    Now, I think given all things considered, you handled it well. Any kind of unexpected confrontation can leave us with a “wish I’d said … x” complex. My only thought would have been to include the staff member in your discussion while the couple were still in your gallery so you took on a kind of mediatory role and the staff member had the opportunity to discuss her approach/intention directly with the couple. PERHAPS they may have left feeling better. I think the staff member would have felt supported/validated to have her say in front of the clients.

    I am conciliatory by nature too however from my experience showing spine in a firm, clear way (no name calling or obscenties) actually will gain you respect from the clients. I have two incidents I can recall where clients were just outright rude. One in particular was very argumenative and I said to him “Sir, I’m going to have to leave this discussion here because to be frank, I have more pressing issues to consider”. And he said, “Yeah, like what?”. I said “actually my father doesn’t have much longer to live because he has cancer and I am being polite to you on a day when I’d rather not be here.” There was silence. I think he realised I was a HUMAN. He didn’t apologise but he did take an artwork home on approval and bought it the next day. I was telling the truth by the way!

    Anyway, hope that is of some help and I’m glad they came back and bought pieces from you – a bittersweet ending but at least a silver lining.

    I look back and wish I had been more staunch at the “hagglers” who loved a good wrestle over pricing. However it’s a hard business and as you said, you do what you have to do sometimes for the benefit of your artists and your business.

  15. My incident didn’t take place in a gallery, but it involved a rude client. A commission piece that had been delivered, hung and paid for became an issue two weeks later, when on Christmas morning, the wife called me and questioned whether or not I had painted the painting for them, or just gave them the one hanging in my own home. She demanded to come see if I still had the one in my home—ON CHRISTMAS morning. It was not HER holiday, so she didn’t care that my family was opening gifts around our tree when they arrived. I graciously escorted her to the painting in question and let her do the talking. She never said a word. She looked at it, turned and walked out of the house. The husband apologized meekly, and left, too. In THIS case, silence was golden.

  16. And I’m thrilled that your employee got the commission she earned. It’s YOUR business. The client has no right to deny her her due, unless, of course it is coming straight from his pocket to the sales person, like a tip to a waitress. Applause to you, Jason, for treating your staff like family. That’s the healthiest, most humane formula for a successful business.

  17. I do not believe that the customer is always right, but I also believe that every complaint has a measure of truth in it. As someone said above, customer interaction is a dance. For whatever reason, these clients did feel hounded. There is a great phrase – “Be kind – everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Tension is not typically about you (or your consultant), even though it is our reflexive thought process. If you know that your consultant is normally very well received, reassure her that you have every confidence in her (which you rightfully did!). Step out of ego and try to see the situation from the clients’ perspective – they cared enough to say something. Confrontations are never fun, but they are often the defining moment between a customer becoming a true client. Remember, if they were truly offended, they would have left and never said a word. Well, not said to you, but to all their friends. Their “complaint” was actually them giving you an opportunity to ease their tension. You appropriately gave them space and opportunity to re-engage favorably, which they did quite nicely by purchasing 3 pieces! Your internal policy of sharing commissions allowed your staff to participate as fully as they would have otherwise. I think you had a win-win, which is the best possible outcome. On the other hand, if the client had been abusive directly to your staff member or to you in front of her, it is more than appropriate to let them know that the door will most resolutely hit them in the bum if they don’t scamper immediately. Your staff will understand the difference and know that you have their back.

  18. Jason,
    I think it is admirable that you feel so strongly about standing by your staff. However, you do also have a responsibility to your artists, and to the overall reputation of your gallery, so I think that you have to “suck it up” and keep all interactions as non-confrontational as possible. Imagine the damage that people like this could attempt to do to your gallery’s reputation if you had further inflamed their anger?

    Your sales consultant is very fortunate that they only have to deal with this kind of treatment only occasionally from customers, and not from their boss or co-workers. Nearly everyone who works with or for other people will have to endure this at some time.

    And then there are the “Hounded Clients. They probably were indeed having a bad day! But if they are were not from the Midwest, or some other cold climate, perhaps they had just visited one. I am continually astonished at the forwardness, even aggressiveness of the sales tactics you promote, and I always think “well, that would never work in Minnesota!” Whoever these people were, they were acting like Minnesotans! Here, I absolutely never say anything to a potential customer when they are actively looking at my work and discussing it with their spouse. If a friend or family member is helping me at my booth, I will drag them away and stick food in their mouth to keep them from talking at such times. I will only speak when the couple is clearly losing interest and about to leave the booth. That is the point at which they may be open to asking a question or hearing more information, if they have a lingering interest. If not, they are already on their way out, so they can leave without feeling too threatened. The sales consultants’ behavior as you described it may work most of the time, but there truly are people who would see this as “hounding”.

  19. I feel that working with the public demands an understanding that some will be unreasonable and rude. Unless they are vulgar, it comes down to a debate about whether they were right or wrong to act that way. That doesn’t matter. The customer is always right (unless vulgar or dangerous or threatening in some way). A good sales person can work without needing to be stood up for, not taking the rude behavior personally. Just my opinion.

