What to Do When You Get a Bad Online Review of Your Art Business

This post is a little hard to write. In order to tell the whole story, I am going to have to admit to a pretty major mistake we made with a potential client. It’s painful to admit to mistakes, but we learned some important lessons from our error. Hopefully missteps lead to wisdom, and I would like to share some important lessons we learned along the way. Warning: this is a long story, so be prepared to give it about 12 minutes.

The incident in question occurred several months ago, when we were contacted by a gentleman who had encountered one of our artists at a festival. The client had seen a painting he liked at the show, but hadn’t purchased the piece. Now the piece was in our gallery and he had decided he wanted to proceed with the purchase.

The client reached out to us via email on a Saturday to ask if the piece was still available. We replied that it was and that we would be happy to accommodate the purchase. There was some negotiating back and forth until a price was agreed upon. We were opening a show for the artist in our gallery the following Thursday, and so we asked if it would be acceptable for us to keep the piece through the opening.

The client responded that he wanted to proceed with the purchase, and that it would be fine for us to keep the piece through the opening. The salesperson who was handling the communication congratulated him on his decision to acquire the painting and requested that he provide us with contact information so we could call him to make arrangements for payment. She also gave him our contact information so that he could call us to provide credit card information if he preferred. The salesperson’s email gave very specific information about when he might best reach us to arrange payment.

Remember, all of this communication occurred on a Saturday. We didn’t hear back from him on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. On Wednesday the salesperson reached out by email again (we didn’t have any other way to contact the client at this point) and asked if the client still wanted to proceed with the purchase. She again provided information on how best to contact us.

Still, we heard nothing.

Now we were presented with a dilemma. The artist’s show was opening the next day. We had agreed to a sale, but the client hadn’t arranged for payment and wasn’t responding to our emails. This would not have been the first time a client agreed to buy a piece of artwork and then disappeared. The salesperson talked to me about the situation on Thursday morning, and I gave instructions to remove the hold that had been placed on the artwork. The artwork had been on hold for five days and we hadn’t heard back from the client after several follow-up attempts. I felt that it would be a disservice to the artist to hold the piece back during the opening, when it would have the best chance of selling.

The show opened Thursday evening at artwalk, and, as luck would have it, the piece in question was one of several pieces sold that evening.

Up to this point of the story, I don’t feel any regrets about how we handled the situation. I feel that we acted in good faith to complete the sale and that the client failed to follow our instructions to complete the transaction. I don’t consider any sale closed until the client has provided payment. We will go to great lengths to accommodate the needs of a client desiring to make a purchase, but in this case we simply hadn’t heard anything from the client.

Friday morning we received an email from the client. “Should I drop a check in the mail or would you like a credit card by phone?” he asked.

The salesperson replied

Thank you for your email this morning. Since I hadn’t heard from you before the show, I thought maybe you had changed your mind. The painting sold last night at [the artist’s] opening.

We do have some other great new pieces that are available. Here is a link to [the artist’s] page on our site: [link]

I’m also including here a couple of great smaller pieces that might be of interest. These are new at Xanadu Gallery, and were not exhibited at [the art festival].

Another option might be for [the artist] to create another painting similar to the one you liked if you would like to commission.

Almost immediately the client wrote back “Wow. Unbelievable. I asked you to mark it sold.”

Oh boy! Now we had a problem. Our next communication with the client was going to be awkward and would require great finesse and care. Instead the salesperson wrote:

 I am so sorry. I had emailed you a couple of times about payment and then never heard from you.

A client last night loved it and paid the full [price] for it.

If any of [the artist’s] other works the same size appeal, or if you would like to commission a similar piece in the same size, we would be happy to honor the [negotiated] price including shipping.

Please let me know if you would like to go with either of these options.

While I know the salesperson was trying to handle the situation well, and she is usually very good at communicating with clients, there are several problems with this reply.

In the first paragraph, I feel it would have been better to put the responsibility for the miscommunication on us. It’s never a good idea to blame the client for a screw up, even if the client might have some culpability.

The second paragraph is the bombshell. You’ll recall that there had been some negotiation with this first client to come to an agreed price. To tell him that we had sold it to another client for more money added insult to injury. The fact is that the price the second client had paid for the piece was completely immaterial to our decision to remove the hold and sell the piece. The fact was that this first client hadn’t followed through to complete the purchase, and we had made the decision to release the piece for sale.

I would have reworded the reply to say something along the lines of

I am so sorry about the miscommunication. We have a long-standing policy at the gallery that we can’t consider any artwork sold until payment is received. We also have a policy that artwork can only be placed on hold for a maximum of 48 hours. I did reach out twice via email to try to arrange payment, but I should have more clearly communicated these policies. I am sincerely sorry about the miscommunication.

This may not have assuaged the client, but now the conversation could have been about our miscommunication and the underlying policies instead of it looking like we had sold the piece of artwork out from under the client.

The client responded

There is no excuse for the unethical way this is been handled. For you to admit that you can sell a committed painting for a higher price is shameful.

I would never do business with you in the future. As I will encourage all other art buyer to do the same.
You clearly are harming the integrity of this artist.

At this point the salesperson let me know about the emails and asked what she should do. I looked over the emails and threw my hands up in the air. At this point it seemed that it was going to be difficult to rectify the situation. I pointed out some of the things I would have changed in the communication and said I would think about how to respond.

