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our first bad customer

You’re going to want to buckle your seatbelts for this one. This one’s a doozy, let me tell you. Just thinking about this experience makes me cringe a little, it still makes me uncomfortable and a little angry. Let’s get to it.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of our first bad customer.

Let’s bring it back to November 2019. We’ve got a few orders under our belt at this point, we’re feeling pretty good. We got a lot of our sales, especially in the beginning, through Facebook Marketplace, and so everyday we’d be responding to dozens of ‘is this still available?’s. I’d say, at that time, one in every 15-20 would result in, at the very least, an actual conversation. From there, a handful would actually go through with an order, but it was important that we answered every message, took each one seriously, because you never knew which conversation would be the conversation.

So I’m talking to this lady, she wants a table and two benches. She sends me a Pinterest photo of a table she likes and says that that’s the style she wants. Cool, fine, no problem. I ask her what stain color she wants to which she responds, ‘something dark.’ Okay, I can work with that. She buys some stain samples and sends me a photo of a couple different swatches, says she’s unsure, that I know best and she trusts me, just something dark and brown. Got it.

Now, at the time, our absolute best-selling table was finished with a dark walnut stain. Huge crowd favorite, everyone wanted it, everyone loved it, it matched with just about everything. That was the obvious choice.

Before a customer ever deposits, we send them an invoice and on that invoice are all the teeny-tiny little details of their order from the dimensions to the stain color, base style, finish. Everything we needed to know was on that invoice. We always urged the customer to look at it closely before depositing to be sure we got everything correct because once we start the build, that’s what we’re working off of, that’s our guide.

This lady gets her invoice, pays the deposit and so we start the build.

We’re making some headway on her set and so I decide to send her a progress photo. That was mistake number one. This lady is why I no longer send progress photos to people before their pieces are done. I send her the photo and she goes, ‘how wide is that bench?’ I tell her, ‘18”, same as all our other benches, same as what’s on your invoice.’

‘That’s not going to fit where I want it,’ she says. I say, ‘No problem, we can make it smaller, just tell me the size.’ Now, this is where things take a turn. Up until this point, this lady was friendly, she was excited and easy to talk to. I tell her that since her benches were already built and we would essentially have to disassemble them and start from scratch that she would have to pay a small fee. It was a last-minute change that could have been avoided had she looked at her invoice or even specified ahead of time the specific size she needed, but we could modify the benches, no big deal.

As soon as that message dropped in her inbox, shit changed. She was like, ‘why do I have to pay for that? Can’t you just re-use the

same materials for the new benches?’ Now there were some materials we could reuse, some we had to replace, which is a cost in and of itself, but regardless, we had two finished pieces of furniture that now, because of an oversight on your part, I have to completely disassemble, sand back down to the bare wood, re-cut and re-build and it is not my responsibility to take a loss on that.

If I had made the mistake and built the benches the wrong size, you bet I’m taking full responsibility and covering that cost myself. That’s obvious. But this was not my fault.

From that point on, she was a completely different customer. She was cold, difficult to talk to. Things were already moving in a bad direction.

We finish up the build and load up this table and two benches into the Nissan and off we go. We get to this lady’s house, she comes outside, takes a look at the table and benches, we bring them inside, assemble everything, polish it off and she says, ‘that’s not the right color, that’s not the color I wanted,’ to which I responded, ‘it’s the same color we talked about and agreed on.’

She says that it looks different than the photos and I explain to her that there’s a lot of variation in wood. Sometimes a small sample doesn’t fully show all the tones you might see in a full table and that things like lighting and phone screens can absolutely affect the way the color looks.

She goes upstairs. We’re not really sure what to do. Her husband comes down and says that she’s really not happy with the color and asks if we want to take the table back.

I think we were both at a loss for words here. This was the first time anything like this had ever happened, we were shocked that it was happening and didn’t really know how to handle it. In the back of our minds, I was just thinking like, we’re a new business, one bad review and no one’s going to want to order from us again. So, we take the table apart, load it back up in the Nissan. Back to the shop we go.

The entire ride home we were like, ‘what the hell just happened, what do we do now?’ We decide to just suck it up, sand the table down that night and try to make this customer happy.

We sand the table down, mix up a new color and get her approval before we stain. Stain the entire table and two benches the new color, send her a photo and now she says she doesn’t like the frame design, even though it matched the Pinterest photo she sent us in the first place.

I hop on the phone with her and the two things that stick out for me from that conversation are when she said, ‘if you can’t make the table I want…’ mind you, this is the table she sent us a photo of and this is the table we built and when she honeyed me, ‘listen honey, i know you’re new at this,’ excuse me? Who do you think you are, my mom?

I think one of the most frustrating parts of running a business at such a young age, especially as a girl sometimes, is that people don’t take you seriously. They think you’re young, they can take advantage of you, they try to pay as close to nothing as they can because they don’t value your time or experience. One of my favorite lines, ‘we were looking at some of these but the prices are high, that’s why we came to you,’ or ‘we want a table from you so bad but just don’t want to pay the delivery fee.’

It can be a difficult road to navigate, especially when you’re first building your reputation as a business.

The more Brandon and I thought about it, the less and less we wanted her to have this table. She was the type of person to find something wrong no matter how hard you tried. She was the type where if a year down the line, her kid stabs a table with the fork, that’s somehow on us and we’ve got a one star review because her table was ‘damaged.’ Not worth it.

It was the first and only time we refunded a customer. We took the loss on the time and cost of materials, but it was a relief. We actually ended up selling her set to a really great guy, owner of a coffee company, for his rental property. He ended up being a returning customer and so things really worked out with that set.

We went home that night and typed up our Terms and Conditions. We addressed everything that went wrong during that build and delivery, we detailed how payments work, standard sizes, we added an entire section about revisions and change orders, something we had no idea about up until then.

Before that night, we had no real protections in place for ourselves as a small business, and so we took this as an opportunity to make sure that, moving forward, nothing like this would ever happen again.

The reason I’m saying all this is because this was, on the surface, a very negative experience. It was stressful, there was miscommunication.

What made it all okay, and this is something to remember when you’re faced with a difficult situation, is that something positive came from it. One of the most important things in business, in life, and I cannot stress this enough, is to turn your negative experiences into learning experiences because then you’ve gained something from it, it’s not all bad. It’s a great way to stay positive, keep going and set yourself up better for next time.


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