  20. Hey Jason!

    I can totally feel for you: working in retail and the company demanding the importance of customer service. As a customer, I usually don’t want to be bothered, so I can see both sides of the story.
    I think you gave the best response however. You were polite and kind to the customer while still letting your staff member know that you were behind her back. Sometimes that’s the gruel of customer service: put on a nice smile even if you don’t feel like it otherwise.
    Someone did mention that it can tricky to know when to approach a customer; that it’s like a dance. I would have to say that being approached three different times would be annoying. However, the customer should have said something like “we’ll let you know if we need you”.
    Neither is in the wrong or the right: just a situation that ended up badly.
    The only thing you may have done differently was to inform the customer that the staff member was just doing her job (and apologize for coming off as a pushy salesperson: as that is not your intention).
    Hopefully you won’t have to deal with something like this again!

  21. I’ve been in high end luxury sales for many years (items costing $10s to $100,000). I only mention this to provide context. It seems that the more expensive an item is (‘relatively speaking’), the more demanding some customers can be. I’ve also seen very demanding behavior from customers at the lower price-point sales.

    So with a large amount of customers- one is always going to find one or two like this. It is hard to say what is the ‘right’ thing to do. Different circumstances = different responses. These are a few of the things that I have learned that seem to always make sense:

    1. Always maintain a professional and respectful demeanor (I’ve had a customer yelling at me with their facial veins bulging- I just let them go while I maintained composure).
    2. Listen- not only to the words. The customer is telling you something that may be important.
    3. I watched my dad (a successful and respected architect) take a verbal beating in his office. He sat calmly and listened to the complaints. He then thought, and then responded something like this- ‘ I listened to you now you have to listen to me.’ and he then proceeded to state his case/response to the complainer in a forceful but respectful way.

    So, listen, think, respond with facts in a professional manner.

    Mike

      1. Hi Jason, One other thing that I learned early on in sales–
        It is not possible to sell something while the conversation is all about how unhappy the customer is about some other issue with your company or product. In my case, selling expensive Swiss timepieces to high-end jewelers. The buyer is going on and on about a watch that has been sent in for service. Our company has lousy service (so he says). I am never going to get to the selling conversation as long as we are talking about the lousy service.
        What I learned to do- that worked virtually every time:
        1. I acknowledged the person’s concern- to the point where I was ‘really mad’ about the issue (sometimes the buyer would have to calm me down). Still professional though.
        2. When the buyer realized that I understood that they had an issue, that I was ‘sympatico’ with them- I had then created the all-important rapport.
        3. Now, I assured the buyer that I would handle his issue.
        4. Then we got on with the business at hand- the sale.
        In your case this could mean acknowledging that the buyer was upset, and that you would be too. Get rid of the topic by assuring the buyer that you will talk to the sales associate (you already know that the associate is not at fault). And then ask how you can help them with what interests them.
        The buyer/customer was telling you not only that they didn’t want to deal with the particular sales associate- because they thought her too pushy. The buyer was also telling you that the are sensitive to that issue- maybe they are too sensitive, or maybe they actually had been pushed hard by a sales associate at another gallery.
        They were also telling you that they were interested in buying- which they did!

  22. Coming from a retail industry and retired after 25 years, the customer is NOT always right. They can be rude, angry and have no sense. You run a great business and smart to handle it the way you did.
    My creditability for customers is extremely high, 300 customers a day five days a week for 25 years. You can do the math.
    My dear Mom taught me at a very young age; “Judy Ann, you don’t go home with them, you are not married to them, gotta let it go.” THANKS MOM, works every time.

  23. My thoughts are if that happens it’s because they are having a bad day!
    Nothing can be said to fix the situation, You either tell them off and lose them as a client or give them a break and wait for a better day. In doing Graphic Design work, I had a client who would throw his weight around with orders. I could put up with it most of the time. One day it was so bad, I got up, walked out the door and said that I would talk to you tomorrow…we got along great after that.

  24. I can never understand rudeness in people, especially when it sounds like your employee was very gracious to the customer. All the customer had to say to her was, “Thank you for the artist information, but we would like some time to ourselves now to decide on our purchase.” There was absolutely no reason for his reaction according to your story of events. Perhaps giving the angry customer your card, and asking him to make an appointment with you personally would have been a good response, but when someone is spewing such anger, it’s difficult in the moment to think of the right response because of the shock value of the situation. Sounds like this customer needed to feel important that day, and your gallery just happened to be the target.

    1. Perhaps giving the angry customer your card, and asking him to make an appointment with you personally would have been a good response.

      The angry customer would probably throw the card to the curb. Asking them to make an appointment with you would be better. Just remember it’s more about them than you. They are having a bad day…so be nice and they should respond!

  25. If I’d been the customer, I might have felt some pressure, too. I have seen potential sales disappear when too much information is given about the work, the interpretation especially. People are drawn to a work for their reasons and the salesperson may never know what they really are and by pointing out some detail or giving information, it can spoil it for them. I think the salesperson had made herself known and should have waited some distance away to see if they looked for her when they had questions or were ready to buy. Some potential buyers may love companionship but a salesperson must be alert to distinguish the differences.