I also suggested that in the future we needed to be far more explicit when following up with a client about payment to let them know what would happen if we didn’t hear from them. I also recommended that I review any of these kinds of communications before they were sent to the client.

we’re human, and we’re going to screw up. If we can’t admit that and give ourselves permission to make mistakes from time to time, we’re all in the wrong business

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and communication is a delicate art. I would be a hypocrite if I pretended that my salesperson completely screwed up the situation and that I had never similarly miscommunicated. The fact is that in the gallery business, and, I suspect, any retail environment, there are going to be occasional difficult situations like this one. It’s also inevitable that at some point, in spite of wanting to handle these situations in the best possible, professional manner, we’re human, and we’re going to screw up. If we can’t admit that and give ourselves permission to make mistakes from time to time, we’re all in the wrong business.

Now I needed to decide how to proceed. My first instinct was to simply let the situation go. It seemed clear that the client was unhappy and that he wasn’t interested in doing business with us in the future. I couldn’t see a clear path forward. I indicated to the salesperson that she shouldn’t respond.

I continued to think about the situation – possibly to the point of obsession – for the next few hours, but couldn’t see any clear way to rectify it.

The next morning I received a mobile notification that our gallery had received a new review on Facebook. My heart sank when I read the review from the unhappy customer.

Beware. Very unethical. I bought a painting via email and they asked if they could keep it for a few days because they where having a “Gallery Show.” After the show they apologized via email saying they sold it someone for more money. Didn’t matter that i had already bought the painting. Not a legitimately run gallery.

I jumped over to Google and Yelp, and sure enough, the customer had been very thorough and had left 1 star reviews with the same comment on both of those sites as well.

The poor review wasn’t as damaging on Facebook, because we have a number of good reviews. On Google and Yelp, however, this review was one of just two or three. Not only did it bring our star ratings down, the customer’s review was the first thing someone visiting these sites would see about our gallery.

I read the review several times and my disappointment slowly turned to anger. I believed the client was making several misrepresentations in his review. I felt it was inaccurate for him to say “I bought a painting via email.” He had never provided us payment, and in my mind, you haven’t bought something until you’ve paid for it.

Had we screwed up? Yes, we had. Was he telling the whole story? I didn’t believe so.

Now I started to consider all of the approaches we might take to respond to these reviews. My first impulse was to contact my attorney and initiate a lawsuit for slander. I thought that this gentleman had every right to be upset, and to leave a bad review, but not to misrepresent what had happened.

I also thought about replying to the reviews to correct the facts.

Instead, I did what I often do when facing a challenging situation, I Googled it.

There is a lot of discussion online among business owners regarding what to do when you receive a bad review. While some business owners advise taking legal action or responding, I found that a majority advised avoiding both. The last thing you want to do, they suggested, is escalate the situation online where everyone can see the battle. Instead, many argued, it would be better to try and reach out to the unhappy customer in private to try and resolve the situation.

This approach resonated with me. I’m fairly averse to conflict if it can be avoided, and I decided that I would try reaching out to the customer. Even if the attempt failed to convince the client to remove his reviews, I would feel that we had legitimately done everything we could to resolve the situation. I fired up my email and sent an apology.

My staff brought to my attention the unfortunate situation with the [painting you wished to purchase]. I have owned Xanadu Gallery for 15 years, and it has always been our goal to provide superior customer service and complete satisfaction to our clients.

It is clear that we have failed you in this regard and I would like to offer my sincere apology. I am working with my staff to examine the situation to make sure nothing like this happens again. Please let me know if there is anything we can do to correct this situation.

Please feel free to contact me either by email or on my direct line at [phone number]

Jason

The client replied:

The email correspondence I received from your staff can best be described as offensive, unethical, and appalling.

After asking me if the painting could stay in the gallery during a gallery show, and then using the excuse of being able to sell it for more money is unconscionable.

I can’t imagine any business being able to operate in such a manner. While I still very much enjoy [this artist’s] art, your staff should be ashamed of how they conduct business on his behalf.

I responded:

Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve examined the email communications carefully and I agree with you, this situation was handled in an extremely poor manner by us. I am implementing changes in our communication and business practices to make sure this never happens again. While my staff made the mistakes, I must take the responsibility for the poor way we handled the situation. As the owner of the business, I provide direction and guidance, and it is clear that my leadership was lacking here.

Unfortunately, it’s not within my power to change what happened, but I would like to again sincerely apologize. I know that we are not in a position to regain your confidence or business, but would you permit me to send you a small token of contrition?

He replied:

Thank you for taking responsibility.

I would be pleased to accept your apology.

[Address]

I proceeded to send him a small work of art, valued at $150, and that was the last of our communication. Within a couple of days, the poor review disappeared from Yelp, though the Google and Facebook reviews remained.

While I had hoped the client might reconsider all of his reviews, or at least update them to reflect our efforts to correct the situation, I wasn’t counting on it.

Even as I was communicating with the client, we put into action part B of our damage control plan. I asked my sales staff to reach out to past clients and ask them if they would consider leaving a positive review for us on Google.

My staff was a little reluctant to do this because they were nervous about our existing clients seeing the bad review – an inevitability when they went to write their own reviews. I rejected this concern. I was confident that our clients would feel that the poor review was not reflective of their experience working with us.

We began sending out the following email to our clients:

Hi, ______________,

We hope all is well! Thank you so much for your past art purchases from Xanadu Gallery. We appreciate the opportunity to be of service regarding cool artwork for your collection, and hope you are enjoying it!

Recently, an unfortunate event happened at the gallery, and we are writing to ask you a favor.

