Wednesday, July 25

On loosing your professional cool

Readers...I said fuck to a customer today.

It was the lowest point of my professional carear to date. I am so ashamed. I recount this story so we can have a chat about a common issue for all of us: unreasonable behavior, and how to avoid the throw down. I am not the heroine of this story, even though it felt really good to cuss at someone who sucks. She didn't deserve it though, and I am really not better than her now. But still, I am only human.



This is what happend to me:

A woman we will call Caroline (from the Outkast song about a woman who thinks her shit smells like Roses, no relation to a real person in my life.) Anyway, she bought a painting, yay! She bought it on Friday, it was picked up by our shipper on Thursday of the next week. It would normally have gone out on Tuesday, but I had a 103 degree fever, and was not at my best. My assistant was valiantly attempting to get everything done as fast as possible, but we couldn't hold it together to our usual standard. Before the painting was picked up, she was already threatening us with a VISA recall for the payment and blamed me for a dispute she had with a painting that was sold through another vendor of mine. 

A little voice in my head said this: "Michelle, refund her, and tell her that she isn't going to have a painting of yours. She is unreasonable, and once she gets your painting, she will just continue to be unreasonable, and then she will have your painting..." My husband talked me out of it, b/c he is tirelessly professional and diplomatic and I always listen to him b/c he is usually right. I love you baby :)

The painting went out, she filed a claim with VISA, despite the fact that she had proof of pick-up, and called my shipper five times, and I sent her many re-assuring, professional and polite emails. She knew it was on the way to her! I was naturally perplexed, and I thought wow, she must have been really scared that her painting wouldn't arrive. I wonder if I could have done anything to make her transaction with us better? 


So...I called her. I asked her if she got her painting "Yes, but its still in the crate, so I don't know if its damaged or not..." Ya'll I tried so hard to stay clam. I asked her what we could have done to make it better for her, and why she felt she needed to threaten us. I told her (calmly) that her actions were distressing. We tried our best, why didn't she just contact me? What could I do to make her stop acting so aggressively? I even apologized that my voice was shaking, I explained that I was upset. She said "I don't know what you are talking about, so I am going to hang up now." Then I lost my shit.

So I told her that every time she looked at her painting, she could know that it was "a giant fucking middle finger from me." Then I hung up on her.

Ok, now calm down. I know. I KNOW! I have no right to say she is was being unreasonable, rude and aggressive b/c I cussed her out dude! (Upon further reflection, I can see now that I really did do everything I could to give her the benefit of the doubt that her actions could be explained, which is what I wanted when I called her. She pulled a passive agressive denial strategy, perfectly fitting with her previous behavior; but I just couldn't image a grown-up acting that way!) I take full responsibility for my blow up, but I have to admit that I am no longer the least bit sorry for cursing her. Saying something rude to another person is never  almost never ok. I lept off the high road like...I don't know, a pissed off frog?



What did I learn from this? Well, don't continue to attempt to communicate with an unreasonable person in the hopes that they change their behavior. Ain't gonna happen. ALSO, Don't sell your work to a person who is unreasonable, it isn't worth the hassle

This is what I should have done before, and what I most certainly will be implementing starting right this second.

1. Come up with a guideline for what you consider "over the line" behavior. Example: threats to withdraw payment, blame for an action you are not connected with, verbal abuse of some kind, or disrespect that makes you feel icky inside. Either write it down and have your staff see it too (or your mom who is helping you out or whatever) so that they know when to red flag someone.

2. Outline a defined course of action for dealing with these people because a. you will encounter them, and b. you will be so upset that you may not act professionally or responsibly in the heat of the moment. Ahem.

3. My course of action: 
a. Send detailed explanation of events in email (in our case my exceptional assistant Elizabeth did that, she is a gem). If there is rudeness, address it head on with polite sternness.
b. If client continues with bad behavior (I should have listend to my gut, as my gut feelings are just always right!) take immediate, stern action by....
c. Send a polite email or make a polite phone call explaining that their behavior is uncalled for, and that you have decided not to continue to do business with them. Trust me, you don't need the money, in the end you will spend more just dealing with them!
d. Inform them that they are no longer welcome to buy from you. 