    1. I’m not disagreeing JoAnne, however, we interact with dozens and dozens of clients every day. We are far more successful at selling when we are proactive. While there can certainly be individual cases like the one I’ve shared here where people can be turned off by offering too much information, it is a tiny, tiny percentage of the total people we talk to. I would rather risk losing an occasional sale because of this than certainly missing out on the far greater number of sales we make by being proactive.

  26. I am very proud of you that you are so honest about how you felt about the situation. It would confuse most of us, and you weren’t striding in as if you had all the answers at your fingertips. You navigated it with sensitivity, fairness and some intuition. Good for you. I’d say it worked out just right.

  27. I’ve been to many galleries across the U.S.. I’ve experienced every sales approach available – and the worst feeling I get as a prospective client is when I feel I’m being followed around a gallery. It smacks of salesmanship and desperation – and is annoying. When I’m trying to “get into” a work of art, the last thing I need is a salesperson breathing down my neck – it destroys the whole experience. This couple may have had that experience previously – and were very sensitive to it. I think it’s important to be greeted – and to give a brief synopsis – but then walk away and give the client space! The sales rep may not even have been aware she was doing it – but part of good customer service is reading the client.

    1. I agree, space should be given when shopping, and that is what it is.
      Being followed around closely or from a short distant is very distracting. It’s like you are about to shoplift. I generally leave a store when I feel that way.

    2. I’ve mentioned it already in a previous response, but I have a different perspective on this. I agree that it’s critical for us to be responsive and sensitive to our clients and to try to gauge what they want, but at the same time, I operate a commercial art gallery, not a museum. If we don’t sell, neither my staff, nor my artists, nor my children eat!

      I don’t consider salesmanship a dirty word at all – IF – and this is a big if – if the salesmanship is handled professionally. My staff are sales professionals, and the vast majority of our clients praise their interactions.

      I want to be very careful that the wrong lesson isn’t taken from this post. If you are trying to sell art, it’s critical that you work to establish relationships with potential clients, and the only way you can do that is by going well above and beyond “let me know if you have any questions.”

      1. I have a gallery also and totally agree that while the clients should be allowed to look,they are in my establishment and it’s necessary to interact with them…so many times when I’ve gotten the cool response initially, I’ve given them time and checked back in,started a conversation and made a sale..and I have a story that did not turn out well,when I gave an honest reaction! A gentleman who came in frequently and never bought but talked and talked came in one day when I was getting over the flu (you know sometimes you work when you shouldn’t),and wore me out with conversation. I finally told him it was late and I had to close,curtly, and he took offense.”Don’t you think I’m going to buy anything?” “Well you haven’t so far…” Huff and a puff and he was outta there..next morning I got a call from another gallery in town-“Jerry asked me to call you to tell you he just bought a piece from us”… I asked her “Was this part of the sale,to make sure I knew?”…”Yes”…all I could think of was this poor salesperson had to go through this just to embarrass me. But frankly I’m glad he’s never been back!

  28. There was a book I read decades ago titled You Are Not the Target. These folks had there own issues. Don’t over think it. You handled the situation as best you could and all ended well. Thanks for sharing the struggles as well as the successes of your business. We all learn.

  29. Jason, you did very well – you honored the business basic “The Customer is always right” , yet were fully supportive of your staff member.

    Everyone “got what they wanted” as they say.

    Lifelong in arts and arts-related including some really nice startups still running strong after many years, I was taught to NEVER follow the clients in a gallery, unless they specifically request your guided tour of the paintings – for which some galleries charge a fee.

    Some galleries even make a small sign at the docent reception desk saying so – “Browse freely – happy to accompany you at your request. ( and here the note about a fee for the guide or suggested tip, if you want one for it ) ”

    Your story is a great one to bring up to all in arts – it refreshes a very important point.

  30. As a nurse, who frequently encounters people who are stressed, I think you handled it exactly right. ” I am sorry. We strive to provide excellent service here” immediately acknowledges the difficulty. Sometimes you just need to listen. Getting defensive, including trying to defend your staff, almost always makes things worse.
    If the client calms down after you have listened, then you probably did it right. If the client starts to escalate, then you can lay out some ground rules, such as, “I am happy to help you, but I will not let my staff be abused.” They key is to be clear, direct and respectful.
    At any rate, the client returned. Maybe it wasn’t about you at all.

  31. Just curious, when they came back, did they ask for a discount or want to negotiate a lower price? If so could it of been a tactic for negotiating a better price to put you off guard?

    1. Interesting. I would see that as a retail strategy from customers seeking to provoke sales personnel and then ratchet the rhetoric to the point that they realized a substantial discount. This behavior was used because the customer knew the company had an 85/15 policy. 85 % of customers are well meaning and we will bend over backwards to keep their business. The other 15% may be malignant camel arsebadgers, but we’d rather they didn’t speak ill of us. And so, we will bend over backwards to keep their business. In this particular retail sector, at this chain, the customer service representatives were highly trained to meet the customers needs…. However management treated their highly trained sales associates as if they were burger flippers and would discharge the most patient saintly helpful knowledgeable sales associate whenever it suited them.