We were contacted by a person whom we had never met who expressed interest in a piece at the gallery. Emails were exchanged back and forth, but no money changed hands. We made repeated attempts over the course of a week to contact the client to finalize the transaction and obtain payment. Those communications went unanswered by the client, so we assumed he had changed his mind.

Another client came to the gallery and purchased the artwork.

A day later we finally heard back from the client, who was very upset. Our attempts to somehow remedy the situation were rebuffed by the client, and he posted a very unfavorable review of Xanadu Gallery on Google. We were shocked and dismayed, and at a loss as to how to restore our online reputation.

Would you please consider writing a brief review of YOUR experiences working with Xanadu Gallery? We are hoping that if other potential clients read reviews by happy collectors they will feel confident doing business with us.

Here is a link:

[Link]

Please click on “Write a Review” located toward the bottom of the Xanadu Gallery box on the right side of the page.

Thank you in advance!

Warmest regards,

We didn’t send it out to all of our clients at once, instead waiting for the first few to respond to make sure the response would be generally positive. We were overwhelmed by the positive response. Clients replied that they would be happy to help and then left glowing reviews for us. We quickly sent it out to the rest of the clients on our list.

Here are some of the reviews that our clients left on Google:

Xanadu Gallery is a true find in the Scottsdale arts district. The works displayed were exciting and the staff were friendly and very helpful. We have purchased art from many vendors and have never had a better experience than with Xanadu Gallery.
My wife and I purchased items for our properties in Scottsdale and Toronto. The gallery did a difficult install of a set of climbing figures on a 20 foot plus rock wall at our Arizona home, and arranged for the shipment of a fragile piece to Canada.
We were delighted with all aspects of our gallery experience.


Xanadu is one of our favorite galleries. We love the variety of artists that they represent and have bought several pieces of art there. We have known Elaine and John for several years and enjoy their enthusiasm for their artists and their art, as well as their professional and ethical handling of our transactions. This is a gallery where you are not just a client but also a friend – and they want to make sure that you find a piece of art that you will truly enjoy living with. I’d encourage anyone to explore this intimate, friendly and well designed gallery.


Absolutely my favorite gallery in Scottsdale. I personally have purchased over 12 pieces of art from the Xanadu Gallery over the last 3-4 years !!! My son and daughter-in-law just recently purchased several pieces for there new home. In addition, my sister-in-law, an artist herself has purchased a couple pieces too !! The owners and sales personnel are all so over the top friendly and inviting. Even before I purchased any art from the gallery, everyone treated me like a close personal friend. I love the special events and parties that they hold. There is no high pressure sales. I have taken many of my relatives and friends to the gallery and they too have been welcomed with open arms and they too love the Xanadu Gallery….when in Scottsdale, AZ….it is a must see !!!


Xanadu Gallery is a gem. We have recently purchased several pieces of artwork for our home and dealing with the gallery has been a delightful experience. We were unsure as to how certain things would look in our house, and so Elaine and her husband brought the art pieces to our home so that we could view them on site. Once the decision was made, then the art was hung up by them immediately. Such outstanding customer service is hard to find these days. This gallery is passionate about the works they sell, and they have the integrity and service to back up their wonderful collection. I could not be happier.


We are frequent clients of Xanadu Gallery and have purchased numerous pieces of art. We have always been very impressed and completely satisfied with our experiences and purchases from the gallery. Jason and Elaine have always been very helpful and wonderful people to have worked with through are many purchases. They have always gone above and beyond to make sure our art purchases arrives safe and sound. We will definitely be coming back to enjoy the gallery!!


I have seven pieces of art from Xanadu Gallery. The owners, Jason and Carrie Horejs, are more than just art dealers and consultants, they are trusted friends of the highest caliber. Jason has hung art in our home, and has recommended pieces that work better than what we would have otherwise selected. He is not a salesman; rather, he is a true consultant who values the interest of the customer/client above his own. I am a return customer because of the quality of the people and the art I find there. And the gallery’s offerings on the web are astounding!


Wonderful Gallery. Discovered them while on vacation, and even though I live in Illinois, working with them has been a breeze and a joy. I fell in love with the whimsical works of Stephen Hansen, and Gallery Director Kristen has been personally assisting me with my new found addiction. I keep going back for more! Hands down, my favorite gallery on the strip.


My husband and I have purchased several pieces of art at the Xanadu Gallery. We were very impressed by how helpful and knowledgeable the staff was. Would highly recommend this gallery!


An incredible contemporary art gallery on the famous art walk of Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the best and most ethical galleries in the West!


Not only were our clients not negatively influenced by the bad review, they sprang to our defence. The response was heartwarming, and soon our overall rating on Google climbed from a 2.7 to 4.7. The bad review is still there, but a new potential client would will hopefully see that the majority of reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

We now request reviews from clients with whom we have positive interactions as a regular part of our sales follow up so that we can continue to build good ratings.

I certainly would prefer that this situation had never occurred, but it would be naive to think our interactions with customers are all going to be positive.  I feel like we are now in a better position to both prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future, and to deal with them if they do occur.

