...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...