      They fired one of the most unflappable and knowledgeable department managers I’ve ever known after he was baited repeatedly and then cornered into a position in which I don’t think anyone would fail to react. And, as such he was canned for losing his cool.

      It’s a dishonest customer tactic at times. At other times, you wish you had a sign around your neck asking how you would like to be served….

  32. I’ve read through the previous responses and they were very thoughtful. You were extraordinary polite to the clients. My one thought is this isn’t the end of the story. Dollars to donuts they decide they don’t like the pieces they bought in 6 months and demand a refund. Then you’re in a pickle. My final thought is some sales aren’t worth it. I hope it’s not the case but fear it might be.
    BTW I’ve visited your gallery several times and have loved the sales staff!!!

  33. I have been in your gallery and the staff has been great! I had one customer try to really lo ball by artwork. I refused to do it because of his attitude and my price was appropriate. He left. However another visitor praised me on how I did not bow to the other potential customer’s requests. Be reasonable, fair and polite and be firm, even if it means losing a sale.

  34. Jason, I am sorry that you and your staff had this unpleasant experience. I am a member of an artist’s collective gallery in Hilo Hawaii, and I try to treat the customers the way I want to be treated. I great them warmly, welcome them to the gallery and tell them that all of our art is made by local artists. Their response to my greeting will dictate how I continue to interact with them. If they are distant, I leave them alone to browse. If they want more information about an artist or work of art , I let them come to me. I only approach them if they stop in front of my art. I hate having sales people follow me around and talk to me constantly. It makes me feel like I am being pressured to buy. But I would never be rude like those people were.

  35. I think you handled the situation very professionally and I’m glad the outcome was positive for everyone involved in the sale. As business owners we must set procedures and policies for doing things that are based on our perception of the perfect outcome. But, rarely does this happen in real life. Adaptability is the key, but there are some sales that will occur when we do everything wrong and some failures will happen when we do everything right.

    In my architectural practice of 47 years I managed to retain, please and get paid for every client I’ve had except one. I know how I would like the process to occur, but rarely did it go as planned. I adapted to the client’s needs, budget and personalities and work through the problems. But, there was one client who accepted my first draft of his plans, paid my bill on time and added a tip! Then, there wast the client from hell.

    He showed me his floor plan sketches of a simple cabin. They were neatly drawn on graph paper with accurate dimensions and notes. I was so pleased with this great start and went to work on the construction drawings when everything changed. The basement plan had stairs on the right side of the house and the main floor had the stairs on the left side. Impossible, unless your name is M. C. Escher. I called him and after several diplomatic attempts to offer alternatives he insisted his drawings were correct. I drew them exactly as he wanted, but also created an alternate plans that had stairs that actually worked.

    I made the mistake of showing him the alternative first. Before I could pull out the original version he pushed the table away from himself and started screaming, nearly toppling my wife’s Czech crystal vase, and stomped out the door slamming it behind him.

    After I recovered from the shock I realized he did me a big favor . I never heard from him again. I used the sketch to start my barbeque that evening.

  36. I agree with some of the comments above, I suspect there was something else at play here, for example some medication that caused unruly reaction in the customers. It seems that you handled it well Jason, one’s instincts often take over in the best way, as they can read below the conscious level of a situation. I love that the poor staff member received the commission too!

  37. This was interesting since my husband and I just visited your gallery on a trip to Scottsdale. There were two members of your staff that day. One got up and greeted us personally as we entered and then retreated to let us look. Only when she heard us commenting on a piece did she get up and provide additional information or when we asked direct questions. She asked after about 10 minutes if I was an artist, and I asked how she knew. “Because of your questions.” She then graciously invited us to the opening the next night. I think your staff is perfect.

  38. I think Scott is right. I think this couple had decided they wanted to purchase the pieces, but were fishing for special consideration; a discount, free shipping, what have you. When you didn’t offer that, they left the gallery and waited for you to contact them and offer the special inducement. when that didn’t happen, they came back and purchased the items they had decided they wanted. I can’t quite explain their behavior any other way.

  39. Years ago I was given a copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I printed the agreements and keep them by my desk and in my studio. They were hard to learn, but over the years they have begun to sink in. They are: “Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.”

  40. What a great series of responses. Several years ago I worked in a private elementary school. I was the yearbook lady, designing, photographing, producing the 250 page book. The parents were used to getting what they requested, they paid a very high tuition. One summer all staff was required to attend a seminar. The focus was how fear is the basis of anger. This always helps me approach an out of control client or friend. What are they afraid of? Possibly this man felt fear of looking foolish because he didn’t already know about the artists. I don’t know of course, but this line of thought always gives me pause and actually confidence in knowing the person is fearful.