In summary, the lessons learned from this experience are

  1. Always communicate clearly with your potential customers about what is required of them to complete a transaction. It’s a good idea to have policies in place that govern your approach to holds and sales.
  2. If a client is unresponsive, clearly indicate that sale is not yet complete and that they risk losing the artwork if they don’t respond.
  3. When you run into a disagreement with a client, craft your communication very carefully- never respond in the heat of a moment and say things you may later regret.
  4. Never blame your client for an error or try to shift responsibility to them. If there is a disagreement, look for the ways in which it might have been your fault. In your communication with the client, focus on what you could and should have done better.
  5. Try to be gracious and professional in your apology
  6. If a poor review is left, try and dilute the review by asking your fans to respond. This is far better than responding yourself.
  7. Even better, constantly invite your fans to leave positive reviews on a variety of the social sites and Google. You don’t need to invite each client to leave reviews everywhere – you can rotate where you encourage clients to leave their review.

Have you had a bad review?

Has someone left a bad review about you or your artwork? How did you respond? What do you think we did well in this situation, and what could we do better? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starving to Successful

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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

75 Comments

  1. Sadly this is what things have come to! The customer did not say in his review that he didn’t PAY for the piece! Also real people understand
    I have been in business for over 20 years seen all kinds! & understood all kinds! Your person DID make a big mistake by saying it sold for more! Because then it seem like you wanted the money:( actually that’s what killed it:( lol l ol
    All I know owning & operating your own business deserves a reward

    1. It is unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate that the customers who love you rarely think to leave a review on their own, but the moment you make a mistake with someone they leap to leave a bad review.

  2. Great response to this unreasonable client. It seems you were more gracious than the situation warranted, with the man having not paid for the art in the first place. Agreed the comment about having sold the piece for more was a problem, but of course you were going to sell the painting at an opening. The only thing you could have done I suppose is to let him know in advance the length of a hold, and also an unpaid hold cannot be honored in the event of an opening reception. I had a similar lack of communication in advance when I allowed a client to take a work to see it in her home without clearly stating how much time I intended to allow. I assumed a day or so would be plenty, she hadn’t decided in a week. When after 7 days I came to pick up the painting, she appeared annoyed, wondered what was my hurry, and I realized it was my own fault for not stating a policy in advance so there would be mutual understanding. Anyway, good job. I’m glad your other clients stepped up to the plate for you. It seems,well-deserved. 🙂

    1. Excellent contribution to the discussion Rosemarie – it’s a good idea to lay out expectations in any interaction. I think we often assume that our clients are going to see things the way we do, but sometimes they need it all laid out ahead. Each of these kinds of experiences will help us navigate future encounters.

  3. Honestly, it really sounds like he was never going to buy the piece. Let’s put it this way, he was unsure about it.

    In these times, if you don’t get back to someone within a day about a sale, it’s “snooze you lose.”

    That’s it that’s all.

  4. I really appreciate the time you put into this article. It will be very useful if I ever come across anything similar, I will put in place transactions holds and sales policies in place.
    And make sure that they are communicated to the customer. I really appreciate this
    Jason. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Georgia Baker

  5. Thank you for sharing this mistake and what you learned from it. Reading about it has helped me in several ways. It’s a good reminder about how one must never assume anything and to be meticulously careful in communications with clients. Third, I am recovering from a mistake made myself and knowing that even experienced galleries make mistakes somehow helps. And apologies are always the best thing to do when one realizes one’s error.

    1. Thanks Carolyn – I agree that it helps when a mistake is made to know that we’re not the only ones making them. And believe me, I’ve made many, many more mistakes than the ones I enumerate here 😉

  6. To my knowledge I have never had a bad review, however, I’ve had a couple of instances where a good client has left a sale hanging.. She has a cash policy for artwork and a minor illness which I understand and make allowances for.
    The first time this occurred she eventually purchased the pieces after several months. The second time she commissioned two limited editions with no downpayment, but I did triple confirm the order verbally. The editions were the first in a run and therefore in demand. I completed them in a few days and packaged them nicely … then I didnt have a reply to any of my contacts for 6 months. In that time I had seen her in passing at several events but she had avoided talking about the purchase. Eventually I sent her an email explaining that all my work had undergone a 10% price rise and I would hold the pieces for one more week at the original agreed price and would be happy to deliver them, but then I would put them back on the market if I didn’t hear from her. It seems that money does talk because I got an instant reply denying that it was a firm order and saying she would purchase later in the run.
    My instant thought was to fire off an email indignantly affirming the original agreement, but of course I didn’t. She is well connected and could create waves. She already owns many of my pieces and may or may not purchase in the future, but I will be sure to take cash up front:) PS Since then the two pieces have sold for a premium!

    1. Great comment Sea – it’s always better to let emotions cool down before responding. I’m glad you brought it up, and I’m amending the lessons learned to add this. Thanks!

  7. Great article ! …. it is so easy to make mistake and handled them badly .. I have done many of those myself so I should print this article and keep it somewhere in my studio as a constant reminder …

  8. Wow what a story, I took the time to read your article all the way through as I feel I am learning from it enormously. Thank you for taking the time to write it and for sharing this with us. Fortunately this never happened to me.

  9. Thank you Jason for sharing this awkward situation with full details. I think the way that you handled the situation, from A-to-Z, is a testimony to who you are: a person of honor and integrity.
    I learn so much from your blogs, not only about the business of art but more importantly about being human.
    I hope to meet you and your staff in person soon, so that I can thank you all for holding the line!

  10. Thank you for this informative and helpful article. I ALWAYS gain a valuable learning experience from everything I read here. I do appreciate all your interest and work in helping artist.

  11. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a bad review but it’s similar. I had a large exhibition (38 paintings) at a local university. Before the opening I was talking to the young man who was working the gallery desk, an art student at the university, and he told me he loved my work but his painting professor had announced in class that he thought the show was terrible and his students should not waste their time attending. I had many student attend my artist talk and the exhibition, and many positive comments from them. I’m not sure why this professor did this, but I wrote it off.

