Daily Wire Tip: Customer Order Policies

By on November 25, 2009
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

I love doing custom/commission work. I usually talk with the customer to get an idea as to what they want, have them pick a piece of jewelry from my work that is `kind of` what they want. That has always worked, until recently. `Mr. Joe` wanted a `tree` made in silver on a rock (round, smooth, black basalt). I created it. He didn`t like it and described what he wanted changed. When all was said and done I had created 6 different necklaces before he had one he liked.  I charged him my original quote plus shipping, as had been agreed to. THEN, the necklace didn`t show up at his house for four weeks and he was mad and requested that I send him a replacement. Unfortunately I did send it (I hadn`t gotten a tracking number on the first one.) The day after the replacement was in the mail, he called to say he received the first one and said he liked the the replacement better. I said to wait until he got the second and then he could return the one he didn`t want, or he could keep both if he paid for the second one as well.  He hasn`t returned either pieces, nor has he paid for the second piece. I`ve contacted him a couple of times and he says, `Ohhhh, I`m sooooo sorry, I forgot. I`ll put it in the mail right away.`  3 months later and it is still unresolved. What is your procedure for doing custom designs?  How about dealing with merchandise that doesn`t arrive at the customer`s house in a timely fashion?  How should I handle the payment for the second necklace?  I`m out $70. Fortunately, I`ve sold the other pieces I made for him.

Answer:

I agree that this is a difficult situation, however if you are ‘up-front’ and firm about your ‘custom order’ policies, your client should appreciate your honesty. One sure way to state your custom order policy is to either print it on the reverse of a few business cards that you hold back just for this type of order, or on a separate card with your contact info that you can give to a client. My personal policy is to take full payment at the time of the order, which guarantees my customer that I will pay for any necessary shipping and insurance, and that I cannot refund their money if they don’t like what they have agreed to, until I actually sell the piece they had me create `just for them`.

The best way I can respond to your question is based upon my experience. This is how I personally take a custom order (which is also what I teach my personal students). Use a triplicate order pad. Have the customer fill in their personal info, including shipping/mailing address, phone numbers and if available their email. I then write out exactly what the customer would like (based on our conversation) including what metal(s), their stone or mine, their preferred style (if possible, the name of a piece I may already have that they like, which I also take a picture of with my cell phone in case it sells) what embellishments they prefer if any, and a quick sketch. I then go over their order in detail again, jot the approximate delivery date on the form, and when they are satisfied I have them sign the order slip. I add my contact info to the bottom and give them the top/original order slip as well as my card. When their order is finished, I include the second slip with their order when I either deliver it by hand or ship it to them. (If shipping the item, I also call or email this customer to let them know their order is on the way, with the tracking numbers.)

And before you ask, yes I have had a customer who was not happy with her order and I did send her a refund check when I sold the item about seven months later, along with a thank-you for her interest in my work. She has since become a regularly returning client.

You have learned a very valuable lesson in an unfortunate way, and in the future if you follow the procedure I have outlined above this should not happen again. (I learned this same lesson many years ago with a $750 ring!)

Now, in your current situation with `Mr. Joe`, my only advice here would be to actually travel to his home (which may not be worth the cost or your time depending on the distance) and again request either payment or return of your piece (as it has not been paid for, it is still YOUR piece). If a personal visit is not worth the trouble, write this off as a very valuable lesson learned and be glad the cost was not a lot more!

Answer contributed by Dale `Cougar` Armstrong

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12 Comments

  1. avatar

    Edith

    November 25, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Dale–

    I love your responses–so direct and to the point. In the first flush of joy when someone wants a commission (at least the first few) it is easy to let the boundaries go a bit slack and this is a good reminder.

    Fortunately, for the most part, the customers are pretty decent folk; otherwise how could they have the perception to appreciate our magnificent work?

    Best,

    Edith Cheitman

  2. avatar

    mary

    November 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Custom orders can sometimes be much more aggrevation than they are worth. Then again, like Dale said, you can end up with a valuable customer in the end. Her points are valid and her way of taking custom orders is a sound one, especially having something printed that you can give the customer to take with them as they ponder the idea of what they want created just for them. I have used a prepaid nonrefundable deposit clause in the past to cover any work done for custom work where the customer changed their mind. If the work continues, when finished, I e-mail the customer a picture of the piece and mail it once payment is received and check clears the bank.

  3. avatar

    Judy

    November 25, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Custom orders can create a lot of problems if not handled correctly. And (unfortunately) many (unscrupulous) clients know they can easily take advantage of you since they assume you will not spend the money or time to collect what is due.
    Our procedure is simple and unwavering. 50% NON-refundable deposit at the time of order. Payment in full via PayPal invoicing BEFORE the item is shipped.
    Once I finish the item, I photograph it from various angles, send the pics to the client requesting a return reply stating they approve and are accepting. Then they’re invoiced via PayPal, they pay and I ship. NO EXCEPTIONS. So far, no problems…..and this has worked for many years.