  41. I understand you what you did and the frustration it brings. I’ve doing a lot of out door shows and try my best to greet everyone that enters with a smile and tell them alittle about what I do. Sometimes, not often people are not interested in what I’m trying to convey but just want to look at the art. They have never been rude thank goodness and has resulted in sales.
    So glad you shared your story, I have often wondered how to handle the situation!

  42. This was interesting. It does sound like there was more going on than just the interaction between the man and the staff member. I think your instincts were correct to just give him the information he asked for and not include the staff member at that time. It sounds like he was too emotional at that point to be reasonable. I’m glad it worked out.

  43. One last option I think of as a diffusing approach:
    Express appreciation that the client was willing to tell you of their response to how your staff member interacted with them. And I think offering to meet with them at a time that staff member was away simply made sense. But then tell them that how (all, not just that individual) your staff interacts with your customers is actually a result of strong, widespread customer feedback showing particular appreciation for your gallery’s more personalized approach, but that it is always acceptable for a customer to ask a staff member to let them absorb and consider quietly, and that they will let the staff member know when they would like more information. Then everyone’s validated, personal differences are acknowledged, and hopefully graciousness is restored.
    And I suspect at the time, in your heart, you listened for that still, small voice to tell you what you needed to say in that instance, and were given the response you needed.

  44. There is occasionally a certain type of person that comes to shows and galleries in Scottsdale. This person (or persons) show up at your gallery or booth, and when I say hi, I am completely ignored. The personal takes a long look at the art, but doesn’t want any interaction. He (it always seems to be a tall man) is obviously wealthy and interested in art. I used to be offended, but now I just step aside and let them look. Perhaps this couple was of that type. One year, there seemed to be a wave of them downtown Scottsdale in the gallery that I worked at and at my booth at my show. I was very upset and offended at the time, because it seemed so rude. Now I’ve learned to just speak when spoken to if this type shows up. Once, in a gallery downtown, a couple wasn’t talking to me, so I just let them look around. After awhile, I offered them cookies and coffee. The woman giggled, and the ice was broken. They bought $16,000 worth of art from me, and turned out to be a repeat customer. That was a good commission!

  45. I’ve worked for many years in retail and maybe there is an explanation for this client’s behavior. Sometimes the consultant can do everything right but they may remind the client of someone else; someone they don’t like. So subconsciously, they dislike this consultant because they remind them of that person. It could be a similar voice pattern, mannerisms or facial similarities-anything really. In that case, when the consultant finds a stumbling block with the client, that is the time to turn the sale over to someone else. Often the sale is made rather quickly after that. All of us have these subconscious feelings and sometimes don’t realize how they affect our behavior toward innocent salespeople!

  46. You did the right thing…kill ’em with kindness. If you had been defensive, you may have said something you would later regret. The difficult clients could have bad-mouthed you to potential clients and that would not have helped anything. It’s never a good idea to lose your cool, no matter how rude the other person is. You took the high road and were rewarded with sales. Your salesperson knows how you feel about her because you made it clear to her, so everyone is happy. She probably would have felt terrible if you had handled it defensively and further negativity transpired after the incident.

  47. I’m a teaching artist for an events company. I adore my work, my company, my boss, and (most of) my clients who are baby beginner painters for the most part out to have a glass of wine and push some color around. Bottom line – you can NOT please everyone. Sometimes you can’t even please the same person in the same way at different times. “Personalized service” is a watchword it sounds like you live by. Hard to tell sometimes when you are pushing boundaries. I’ve been dinged for being too interactive and not interactive enough. (Overall I get stellar reviews and people look for my classes.) My boss takes it all with a grain of salt, works to make the clients happy (as you did), and recognized some people just LIKE TO BITCH! Maybe they had a bad flight, or a poor breakfast, or are full of themselves. Some folks think because you have an apron on (or are working behind a counter) that you are less important than they are. Dad used to say you can tell what a person is really like by how they treat the help….

  48. Jason,

    I’ve been following you, your video interviews and your newsletter for many years. Let me say what an awesome man I think you are, full of integrity and kindness. You’re also impeccably professional and very knowledgeable. I have great respect for you. But in this instance, I have a different opinion.

    I managed an art gallery for 3 years (the owners subsequently sold it and moved to FL). We were located in a 4-season tourist\resort town in Vermont, a town with many wealthy residents. Visitors to our area came from all over the world. Very similar to Scottsdale where the median annual income is upper echelon. Our gallery had mostly well-off, highly educated customers. Usually, only people with “disposable” incomes, folks who can afford to adorn their homes with expensive fine arts, would visit the gallery. And, being that we were located in a tourist area, many of these visitors were one-time-only customers, vacationers who lived thousands of miles away. It’s not always feasible to “establish a relationship” with such visitors. They either see something they like and buy it, or they leave, never to have a chance to return.