    1. Sometimes you just can’t account for the lengths to which people will go to prove that they are jerks. That doesn’t make it any less irritating, but I think you are wise to simply ignore what the prof said. I would guess that his comments may have actually encouraged some students to go and see the show just so they could see for and judge for themselves.

  12. I have had the unpleasant experience of having a few expensive pieces of work returned after 28 days as they felt that the pieces were “Not Appropriate”. I used to allow 30 days 100% refund. In this particular case I found out from a third party that my paintings were used to stage an “Open House”! When the home sold they returned the work for a full refund. Talk about unethical! I was so angry that I refrained from any further communications with this client. Another client similarly “decorated” his home with my work just prior to having his daughters wedding and returned the work after the wedding. Lesson learned; reduce the time they can review the work in their home. Out of thousands of sales there are bound to be a few unavoidable problems due to unreasonable people taking unfair advantage of artists and galleries.

    1. One way to deal with the “take it home on trial” issue is to have a written agreement with the client paying full price up front and a limited time within which to return the art for a refund. If it’s a check, the agreement says that I’ll hold the check for 4 days and after that if the art is not returned I’ll cash the check and the sale will be considered final. If it’s a credit card, I’ll issue a refund if the art is returned in 4 days. Generally folks won’t pay up front if they’re not serious (although scammers have no such scruples).

  13. Wow! What an odyssey! Although I haven’t had a bad review, nor such an uncomfortable experience, people can be the most difficult, unwieldy commodity with which to work. You handled it well. Also, deep down inside, that client knows he goofed in not responding although he’ll never admit it to himself or anyone else.

  14. Thank you for posting this article. It’s full of invaluable information and I feel prepared. I do have to jockey between online sales and gallery sales, so who saw what, when, and where is important. It is a great pleasure to hear what you have to say. I appreciate your ethical outlook and this will help with future dealings.

  15. It’s just too bad that people wish to take the offensive in a situation like this before thinking it through. If this person were honest with himself he would recognize that he had no right to the piece if he had not paid for it, NOR had he even put money down to secure it. His email records would show that Xanadu tried repeatedly to contact him. In my opinion, he bears most of the responsibility for the mixup. Why didn’t he communicate?
    Perhaps the employee shouldn’t have remarked about the sale (price) but the price is neither here nor there. If someone is present, wants the piece and has the payment at hand then the sale is done. My husband’s longstanding policy is: The first person with cash in hand is the winner.

    1. You know, it was a mistake for the salesperson but it was the truth. A reduced price was negotiated in good faith, the customer let it drop, ignored communications, a deadline passed and someone did pay full price on the spot. If the first customer attended the show (depending on how you run the show), they might have seen a sold sticker and price anyway. None of these facts would change how you dealt with it, Jason, but they are facts. You did an amazing job and the customer got an artwork for free.

  16. Thank you for your articles. Reminded me that awhile back I sent a painting to a person as a thank you for a favor extended me. They had expressed their feelings for that particular work for over a period of a year. Money was not involved, but the painting is still in their closet. It has never been unpacked. As far as I can tell, they have no intention of unpacking it or hanging it. It is what I consider one of my better paintings. The problem here seems to be my feeling about this. The value placed on an artwork often reflects the dollars spent for it. Probably should do what my son advised: Let it go, Mom.

    1. Margaret I have a similar story. There was this medium size abstract painting that I also liked very much, I thought that I had expressed very nicely what I wanted to say on it.
      My husband’s daughter in law wanted to buy a painting from me and chose that one. I felt bad about charging for it ( even though they are wealthy )so I said that I would give it to them and would charge for the next painting the would buy, just like I had done with my own family. She was very excited and she agreed to choose another painting. Well, I packed it very nicely and sent it with her husband one day he came to visit and never heard from her again, not even to say thanks! They live in another town so I haven’t had a chance to see them since… (probably a year) 🙁 I have hurt feelings.

      1. Hi Patricia:
        Not even a thank you for a shared image from your spirit? Not nice!! Like it or not, in our culture, $$ spent for something seems the indicator its value. And that seems so with most things we acquire. After a few experiences, I no longer give art work away. Even with immediate family, I trade for something.

  17. All I read was that this potential client trashed the very gallery that represents the artist, along with a full stable of other artists who work hard to make a living. For the prospective collector drag everyone through the mud on social media does no justice to the hard work and dedication of both gallery and artist. Five days is plenty of time for the prospective buyer to have followed up. If this would be collector is serious about ethics in the art business, then they should have rushed forward to make their payment, if only for the concern of the artist being compensated as soon as possible–and probably not haggled on the price, either. The best defense for the gallery is to ensure that every communication specifically outlines the terms and conditions (as you rightfully pointed out in your post.) It’s tough to learn these things the hard way, but people have totally forgotten how to be good customers.

    1. Lisa I have a similar story. There was this medium size abstract painting that I also liked very much, I thought that I had expressed very nicely what I wanted to say on it.
      My husband’s daughter in law wanted to buy a painting from me and chose that one. I felt bad about charging for it ( even though they are wealthy )so I said that I would give it to them and would charge for the next painting the would buy, just like I had done with my own family. She was very excited and she agreed to choose another painting. Well, I packed it very nicely and sent it with her husband one day he came to visit and never heard from her again, not even to say thanks! They live in another town so I haven’t had a chance to see them since… (probably a year) 🙁 I have hurt feelings.

