A lot of artists find themselves, a few years into their career, stuck accommodating outrageous requests from their customers like always responding to emails within minutes or giving steep discounts to repeat customers.
These can be manageable tasks when you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of customers. You could sync emails to your phone so you can reply quickly. And you’re so grateful for any money coming in the door that you don’t mind lowering the price in order to make the sale. And really, you just want to give really great customer service so you don’t turn anyone off! You don’t want to lose a sale because you didn’t email someone fast enough, you charge too much, or you otherwise can’t accommodate their requests.
But when you get further into your business, these things can derail you. They keep you busy when you should be painting or photographing your latest illustration or pitching your best series to Anthology.
The worst part, though, is that once you’ve set these expectations for your customers, it’s really hard to back out from under the mess. You’re going to feel stuck and it’s going to be difficult for you and for your customers when you decide to establish appropriate boundaries.
So the fix is really to set those healthy boundaries before your customer service patterns become routine for your customers. Set those healthy boundaries right now. The earlier the better, even if you already have a couple customers expecting too much from you.
One of the best ways to establish simple boundaries is to set office hours. Only respond to emails and phone calls during those hours. Which hours is up to you, perhaps only an hour or two on weekdays or maybe a full work day’s worth of 8 hours. Maybe some on weekends, maybe not. Just make sure a customer doesn’t have to wait more than 2 days for a response.
What if a customer complains? That might happen. Some customers are surprised that you don’t get back to their midnight email until lunchtime the next day. But most won’t begrudge you a reasonable business routine as long as you are upfront when they ask. Just honestly tell them, “I answer emails from 12-1pm on weekdays and again from 5-6pm. Thank you for being patient. Do you have any other questions I can answer for you about the piece?”
It’s very hard for your customer to lash out when you’re being reasonable, measured, and professional. And it actually makes a customer respect you and trust you more because they see you as a real business and not a flaky artist.
The easiest way to curb the discounts issue is to set a maximum discount for yourself. Maybe it’s 20%. That’s reserved for your repeat customers or people who buy 3 or more pieces at once. So then your 15% discount is for really special occasions and your 10% discount is for email subscribers. And once you’ve established these rules, it’s much easier to avoid quoting a 50% discount for someone buying 2 pieces.
What if you already have a customer who you’ve given a large discount to in the past? It’s definitely best to keep that reasonable, measured, and professional thing in mind again. Tell them, “Thank you so much for being such a great customer! I really appreciate how you connect with my art. I wanted to give you a heads-up that I’ve restructured my pricing and it’s going up a little. If you’d like to pick out a few more pieces before my prices raise, you have until August 1st to purchase. Please let me know if you have any questions at all and thank you again for being one of my favorite customers!”
See how easy that was? We just flattered a customer we love anyway, let them know what’s going on, and gave them a chance to be prepared for the change as well. They’ll respond really well to this, and you even have the chance to make some extra sales by giving them some authentic urgency to make another purchase.
So when you run into other boundary issues, before you rush to over-accommodate a customer, think about how it affects your work now and how it will affect your work if you’re busier down the line. Make a rational decision that feels good for you and THEN respond to the customer using the reasonable, measured, and professional approach.
Now that’s good customer service!