This order is for six windows with fancy top treatments, draperies almost three yards long and lots of trim. Because of the architecture around the windows, the boards have to be carefully constructed for a good fit. The valances also must be specially fabricated to fit the boards. With only nine working days to complete the order, you must act swiftly. This means the trim must be shipped next-day. You call the customer for permission to add that expense to her order. Permission is granted.
After many long stressful hours, you and the installer successfully install the job on schedule. The customer seems satisfied and pays you both.
The next evening, you receive a call from this customer. She is very unhappy to the point that she has stopped payment on your check and the installer's check. Believing in good customer service, you and the installer are out there the next day to try to resolve her dissatisfaction.
When you visit with the customer, you agree she has a legitimate complaint and offer to take down and fix the treatments immediately. You will need to buy more fabric from her source to do it, but you accept that responsibility. However, there is a problem. She does not want you to take them down. There is one window with which she has found no fault, but she does not express any particular satisfaction with it either. The more you converse with her, the more red flags you see hidden behind the words.
You sense that the more you do for her, the more she is going to try to get something for nothing. Your inner self is saying, "Get your treatments and go home. Buy her more fabric and let her find someone else to make it up." That would solve your problems with a minimal loss financially and emotionally. But that won't solve her problem. She doesn't just want new treatments, she wants a hefty discount on her purchase and she doesn't care what it costs you. Your next step may be to consult an attorney.
This little drama actually happened. The names have not been mentioned to protect the innocent -- and the customer. As this article is being written, the dilemma has not yet been resolved. That is not why I'm sharing this story with you. I suspect that too many of you out there have experienced somewhat the same predicament. I know I have.
Be consoled that you are not the only one who may occasionally overlook the rules out of concern for a customer, whether they be a home owner or a decorator. For all of us, there are several lessons here to be learned and reviewed to better prepare us for dealing with future customers:
Do not sell merchandise at your cost, because it isn't really your cost. Unless you've added in the cost of your samples, long-distance telephone calls, the value of your time to call in the order and literally all your overhead, which you must cover in order to be able to sell the merchandise in the first place, you have lost money.
Also, realize that the sale contributes to your gross sales figure for the year. You pay taxes on that amount. It also may have an impact on the cost of your business license. In the end, you are giving away your profit and are paying to do it, too.
Get a deposit. The perceived main purpose of a deposit is to purchase materials to do a job. From that standpoint, it is understandable that the decorator/ seamstress did not ask for a deposit in this case because she was not ordering the fabric. However, the deposit has other roles. It forces a psychological commitment from the customer, and in this case would have given the decorator/seamstress some leverage in resolving the problem to her satisfaction, even though she likely would have had to return it.
Use a legally accepted contract. It is extremely prudent to have a lawyer help you write a contract that will stand up in court and will require the customer to pay attorney's fees to collect. If you are going to fabricate C.O.M. fabric, then you need to have a C.O.M. contract drawn up that will explain what happens to the treatments if the customer is dissatisfied and cannot be satisfied. After all, it's her fabric and your labor. In this case there was more fabric available, but that may not be the case, especially in the retail business. Who will get custody?
Also, in the beginning it is wise for you and the customer to verify in writing just how much yardage she has. A vindictive customer may say she had more yardage than she really did, or she actually may have a faulty memory. If you are a C.O.M. workroom to the trade, then you should have yourself covered in your Terms & Conditions Statement, which can act as a contract with designers.
Charge more to do C.O.M. fabric if you are in the retail business. Besides all the reasons above, you generally have more problems with C.O.M. fabric. Insufficient yardage and flaws are common problems requiring much more of your time.
Charge more for rush jobs. Not only do you need more money because you very likely will be working overtime, but mistakes are more likely to happen. In the scenario above, whatever was wrong with the treatments may not have happened if the designer/seamstress had more time to spend on her job.
Don't cut corners and break rules for rush jobs. Too often, because of the rush and our desire to please the customer, we don't stop to think about the consequences of not following through with the standard procedures. We also may forget certain charges that should be included in the contract.
Try not to allow your customer to pressure you to the point that deliberately or not you overlook your own rules of business. You wouldn't have the rules and procedures if there wasn't a need for them. As in the case above, it may be cheaper to lose the job than to be rushed too much.
If the customer can't afford the price then don't sell it for less! If you drop your price for anything it sets the stage for more bargaining. In my business I charge what I must charge. I do not overinflate prices to make extra profit. Therefore I have no room for bargaining. If you discount to even one customer, you better believe she's going to tell her friends. Next thing you know everyone is going to expect you to give them special prices. If you go into a jewelry store and tell the clerk you love that necklace but can't afford it, do you think she will reduce the price for you?
Have written verification concerning payment to subcontractors. In this illustration, the installer may end up on the losing end through no fault of his own. The designer/seamstress arranged for him to be there, but the customer was responsible for paying him. Naturally, the customer didn't pay for his time when she wasn't happy with the end product. It is up to you to arrange with your subcontractors ahead of time who is ultimately responsible for their fees. Here, again, an attorney's counsel could be quite valuable.
Remove all unsatisfactory work from the customer's home. If you leave anything in a customer's home that is less than perfect in their eyes, you are inviting bad publicity. Whenever anyone comes into that home, the customer will pick apart your work. Presumably you gave her a discount on which she also will elaborate. What's the message her friends are getting? If they can find fault with your work, then they can get the job cheaper. You want to be known for good quality work, and that's all that should be available for the public to see.
It is a shame that we have to have these problems with customers, but they do happen. By sharing an actual incident, I hoped to point out the importance of preplanning some of your business procedures. And, while it is important to give the customer more than they expect of your efforts to offer good customer service, there is a fine line between giving them what will be beneficial and what will be detrimental to you.
These suggestions won't prevent this kind of customer challenge from happening, but they may soften the blow.
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.