  18. Thank you for posting this entire story. I learn so much every single time I read one of your blog posts. I truly appreciate the time and thought put into each piece.

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience Jason. It shows not only amazing integrity on your part, but salso how all kinds of experiences put together produce that “quilt” of wisdom that enables you to be successful and for us to learn from you.

  20. Thanks Jason. I think that I actually read the client’s original nasty review and always wondered what REALLY happened. I was sure that I wasn’t getting the whole story and I knew that Xanadu would never have behaved unethically. Thanks for shedding light on the whole situation and providing insight on how to avoid miscommunications in the future.

    Andrea Cook

  21. As an artist I would feel disappointed if it was my work hanging in your gallery and a potential buyer had made an offer to buy the art and then the potential buyer did not make arrangements to close the deal by paying for it. How can any buyer not know that If you buy something you have to make an effort to close the deal and pay for it. And then as the artist I would miss the opportunity to take advantage of an upcoming show.
    I can’t think of any situation where a buyer agrees to buy and then does not take the responsibility to pay the amount agreed on. I truly do not understand why the buyer took action to ruin your reputation.

  22. I admire and envy your ability to handle the situation as you did. I have a huge problem with people who twist the facts to make someone else look culpable, when they are the ones who committed the worst error. Thanks for showing me that it is possible to feel your anger, yet choose a wiser course of action.

  23. Just curious, but did the artist of the piece know anything about the situation while it was going on or after? I own a gallery, ArtWithPanache, and have close relationships with my artists who sometimes paint in the gallery and visit for a little “art talk” and I doubt that it could escape their notice.

  24. Jason, I think you handled the follow up to the poor interaction in a smart and professional manner. Miscommunications happen in every business, but by directly communicating wiht the customer, owning responsibility for the confusion and offering solutions to make up for it I think you did everything you could have to respond to the situation. Thanks for your candor in sharing this opportunity for us all to learn.

  25. Jason, I’m immensely grateful for you sharing your experiences. I learned a lot while reading your article and the comments here on your blog. Your transparency and integrity is uplifting!!
    Thank you!
    Gila Joy Pascale

  26. Jason, you have far more patience than I do. I recall a dozen instances in which people were going to buy a painting and I never heard from them again. If at all, the longest I’ve held a piece waiting on someone was 24 hours. They left with no illusion I wouldn’t sell it if they didn’t pay for it by then. Sometimes imparting a note of urgency bumps them off high center.
    Taking a piece home on trial … one week max, and take their credit card number before they take it home.
    Asking clients to post reviews was brilliant! The problem with public reviews is a business doesn’t have recourse for a disgruntled troll. For that reason I would never subscribe to any online review … buying my work is all the review I need.
    I much prefer email to have a narrative of any negotiation. Equally, misunderstandings can be avoided with a brief agreement when everyone understands the terms.

  27. Thank you for this blog Jason. As always, it was very informative. I have been following you for years and am so impressed with your honesty, integrity and ability to phrase things just right in any situation.

  28. Jason, when I got to the part where the angry customer sent back his reply to your staff about how the piece was sold, my first reaction was that is when you pick up the phone (if you have the number) or you (the owner) writes the next email. I am convinced that had you done that at that moment, you would have avoided having the bad review. He needed to hear you be conciliatory. I realize this sounds like Monday morning quarterbacking, but I’ve been in these situations two or three times and as soon as I saw that the situation had escalated I lowered my head and swallowed hard and offered a personal apology for whatever offense I had done. It never got worse after that and in fact got better. I realize I’m probably not as afraid of conflict as you might be, but the more you face it the easier it gets. Ultimately believe you did a very good job of trying to make amends after the fact. You handled it well and professionally.

  29. I agree that the biggest problem here was miscommunication, and there was a problem with the client not responding to emails. However, I could see where when he was asked to leave the painting for the opening that he might have assumed (never assume!) that he could, or should, just wait until after the opening to pay and pick up the art since it wouldn’t be available until then anyway. Lessons learned.

  30. Ouch! So sorry you had to deal with a situation such as this, even if only one in many hundreds or thousands. One problem I see is that your only means of contacting this person was via email. Perhaps in any “hold” situation, in addition to stating your policy, you might politely insist on a mailing address and/or phone number as backup. “What is a good alternative way of reaching you?” seems like a reasonable request. I am old enough not to entirely trust this email correspondence stuff. Although it does give a record of the correspondence… and there’s an app that will tell you if an email has been opened.

    Jason, this is very valuable advice, as usual, and well-thought out. I deeply appreciate having this blog land in my inbox. It keeps me inspired even when life is handing me some challenges to productivity. Many thanks for your time.

  31. Agree with other comments that the client was, in the end, unreasonable… And to not be gracious in return by updating ALL his reviews after your more than generous gift was a sign of how much of a yahoo this client was. But I agree with you that you need to be even more careful when you actually do make a mistake. It’s so easy to want to leap in and defend yourself.
    I once sent out an email to clients (personal list for artwork and classes) and in my haste to get it out in a timely manner (late at night) I neglected to send it with bcc (blind carbon copy) so that all the email addresses would be hidden. Unfortunately this does happen, and all too often people don;t even know to do such a thing. I however should have known better – since it’s what I preach all the time. It was even just barely on second after I hit send that I realized what I had done. But too late to undo it.
    I was fortunate that only one recipient wrote back with an offended reply. She requested that I remove her from my email list and chastised me (rightly) for being unprofessional. I replied as graciously as I could, telling her it had been a mistake and that normally would not happen. I apologized and said I would remove her from my mailing as requested.
    She replied politely with thanks for the removal and no apparent rancor, but didn’t as I’d hoped ask to stay on my mailing. At least with taking responsibility and accepting her request without argument, it went no further. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
    Thanks as always, Jason, for sharing your insightful and thoughtful perspective!

