Daily Wire Tip Jan. 23: Dealing with Difficult Customers

By on January 22, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
January 23, 2011


First I would like to thank you Dale for all you have taught me. Thanks to you and Wire Sculpture my business, Curly Q Jewelry Design, has been a success. My question is how do you handle customers when they take advantage of you?

A couple of months ago, I sold two bracelets and a pendant to a woman who works at a restaurant I frequent. She asked for a discount, since she was buying three things. I gave it to her. The next time I came back, she bought a pair of earrings and wanted to trade the pendant she had for the one that matched the earrings. Since she seemed to be a good customer, I did this for her.

She then decided she wanted to trade both of the bracelets because they didn’t go with any of her outfits. (One of the stones was white). She wanted a bracelet and ring to match the pendant and earring set she had just purchased.

Fine. I made a bracelet that matched the set, but she didn’t like it and wanted me to remake it. So I did. The ring, she chose which pattern she liked and what size. When I brought it to her she said she had changed her mind and wanted a different style and size. A week later she calls me to tell me she doesn’t like this bracelet anymore and wants to trade.
I’m sorry, but I’ve had it! She thinks I owe her two bracelets still, when really I’m in the hole with this woman. Help! What do I do?

-D’arcy in Madison, Wisconsin


D’arcy, although the WS team and I thank you for your kind words, you are what makes your business a success! For some people self-determination, self-drive and self-promotion can be a real challenge—congratulations!

Now as for your present situation. I know how hard it is to say no, especially when you are starting out and you want to please everyone for fear of losing a customer or maybe preventing a negative comment that you think would spread through your community. It’s hard! You have to remember this is your business!! (Personally I would have stopped after trading the pendant, because completing a set makes sense to me.)

As you have already traded two bracelets for a ring and another bracelet of a different design, I would simply explain to her that you are very sorry, but you simply can not make any other "trades." That this is your business and although you do appreciate her as a customer, you can no longer trade items out for her. You could back this up by showing her a written list of the items and their "retail" value (which should include your labor and a custom design fee). If you have properly priced these items, the values should confirm that you no longer "owe" her any more jewelry pieces.

You could even relate your situation to one she may identify with, say a dessert? If a customer were to order a piece of apple pie from her and then ate half of it and decided they didn’t like it and wanted to trade it for a piece of peach pie, and after eating a bite or two decided they wanted a dish of ice cream instead, and after the ice cream had been served the customer changed their mind and wanted to trade it for a piece of chocolate cake; what would she do? Would she continue to trade desserts without any additional charges?

Now I have to ask, what is your personal policy on custom orders? We have had some great discussions that could offer you some ideas. Check out these three articles, and be sure to check out the comments too! Customer Order Policies, Writing a Return Policy, Customer Satisfaction.

Of course, if you don’t already own it, may I also recommend The Definitive Guide? Members of our faculty and I discuss all types of show and order situations as well as give a lot of other advice, based on solid experience. I am sure that lots of us have had similar experiences and will share their stories here too.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Joni Stinson

    January 23, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Oh Wow! The nerve of some people! It seems to me that the loss of this customer would be a net gain! Great advice. Love the comparison to a dessert order. Good luck in dealing with her and I hope you don’t encounter this problem again in the future.

  2. avatar

    Jacqueline Duncan

    January 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    What an incredible and perfect reply and example for this lady to relate to her “customer”. She should print it out ver batim and give it to the lady in an envelope when it comes to “tip” time as part of her offering if she’s not comfortable with a verbal explanation. I’m sure the “customer” would more than likely understand at that point.

  3. avatar


    January 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    A couple of years ago, I had a customer, ‘Ms. Lee’, who was such a nice elderly lady who often stopped by my booth to admire my creations. She told me she was on Soc. Sec. I sold her pieces at point of sale and held a few items with a small down payment for her until she received her check. Promptly the Saturday after she was there to complete the purchase. I believed I could trust her since I knew her family for about 20 years.

    ‘Ms Lee’ ordered an earring and necklace set made of semi-precious pearly sea shells I had to glue together to make disk shaped non-pierced earrings & a necklace with a glued together center pendant. I must say the set is absolutely gorgeous, she loved it, too. I didn’t take a down payment. Unfortunately, I told her I would get the piece to her in 2 weeks, but I became ill. I telephoned her and told her my circumstances. I would get it to her as soon as I recovered. I warned her it might take up to 2 weeks, which was normal for me when I caught the flu. Hearing how I sounded she was sympathetic, She agreed. When I called her to make the delivery she stated it would be better if she met me at my sale booth in a few days on Saturday she was very busy and it would be hard to catch her in.

    To my astonishment, in public, she gave me a lecture about being punctual and keeping my word, in a very smug voice. She informed me she was not going to purchase the pieces to ‘teach me a lesson”. I was PO-ed by that one believe me. I thought about how much time it took to glue all of those small pieces together and drying time to make these lovely pieces. I told her I understood she was frustrated, but my illness was not something I could control. I had no helper to make deliveries for me. ‘Ms. Lee’ had me over to her apartment for lunch. I showed her other pieces I had and design ideas. I was angry about the situation, but considered it a lesson learned. I resolved to make my policy very clear for custom orders and to make certain my customers know what my custom order policy is and posted it behind my booth. I never had the same problem ever again. Reading Dale’s reply gives me more to think about, and add to my policy.