    1) I learned quickly how to evaluate our visitors. 1st contact: “Hi, welcome to our gallery! Where are you visiting from today?” Answer, for ex: “We’re from Maryland”. Response: “Well, welcome to Scottsdale. Glad you’re here. My name is – – – – -; Please let me know if you have any questions or would like formation about any of our artists. Enjoy your visit.” Then, I leave them alone. I go back to the front desk. They can clearly see me from most sections of the gallery.
    2) If they show a *strong* interest in the work of a specific artist, I’ve already memorized that artist’s bio. I pick out the most unusual tidbit of the artist’s past to relate to the customer, with the intention of making them want to know more: “This award-winning artist didn’t pick up a paint brush until he was 58 years old. He was a high school math teacher for 35 years, never took an art lesson and is completely self-taught. Here’s his bio if you’re interested.” They are. They thank me. Then I leave them alone again.
    3) I would NEVER approach a customer for a third time. That’s total over-kill. They know they can come to me, they’re not stupid. If your associate had done that to me, I would’ve left your gallery too. Jason, it’s annoying!
    4) Finally, when they leave – whether or not they made a purchase – I always thanked them for coming.
    Just as an aside, if a person enters the gallery solo, (s)he may be more open to light chatting. But if it’s a couple, they’re more likely interested in talking about the art with each other. Never interrupt them. They’re trying to decide if they want the piece or not! The key here is to observe the customers, read their actions, be perceptive of their needs without ever being intrusive.

    Your customers know exactly why your staff is there. Again, they’re not stupid. And they could care less that you or your artists need to put food on the table. They’re there to enjoy the browsing experience, and maybe buy something. *Three* approaches by a salesperson is one time too many. JMHO.

    You handled it beautifully!

    1. Mark, I am with you on these comments. I also feel you can’t second guess people who are lacking emotional intelligence and feel nothing when treating others badly .So glad the “targeted employee” received compensation. I just hope the client doesn’t try to come back and return their items for some crazy reason.
      Cynthia

  49. Jason, I think you did just fine with your response, which obviously worked as they came back and purchased. The only problem customers I can remember from my gallery managing days were the ones that thought we were running some thrift shop and would be persistent in haggling. This was cured with what I’d learned from Manuel Smith’s “When I Say No I Feel Guilty” book and my confidence in the pricing.

  50. I had a similar situation years ago, when I was a salesperson at a high end jewelry store. We mostly sold rare mounted coins, so the sales staff had to have in depth knowledge of every piece. I had been working with a client for days. The couple would come in , I would spend hours with them picking the right pieces, answering questions, etc, only to have them leave with out buying. One day I came back from lunch to find the couple signing the sales slip to a very large sale. The other sales person was a man , and I thought maybe they (he) feels more comfortable spending that kind of money with a man. OK fine, but then he told my sales manager when she walked over to congratulate him on his fine taste, that I had been “too pushy” and then later said, I did not pay enough attention to them. I, like your sales person, had been complimented on my sales technique, I mean people sent me thank you cards, and presents in the mail, came to say “Hi” whenever they came to town. The sales manager decided that he was rich, so he must be right, and hounded me every time I opened my mouth to a client. It threw me off my game, I felt self conscious, my sales dropped drastically. Well about a week later the wife came in just before they left town, to talk to the manager, I guess she saw that I had been hurt by his words, small store. She told my boss that I had done nothing wrong, I looked like his ex-wife, “voice and all”
    The point is that, you never know what it is. You train your staff to be sales people, you trust them.

  51. Richard Branson has been known to say, “Customers do NOT come first. Employees do. Treat them well and they will take great care with your customers.” Having owned restaurants in the past, I can tell you this: I have always believed in this ideology. My employees were outstanding in their jobs; most of my clientele appreciated them to the fullest. Those who were unreasonable were asked to leave and not return. The result of my practice was that we weeded out the knuckleheads who would NEVER be satisfied and made the entire dining experience so much more wonderful for those who chose to come to our establishment. It also cut way down on employee turnover. My staff knew what was expected of them, and also knew that their “boss” was in their corner. As a result, their service was impeccable. I have long held that there ARE people who are simply unreasonable. I see no reason to coddle them. I understand your dilemma; had you reacted differently, you might have “lost” that sale. On the other hand…you will have to see what comes of this because it could turn out to be more of a headache than those sales were worth. I suspect your mindful care will lead you and your staff to more worthy clients (and you can look back on this as a weird “glitch” in the Cosmic Big Picture. (grin)

  52. I’ve read all the responses and you’ve gotten some great feedback. I would like to add one more thing. I learned a long time ago that if a complaint really bothers you big-time…that means in your heart of hearts you think the complaint is valid. The fact that you couldn’t stop thinking about it and even that you wrote about it here suggests that you think the complaint has merit. I know this staff member meant well, but she didn’t read the situation right. She had already interjected her thoughts twice before and the couple were enjoying their own company. It all worked out great in the end, but I hope everyone learns from the lesson. Pipe up twice maybe….but not three times (if they aren’t looking your way).

  53. As a part-time artist, I spend time each week in my “other” job of selling appliances for a big box company. Our sales approach matches yours in almost evey way, except that at the corporate level the company maintains that the customer is ALWAYS right. My own personal philosophy is that it takes all kinds and, although most people are appreciative of personal yet discrete service, some people are just basically rude and live their lives with a sour outlook. These people also spend money and it spends just like that of the nice people. So I inwardly make a game of finding the key to dealing them in such a way as to complete the sale, whether I personally find them offensive or not. This has made me a top salesperson in our company, even as a part-timer, and has taken the “sting” out of dealing with certain individuals, some of whiom ask for me and “bless” me with their continued patronage in our small town.