  32. I never trust bad online reviews of any business for this very reason. Some people are just unreasonable jerks. They cause their own problem with a business and then get mad and get vindictive. A scathing online review is their only way to hurt the business.

    Thanks to everyone who has shared their experiences here. I have learned a lot from you. I will be prepared, be explicit in communication, and set rules.

  33. I don’t blame the salesperson. The initial communication went wrong for one reason. After the negotiation, your salesperson assumed the sale as closed and it was you (the organisation) who had to ask for a favor (to keep the piece for the artist’s show). Person asking for favor finds it difficult to dictate terms in the same breath (payment within certain time). as you mentioned, A pre-determined policy always helps.

  34. Thank you, Jason, for sharing the way you handled a very difficult situation. I learned a lot, since you showed how to handle a bad situation and turn it in to a positive one. From now on I will try to do that. Recently I had a big disappointment about a show I thought I had gotten in, but then after I shared that wonderful info with some friends and relatives, I found out it was a mistake. It wasn’t ALL my mistake, I know now, but still, I fired off an email to the organization to let them know how irritated I was. What did that accomplish? Nothing! I will try to remember how you handled your situation in the future.

  35. I’m wondering why a financial transaction of commitment didn’t take place at the time of the verbal agreement. Too easy to ask for a credit card over the phone. I do this often. For the client to negotiate a price and not pay the agreed sum, while allowing the piece to be viewed at an opening….where it technically has not been sold….the client who lost out shares equally in this mess.

  36. The dilemma here is that on one hand we all recognize that bad online reviews are most often just unhappy people venting their anger in the only way they know how and are therefore not necessarily to be paid attention to. But on the other hand at times I do look for online reviews of businesses if I have never heard of them before and I am wanting to know if they are trustworthy. And I look for some indications of whether the business has issues that are reflected in customer reviews.

    I do applaud how diligently you handled this Jason. Many businesses might just write this off as a disgruntled customer and forget them, but you went the distance in attempting to mend fences. This is good business practice as well as good human relations. My sense is that the more successful businesses today are also those oriented towards really caring for their customers as people.

    One suggestion. At our local co-op gallery if someone comes in and expresses an interest in buying a work but then does not have their check book or credit card and says they will return to complete the sale we put up a card by the work saying “sale pending”. Then they have until the end of the show to make payment, completing the sale. If someone else is also interested in the same piece they are put in a queue line as next if the first person withdraws or does not make payment. So far this has worked for us.

    Finally, having clear sales procedures and fully explaining to a buyer what is expected is important. However in the end a buyer still may just have their own ideas about how the sale should go and no matter how well we thoroughly cover all the rules they might just still get incensed with how we are handling it, convinced we are doing them wrong or unfairly or unethically. People are people and we just have to do the best we can including not getting too upset with either them or ourselves if a buyer gives us a hard time.

  37. Jason, as always, the clear writing of your experiences are illuminating. I always learn from your postings and from the artists who contribute to the discussion. Recently, I tried to rectify a complaint a customer had by offering to meet her (some distance away) to refund the purchase price in exchange for the art piece she claimed “came apart,” and which she “tried to fix and couldn’t.” I suspect any damage was caused by mishandling on her part. She never showed up at the agreed upon time and place and when I called her, she informed me she was sick of the piece and threw it out!! To my knowledge this person did not post anything online but vowed to tell everyone she knows to avoid any venue where I might be selling my art. There is no recourse to this threat, of course, but now I wonder about posting a visible “all sales final” policy. I’m wondering what other artists do about this.

    1. I know how you feel, and this is a terrible situation, but it’s likely the client will cool down and forget about this. It takes effort to carry a grudge and give bad publicity.

      As far as the “all sales final” policy – I wouldn’t do it. People don’t like what this implies – that you’ve had people trying to return stuff and have refused. It get’s them thinking about things you don’t want them to think about when they are considering buying. I would argue that it’s not worth getting strict with your good customers (the vast majority) to deal with the occasional misanthrope.

  38. I’m sorry that you had to go through this, Jason. I certainly don’t think you acted unethically in any way, unless perhaps it was unclear that the art needed to have at least a deposit before the opening. Just the fact that all communication was by email is in itself a red flag for the ‘client’ possibly being a scammer. With the way that many artists post pics of their booth on instagram etc, and mark on their website that a certain piece of work is in a gallery, it was possible that the ‘client’ was on the other side of the world, and that any payment received would have been fraudulent anyway. Even the address given to receive the artwork could have been anyone’s. Did the artist remember talking to someone that might have been the client???

