Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Not Always About Bad Customer Service...

...sometimes it's about bad customers. 

Granted, there are companies that excel at terrible customer service, especially those companies who have a monopoly on a necessary product or service consumed on a mass scale (i.e. fuel, power, and telecommunication products); therefore, the consumer is very often forced to reconcile bad customer service in exchange for a necessary commodity. It's not so easy to boycott a fuel, power, or telecom conglomerate over shoddy service or unethical practices when many of these Goliaths own the lion's share of varying markets. The fact is, unless I want read by candlelight, it's best I resign myself to paying the electric bill despite the inept service of my local power company. 

But the retail market is another story. If we don't like Walmart, we don't shop there; and here, within the multi-billion dollar retail business sector, we often find our customer service experiences to be a bit more friendly and helpful than those we might experience from the commodities companies - and it's not necessarily because commercial markets value our patronage more than Time-Warner, BP, or Shell Oil. Retail giants like Walmart, Target, IKEA, and Staples, have made it tragically easy for the American consumer to refund or exchange almost any purchased item, despite the reason for the item's return, because their products are substandard and inexpensive to produce. We consumers, to the determent of our consumer savvy and purchasing responsibility, have come to sacrifice quality for cheap abundance, and we have come to apply these awful retail consumer standards on nearly everything we purchase. For those of us in the specialty retail market, like custom tailoring, this growing American consumer mindset has become our nightmare.

What brings this up, you ask? The other evening, I happen to be reading The American Duchess' blog when I ran across an intriguing entry she had posted on September 10, 2010, entitled "The Problem With Sewing for Other People" - naturally I was curious because we share the same professional trade. Oh my goodness did she ever hit it on the head! As my tailoring compatriot so poignantly stated:
"Sewing is perhaps a lost craft, and in today's world of ready-made, machine-perfected clothing from an overseas factory, it's difficult for people to understand that a custom made, hand-made, historical garment is not an easy, or normal thing to make."
Indeed, my dear Duchess! Far too often in own my tailoring adventures (especially as a seasoned merchant at our local Renaissance festival) I have heard window shoppers complain of the expense of my (and other merchant's) handmade goods. We tailors and crafters call these types of customers Big Box Shoppers because these people have absolutely no purchasing scruples when it comes to discerning the quality and uniqueness of a handmade product in correlation to price and construction time. Their comments are harmless and mostly silly, of course, and they are rarely paid any mind.

It is on the rare occasion when we specialty retailers experience a bad customer, and when we do, they are the worst kinds of people. I can handle the talkative, I enjoy the inquisitive, I can understand the indecisive, and I even appreciate the potential customer who has difficulty parting with his or her money (if only most of us were so prudent!), but I will not tolerate the hypercritical, the demanding, the intrusive, or the belligerent costumer. Because I am creating for a client a unique, handmade garment, one that has likely cost him or her a considerable expense, this does not give that person license to abuse me - they need to check their unrealistic expectations and behavior at the counter or else I will fire them as my client. Simply put, a client's patronage does not supersede my dignity. As the Duchess reminds us all, "[c]lothes are not made overnight, and hand-made clothes, even with the aid of a machine, take weeks, even months depending" - this bit of knowledge can be said for most handmade goods. If a potential customer wants off-the-rack, Walmart quality at Walmart prices, then I cannot help them and I refer them elsewhere.

Indeed, there are people, although very few, who are never satisfied, and whose patronage we specialty retailers can do without, as the American Duchess has attested to in  her blog entry "The Problem With Sewing for Other People". However, to the significant majority of the specialty retailer's unique customer base (in my case, those patrons who have made my tailoring experiences a joyful challenge), I would like to say Thank You & Please, Come Again...


  1. Thank you for reading my article and adding your own words here on your blog. We gotta stick together! The woman I referred to in that post literally tried to ruin my life, with all kinds of slander and false reports online that are still popping up in google searches, and all because I "fired her" as my client, as you say. Why do people think they own you if you agree to work with them? I didn't steal anything, I just refused to work with her any longer and she didn't find that acceptable so went on a campaign to destroy me. I'm STILL getting harassing e-mails from her and her husband!

    Thank you again. Your support is very comforting to me, and I know the more we all talk about this issue, the more people will understand that we are couturiers, not slaves.

  2. Thank you for your comment! I have been an admirer of your work for a while now, and I enjoy reading your blog! I can't wait to see your completed shoe line - how very exciting!

    We professionals do need to stick together - and heavens, am I ever sorry to hear that you are still being harassed (wow)! It's creepy and probably a wise move on your part (despite your former client's tantrum) that you discontinued any business relationship with this person. Her reaction is more like that of a difficult child ("Why won't you play with me anymore!") whose feelings have been hurt (I'm sure it's inconceivable to her that someone might refuse her business).

    The fact that your former client is bitter and biting because you will no longer serve her says far more about HER than YOU! lol! I hope her actions serve as a warning to other professionals in our trade and that her patronage is avoided!

    I am glad to offer my support - this is a real issue and it needs to be openly addressed.