  54. I’m 45 years old. I’ve worked as an assistant to CEOs my entire career with a jaunt working for an Under Secretary at the State Department and I always approach ALL THINGS with diplomacy. It is what has made me an extremely highly paid and sought after Executive’s Assistant. I’ll say it again – all things with diplomacy – that should be your mantra. All things…with your clients, your staff and your artists. Always assume when confronted with a complete A-hole that they are having a bad day – it makes it easier to swallow your pride and not get your back up.

    While at state department I’ve had the crustiest bastards (pardon my language but really no other way to describe these guys) take the time to compliment me to the Under Secretary because I took their shit with a smile but they still got the same polite “no” my boss directed me to give them. The difference is they left feeling special rather than put off. Some people simply walk through life with a chip on their shoulder. It really is an art form to be diplomatic in the face of such angry aggression.

    You passionately love your business and the staff you’ve hand selected to represent your business so it’s understandable that you want to defend it. But at the end of the day you, your staff and your artists are there to sell artwork. These angry customers did make a purchase in the end and if they didn’t so what! You had an opportunity to shine in that one exchange. The worst situations are an opportunity in customer service. Even if they didn’t come back they may have left to appreciate your level of commitment to keep them happy.

    It’s not throwing your employee under the bus when you and your staff both understand the diplomacy rule. Your response could’ve been:

    “I’m so very sorry this has happened. I know I don’t like being hounded when I’m out shopping. We certainly pride ourselves on being there for our customers and never want our customers to feel ignored like I’ve personally experienced in other galleries – it’s something we pride ourselves on. However, we certainly don’t want this attention to feel like high-pressure sales and I do appreciate the feedback.

    It sometimes hard to tell what level of service and attention a customer may want before we’ve gotten to know them. We are happy to give you your space on future visits and would love to see you again on a day that you’re more comfortable with. Here’s my card and if you’d like to call before coming I can be sure to make myself or a senior member of my staff available for you when you do come.”

    And just like that you’ve turned a disgruntled client into someone who now feels special. Which may have been their aim in the first place. Does it suck to have to be treated this way – yes. Will they likely be difficult going forward – maybe/maybe not. If they feel they have access to the owner that makes all the difference in the world – even if you do send a “senior staff” member to help them when they return.

    Best of luck and remember: “ALL THINGS WITH DIPLOMACY!”

    JRG

  55. Hi Jason, I think you handled it just right – for the client and for the staff. The results show it;you got the sale.

    At Open Studios one year before the starting hour a man came into our studio and he was very grumpy. My husband wasn’t there yet. He looked around at each of our works and I asked him if he was looking forward to his day looking at art, and he said no! Because there had been no catalogs left and even though he’d looked on line he really wanted to look at a catalog. I told him he could look at ours and he made a few notes from it and seemed a bit happier. As he was leaving I showing him some of my husband’s work outside, and talked about it. He said he really liked it but would have to bring his wife back to see it. I was still friendly to him despite his gruff manner and he left. I didn’t expect him to return. He came back about noon, with his wife. I introduced them to my husband and his wife began looking around. Well, you guessed it, she liked a different painting by my husband. They conferred. Both were expensive but the one she liked was about half as much. Finally they said they were leaving and would think about it. We were friendly, said wonderful, hope to see you back .We didn’t expect them to return. Lo and behold at the very end of the day, they returned and bought BOTH paintings, saying “we decided we really don’t need to redo our bathroom.” WOW, be nice to grumpy men! And he has been a friend and a student of ours for years. You just never know.

  56. Jason, I can tell that you are a very caring and honest person. We might always run over this scenario in our hearts about what is the perfect solution for these situations. One never knows what another person has experienced before that can cause a multiple of reactions. What I have done in the past in similar situations is apologize for the misunderstanding and explain how the process works to assist the potential client and then tell them that I am the (blank) and am more than happy to assist them. Who knows how these situations end but I find that if I’m not my heart and honest self I don’t feel good. You were obviously fine.

  57. Larry Simons
    I am currently a full-time artist but I am also still the co-owner of a store, with my wife, which I opened in 1973 and retired from in 2011. We began as purveyors of imported and domestic handcrafts and have specialized in natural-dyed Oriental rugs and antique Asian furniture for many years. With 11,000 square feet, we have been able to indulge our aesthetically chosen fetishes which have included the work of many artists, although now we show mine almost exclusively. After close to 44 years in business I can count on one hand the unpleasant confrontations we’ve had with customers. One told me I was patronizing and another told my wife that I was verbally abusive to her although she informed him that she did not agree. We’ve had tens of thousands of customers who showed no signs of concurring with such accusations so I feel that the problems were with the accusers and not me. My response has been to say nothing and let them walk. The fact that you ended up with a good sale is fortuitous but had you initially reacted the way you later wished you had and not made that sale, that would have been okay too. Diplomacy is always admirable but sometimes money is just not what it is about.