  39. IMHO – after 40 years in sales – you did a great job with your response. I completely understand the salesperson’s instincts, but this is definitely a case where cooler heads might have prevailed. You did the right thing by waiting to respond, and your analysis of the salesperson’s email was spot on. Your goodwill gesture was appropriate, and it’s too bad that was not enough to get all the bad reviews offline. That said, some business you’re better off losing, and sometimes client’s become “married” to their vicitm stance to the point where they are unwilling to let it go. I’m still in a service industry position as a teaching artist for an events company, and have gotten one or two UNcomplimentary reviews. Usually these are from clients I’ve bent over backwards to try to please. Sometimes people just want a discount, sometimes they are in a bad mood, sometimes they need to pick on smeone because their own lives are in such a bad place – I have learned not to take such things personally, but to be as kind as possible at all times, “kill htem with kindness” in fact, and to learn where I can from bad reviews. Sometimes giving extra doses of attention is all that’s needed. Sometimes I think I could cut off an arm and hand it over and that wouldn’t be enough.

  40. Did the client say why he never followed through on his commitment? Also to hold the piece, credit card partial payment? Then can be in the show with red dot, helps sell other pieces. Following through with phone call, hearing a voice is more personal.

  41. Jason in case you didn’t know, Yelp has a system to filter reviews. It filters out reviews by people who join Yelp just to air a vendetta, for example. So even before I finished reading your story, I guessed that review might be filtered out. Unfortunately, people who join just to praise a business get filtered out too, so we are encouraged not to ask for reviews. The filter looks for people who write a lot of reviews. This pertains to my “other” business, my dog walking business. I’m solo. I have 15-20 customers, not in the hundreds like a restaurant. Yet these lovely people who did join Yelp to write a sweet review got it filtered out. I don’t want or need to buy ads, just want my reviews to show. I’m glad you aren’t having that problem with Google or Facebook. Maybe you could list all in your request, and “regular Yelpers” would write one for you also!

    1. The review is still on Yelp if you click the “other review not currently recommended” at the bottom. They also have an explanation of their methods for excluding reviews. They don’t include the one star in their calculation, though. It might be worth asking regular clients to review you on Yelp if they’re already on it. Though I’d guess more clients find you by walking around Scottsdale rather than by looking on Yelp.

  42. Thank you for sharing this story. We all make mistakes. My first instinct wold have been to fire off a quick response to the bad review, but I think your approach to contacting your prior customers was brilliant. Not only did you dilute the negative review, you obtained many glowing reviews that should prove beneficial.

  43. While your staff could have handled things better – especially by emphasizing that payment constitutes purchase when the initial exchange was made – I question not posting a response. I would look for a response from a company, and, based on your account, it appears you would respond appropriately taking responsibility. Not responding at all would raise questions in my mind …. Just one perspective.

  44. Consider contacting the person who wrote the bad review and thanking them for removing the bad review and ask them to consider removing the others.

  45. Fascinating read. I have not encountered this problem as yet. I find the parameters surrounding holds useful. It never occurs to me to set boundaries until trouble rears its head. As always, Jason, very helpful.

  46. In addition to your other changes, you might consider collecting several ways to reach an online buyer, and in the case of a pending sale, a credit card number. I had a commission for a sculpture of a family pet. I completed the commission, sent photos, and set up a time for the piece to be picked up at my studio, but they didn’t show. I had email, and phone number, thus text as well, and utilized these to no avail. Shortly before Christmas, the commissioner contacted me, wanting to pick up the piece. Again I set up a time window, and another no show. I changed my policy to only take a commission with a 50% down payment.

  47. Great read. I have a bad Facebook review but this guy never even bought Jewlery from me. I reached out no response. Facebook did not help. It seems like a fake account. I Now ask for people to review and it has helped increase my ratings. Now i need to check yelp and google too!

  48. Hi Jason, Yes, it was a long article. Read it all. Lessons learned # 1-7 are right on. Perhaps the painting in question should of had a “sale pending” on it. I had a similar experience. At the time, I was cutting gem stones for the jewelry trade. Agates and jaspers. The jeweler has agreed to buy some of my stones. LARGE PURCHASE. She said it would take a couple of days to make the purchase. I replied, saying that was fine. As I did not hear from her for about two weeks, I figured that she was not going to make the purchase. I e-mailed here about her intensions. NO Reply. At that point I had sold some the stones in question. About a week later, I received an e-mail from her. She was PO, to say the least. As it turned out, a storm and flood had destroyed her studio. I think you did well in your attempt to solve the problem. Adaptability is the sign of intelligence . Thanks for taking time to write your blog. I’ll keep reading.

  49. Jason
    Maybe I am missing something but it seems that telling him about the sale at a better price probably set him off! In this situation why not ask for a 50% down payment via credit card over the phone or perhaps 100% to secure the work against a purchase at the art show
    I think you were more than gracious.

    Colin Claxon
    Prescott , AZ

  50. I had a patron who loved a big owl on a perch I made but he wanted it sitting on a tree branch instead. So I re-worked it, taking several weeks and when I delivered it he decided I had made the branch so cool that it took away from the uniqueness of the owl. Ha! Luckily it sold the very day it went back to the gallery for more than twice the original price. Over the years, I have been scammed, lied to, ignored and cheated by other artists, friends, family, patrons and galleries, so now I just create what makes me happy and if it sells so be it!

  51. Wow, Jason, quite a story, and quite a learning curve. Also interesting is the incredible response from the readers of this blog. I am new to art marketing, but have been through these issues in two service related businesses. There are so many ways to communicate than there was in the age of letters and telephones, and so many ways to MIS-communicate. What I learned, in addition to all you have said, is: negative reviews are an opportunity to respond. People actually read bad reviews (maybe with a little macabre interest?) and the response to them is even more important than the negative review! Finally, I consistently ask for a review a few days after delivering a service and often receive thoughtful responses. The result is that we also up-our-game in providing service as we seek to earn the anticipated positive review.

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