    • avatar

      Jil S

      March 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      In our ever expanding digital world, I find your solution ABSOLUTELY the best suggestion Yet. I think anyone would think it perfectly normal if you do business that way… After all…”that’s how it works on EBay” :) I love it!

    • avatar

      Barbara

      September 22, 2015 at 5:24 am

      The comments about business policy noted by Mary and Judy are excellent, and absolutely necessary. It is a sad fact that many people who appear to be sincere and honest turn out to be anything BUT that. It’s your own business, so make sure you get paid for your work! We all get burned at least once, and then the lesson sticks and we rebound with wiser strategies.

  4. avatar

    Edward D. Rice

    November 25, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    If possible, have your customer visit a nearby bead supply house and pick out the components they want and bring them to you. Then all you have in the “custom” piece is your time, for which you can charge your normal fee.

  5. avatar

    Nita

    January 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    I love custom work. It is challenging and interesting. It can be frustrating.
    Having learned the hard way along with some of you. I now explain to my potential customer that if I make the piece for them, I will not be able to sell it easily to another buyer. (It had never occured to me to refund after it resells, but I will try that now.) I explain that if I make what they ask in the size they ask, it is theirs.
    This is a relatively new policy, but so far, so good. Having discussed it beforehand, I get fewer requests to ride the remake/return carosel with them.

    I read every word of this post with great interest. Thank you for sharing!

  6. avatar

    Kathleen

    March 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I do quite a bit of custom orders and one that I had trouble with was, (I guess it falls into custom) is the quote for reforming a broken necklace. She sent me pictures of the piece.(photos taken of her wearing it pre-broken) and all the parts she was able to find. I was to fill in the missing parts as well as I could. I had to redesign it quite a bit as there were quite a bit missing and informed her of this. I inserted stones that closely resembled the missing ones, and designed as close as I possibly could to the original. I then sent her pictures of the finished piece. She said that it was “a miracle” and that she was sooo happy. So I sent it along with a bill for the parts and labor. She sent a letter back, stating that although the necklace was beautiful, it was not what she agreed to and would not be sending a payment for what she didn’t ask for. All other correspondence by mail has been return to sender and my phone calls go unanswered. Will take all your advise for this matter to heart and this will never happen again.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      March 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      I believe that your choice would depend on how much money she owes you. If the amount is significant, you might have your attorney write and send her a registered letter demanding payment or the item returned to you (usually $35-$50 fee per letter). If not, then let it go and NEVER do work without at least a 50% deposit again! (If you are properly pricing your work and materials, 50% should at least cover your supplies.)

  7. avatar

    Jennifer P

    March 2, 2012 at 12:07 am

    I would never hesitate to involve a collections agency if a client were to keep an unpaid shipped item. It is dishonest and unacceptable and I would not want that person as a return client anyways.

    That being said, I tack an extra 2 weeks onto ANY delivery time given by a postal company– Canada Post is terrible in particular. I’ve never had a problem with that strategy.

  8. avatar

    Bonnie

    May 3, 2012 at 6:45 am

    this is exactly the kind of customer you do not want! they are clearly taking advantage and are never satisfied. I’ve had this happen to me too…in 10 years’ time, yes, winning over a dissatisfied customer is good (I’ve bent over backwards to assure their satisfaction, and even in the end when they didn’t like what they got, they were still thrilled with my customer service and became a loyal customer), but the one customer that you end up spending an inordinate amount of time and money on, and is still never satisfied, say “good riddance!” (and you have to be the one to figure out where the point is that you say you’re done with it). Another option, though a bit more extreme, is taking them to small claims court or collections agency, if you feel the amount of time and money spent is worth going after. Usually a “final letter” stating that this is the last time you’ll be contacting them and if you don’t receive payment in a certain amount of time you’ll be going to a collections agency. I’ve had to do this a couple of times (both with retail and wholesale customers) and it always works!

  9. avatar

    Sue Johnson

    January 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Custom work is a wonderful way to add to your business. All the suggestions above add to the security of doing business this way. I had a customer come to the studio, pick out stones, silver, help add to the design – all for her daughter-in-law’s Christmas present. This was all done during the summer. She was happy with the price & paid 50% down. Later, in November she called, very angry at the girl, now divorcing the woman’s son. She cancelled the order and actually sent a check for the remainder of the bill, apologizing for the inconvenience! Now, that’s a customer! And she continued to order for several more occasions until she moved across the country. I continue to do business that way & so far (knocking on wood a lot) it’s worked out well for everyone.

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