  58. Jason, You actually reacted in a very professional, sensible way given the circumstances and the very short time you had to respond. If this couple had Again acted in such an accusatory way on the return visit, it would Then have been more than reasonable to say that you are 100% behind all your staff, and that all staff persons including yourself, would certainly not wish for a client to feel hounded by anyone representing the gallery.
    (you would know where to take it from there, Jason)

  59. Last summer my husband and I visited Xanadu Gallery. We went with no plan to purchase, but we do collect what we like. When we entered, the female working there met us and talked quite a bit about the gallery, the art, and artists. She talked a lot. She also followed us around the gallery, talking almost the entire time. She was pleasant. She was informative. She was ever-present. We were not rude to her and I felt compelled to respond to her. That kept me from really studying the art. It also kept me and my husband from being able to talk to each other about what caught our eye and whether we might get something and whether it was in our predetermined budget or if we wanted it sufficiently to stretch beyond our budget. I left feeling as though she thought we might steal something. We weren’t dressed up, but we weren’t dressed grubbily. It was 110 degrees plus and we were wearing slacks and neat tees. Anyway, we didn’t buy and we still might buy, but it will require another visit (and we live 3 hours away) and time to view and think. Perhaps we’re slow thinkers, but we make those kinds of decisions without too many distractions. On the other hand, I don’t like to be ignored in a gallery. Personally, I like it when I’m greeted and checked in on from time to time. I want the salesperson to respond to my questions and I don’t mind when the salesperson responds to my interest, but I was inhibited by the constant hovering and talking. I also wondered if we were the only visitors on that hot day and she was just happy to have people with whom she could interact. Anyway, I’m not justifying the buyers’ rudeness. I just want you to know my perspective. I could not find a private direct email address for you, so . . .

  60. There is no telling what was going on in their life before they stepped into your gallery. They may have had the need to create an enemy so they could reconcile. Never know….

  61. Jason,
    I might be newer to the art world, but not the dealing with the public world. As a Dental Hygienist of 32 years – an hour can be a very long time. Most people can work with anyone, however – there can be situations or emotions in play that none of us will ever know. In a dental office – there are patients that would only see me, refusing to see the other hygienist on staff and vice versa. Chemistry is a strange thing……….. As for your staff – being supportive, payment as usual (client didn’t know) and TRUST going forward.

    I just finished the Starving to …………online class. Wonderful. More comments there soon.

  62. It is very hard to deal with the sudden disruption of an angry customer. I think you handled it best the first time. I know your sales people are working on commission, but the customers may have felt her presence too intrusive. Being my own sales person, I found the best way to approach a customer is to introduce myself, ask which pieces (or in a gallery’s case, artists) the customer is interested in, and make a short description of the work, the artist’s point of view, etc. Then I tell the customer if there are further questions, or anything I can do to assist, I would be happy to help them , and back off, staying available, but giving them at least 10 feet of space.
    I have had a couple of confrontations. One was I answered a question too casually, then was angrily dressed down for not being attentive enough. Though this customer was unreasonable, I was exhausted, and promised myself to get more rest while doing shows. Another customer would criticize my poor business practice for not bargaining with him, told me i was terrible at my business, etc. My solution? I “fired” him, telling him I cannot do business with somebody with his anger issues. Whomever is representing art work has to be delicate with even bad customers, as having an approachable reputation is crucial to this highly discretionary line of business.
    .

  63. All and all sounds like you may had done the right thing. How ever I see you were concerned about not standing up for your staff. Asking your staff member for her point of view and not taking the customer at total face value shows that you do take them first so don’t beat yourself up.

    i found that doing street sales that when somebody came into my tent with their hands crossed behind their back and leaning forward over towards the art they are looking like they are in a museum and enjoying the show, Of Course I greet them but i never made a sale off them. I have been snapped at. Then told they would come to me if interested. This could be of value to your staff with a customer with that particular body language. I too have been annoyed my over zealous sales people. My husband would remind me hey are only doing their job.

    I live in AR and have visited your gallery. You have a fabulous staff! i told them I am a starving artist just checking the place out and they still made me feel very welcome to be there. Told me about some of the artists and their techniques .The artists you represent are lucky to be there.

  64. Cant wait to hear more of these scenarios. Id like to hear about the “I know more than you” customer. They can really anger me.

  65. I haven’t read all the comments, so don’t know if I’m repeating anything. From a customer point of view, I absolutely hate when sales people talk to me as I try to look at things. I can’t get a feel for something if someone is talking to me–I find it dreadfully distracting. I appreciate when someone says, “Let me know if I can help you in any way” and then steps back, but stays near enough so I can ask a question or make a comment if I want to. And that’s what I do when I have an event in my studio–or I’ll say, “do you want to just look around yourself, or would you like me to give you a tour?” Your irate customers would have done better to just calmly say to the salesperson, “Thanks, but we’d like to just look ourselves for a bit.” They didn’t need to get belligerent.

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