    Dale you are phenomenal the way you keep us informed, girl friend. Keep doing what you do. I read your Daily Wire Tip faithfully.

    • avatar


      January 24, 2011 at 1:34 am

      Krister, thank-you so much for your kind comments-I am glad to be able to shed some light on different situations : ) Thanks also, for sharing your experiences with all of us!

  4. avatar

    Barbara Wolf

    January 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Hi D’arcy,i had a similar thing happen and finally told the lady i do not run a exchange jewelery business. That there is no exchange on Jewelery. Also did i have a lady how bought a necklace, earring set wore it at a wedding and brought it back for full refund because she didn’t like it as well as she thought.( A friend of my mine came and ask me if i could make her the same necklace that the woman wore at the wedding just a different color) Sorry there is a limit to how far you can let your customers push you. Good luck with your Problem.

  5. avatar

    Dorothy K. Duflo

    January 23, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    I had much the same thing – 1 month after buying a pendant she wanted to trade for one she liked better. I told her nicely, but firmly, it’s a lot like when you buy underwear – once you’ve bought it, it’s yours.

    • avatar


      January 24, 2011 at 1:29 am

      Love your scenario Dorothy! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. avatar

    Deanna Holloway

    January 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Dale, you are quite right with your advice for D’arcy to make a written list of what she’s done for the customer. This is certainly done for all businesses. My daughter has sold jewelry for a couple of years. Never has she had such a thing happen to her and she even restrings broken necklaces for people who bring her the beads. Sometimes they even ask to see what beads she has that might go with an outfit they have. I’m certain the analogy to her business and the food she serves should be enough to turn on the light bulb moment! Sales receipts are a must for custom orders with the customer’s signature, signifying that they accept and approve of the item as it is. If they tire of it, they should try to sell it to someone else at a discount (as used jewelry) since D’arcy had sold the items to the customer as new. Just a change of mind after wearing an item it is not usually accepted back by merchants any more. D’arcy has more than bent over backward for this customer. She needs to find other customers, especially if this one is not recommending her to others.

  7. avatar


    January 27, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I agree with Dorothy K. Duflo, accessories are like buying underwear….. Once I start selling my jewelry, I am going to have “final sale” stamped on receipts. When you are just starting off, and you are a small business you can’t afford exchanges and returns. In my opinion, customers like this, will only take advantage of you if they KNOW they can, and YOU let them.

  8. avatar


    February 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Thank you so much for your advice!
    I feel much more normal hearing everyone else’s experiences. What a wonderful comparison! Thank you everyone.

  9. avatar

    Kate Dohi Awi

    June 27, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I see this is an old thread but I had a recent problem and I stopped it before it got out of hand–I even kept the customer!
    I pointed out my policy and she respected it I gave her a break (I only charged a small fee–not the fee I state in my policy—so she felt good about that).

    I’m a nice person and willing to bend the rules a bit but some people will take advantage of this. From experience I cannot stress enough the importance of policies–listing these and making them clear to customers-if you don’t have a Web site, create a brochure, upbeat and about your business but somewhere on the middle back panel (I’m thinking tri-fold brochure) make your policies clear. Ensure customers get a copy. Also have instructions in writing–signed by you and the customer. It will keep you from becoming a doormat. This can become expensive for you and by word of mouth others will learn that you are flexible about such issues. You can always make exceptions for good customers–I do for some very good customers–but make policies clear. If someone does not like something they chose, well, too bad. If it’s a custom piece, I let them see the stones. I let them match things before it is made. I will even send them a sample of a few different beads to make a selection if they are not nearby. It’s worth a few extra days to get it right the first time. Photographs are great–so long as you capture the exact color. It’s better if they can have a bead or stone to hold up to the outfit or whatever they wish to match. The stone itself is better–if you have a bead (if it’s a cab and you have beads that match that’s great–but just send one or two of each, not free beads–and only two or three different kinds). That way they can match things and decide.

    My main point, though, is to have policies–I do give a lifetime warranty for my work but there are certain limitations. If the piece is run over by a car or dropped down the garbage disposal, I will try to reconstruct it but there will be a charge. I did not cause the damage. If it falls apart, then it’s something I did not do correctly and I will most certainly replace it (not repair, I usually make a new one).

    I will do cleaning but for a small fee (some of my pieces mix pearls with stones–in fact that is one of my standard designs) so they need to be taken apart for a really good cleaning for obvious reasons). I do not charge much for this. I give instructions on proper care–to prolong the life of jewelry and to keep pearls from losing their lustre, etc. because so many people will wear their jewelry to wash dishes, they will spray perfume and hairspray on it . . . and blame me. I make it perfectly clear what they need to do–it is their responsibility to take proper care.
    (This is outside the issue of a customer dissatisfied with something–because it didn’t go with whatever . . .). That smells of someone taking advantage and I would stop that before it got out of hand. I would tell her that I would be happy to remake it, but for a fee. It costs me time and money so I must pass that along. If I made a custom piece but did not use the proper stones, then it’s my fault and I would remake it for free–that is the only circumstance–or if it is defective.

    Your jewelry is not to be remade at the whim of difficult customers. There are plenty of easier-to-please people out there and you can be spending your precious time making jewelry for them.

    • avatar


      June 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm

      Amen Kate!! Thank-you for sharing with all of us. I appreciate you taking the time to help : )