This is why I feel so strongly about my (new and improved) course of action: It is in line with one of my core business values: no drama...and apparently annoying punctuation.


Yes, I totally get that I acted like a drama queen, so these steps are in place to avoid a meltdown from happening again. I don't want this to happen again because I was mean to someone, and that hurts me. I really don't care about her at all if you want to know the truth. I just don't want to be a part of something negative that goes against my values. Nothing is allowed in my life that makes me angry enough to be mean. End point. She deserved to not get my painting because I paint with love and light and joy, and that is what my art is supposed to be about. She doesn't deserve to have my painting, but she really didn't deserve for me to be mean to her. 

I am sorry Caroline. 

In the imortal worlds of Outkast...

"I hope she's speeding on the way to the club
Trying to hurry up to get to some
Baller or singer or somebody like that
And try to put on her makeup in the mirror
And crash, crash, craaash.. into a ditch! (Just Playing!)"

Oh and the final irony? I named the painting Roses? which is an homage to this song which just happend to be playing in my studio when I titled it.

35 comments:

  1. Some people just can't be pleased, no matter how hard you try. I totally understand your response and APPLAUD IT! Rudeness may be weak, but damn does it feel good to give it back to someone who worked so hard to earn it.

    And bless you for the Outkast reference.

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  2. Hahahahaah....the last part...ahahahaha

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  3. Damn. That is the WORST. I totally understand your feelings and when it comes to art (which I really believe is the fruit of your soul) you are right that you can't just sell that to people who are treating you like garbage. Don't feel too bad -- You're only human (and a recovering from being sick human at that!) and you did the right thing making a plan for the future.

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  4. Dude! Cut yourself some slack. She totally deserved it. You can't beat yourself up for doing EVERYTHING you could have done and then having a reasonable and totally normal human reaction. Everyone has a breaking point. You didn't kill her cat or slash her tires. You did nothing wrong in my opinion. It took two to create that situation so if anything? Feel 50% bad and let it go. She can have the other 50% and suck it.

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    1. Good point Jen. I am being sliiiiiiiiiightly melodramatic about it :)

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  5. That's o.k. I'm fluent in drama ;)

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  6. I am DYING for a painting! Although I am not rude or unreasonable, I would gladly accept the middle finger & multiple F bombs for the chance to hang one of these beauts over my mantle!

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    1. teehee. I am having another free shipping sale in November, if that helps :)

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  7. I only would have added that...perhaps she was better suited for art via Pottery Barn

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  8. You are a far bigger person than I. I would have unloaded the F-Bomb and would have had no regrets. But, I think your plan of attack is a great formula for next time and I applaud your valiant efforts! You are love and light and joy. :0)

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    1. Always a kind word from you :) Thank you for having my back, and for making me feel better. Oh, and congrats on OKL!!

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  9. Hate that you had to go through this but LOVE that you learned from it and have formulated a plan for dealing with such ugliness in the future! Back in my gallery days, when working on projects, we would very occasionally add a PIA charge ( Pain In the Ass charge ) when a client was incredibly demanding, unreasonable and/or rude. And on the rare occasion, we did fire a customer that just wasn't worth dealing with.

    Hope all transactions will now be filled with love, light & joy!

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    1. HA! A PIA charge, that is priceless. Great idea.

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  10. People are just ridiculous, don't feel bad; you were a pleasure to work with as far as I'm concerned! You don't need Caroline's for customers.

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  11. Oh dear, what a bad experience! I had to laugh when I read what you said to her, but if it was me I would have felt pretty bad after. I agree, go with your gut, it's just not worth the hassle of having a bad customer. Chalk it all up to a great learning experience!

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  12. As i tell my husband all the time, you can't reason with Crazy. But I applaud your efforts. In the end, you will never get them to change the story they have created in their head so you are right, in the future, just move on. I'm very curious how it will end: will you get your painting back? Will she pay you? It really would be like you are flipping her off every day if she did keep it :)

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    1. You are right about Crazies. I suppose I am so lucky that I almost never have a bad experience with another person. She paid, and I proved that she got her painting, so I expect VISA will refund me. But I have to admit I am already over it, don't care what happens. Moving on!

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  13. Hahaha this made my day! I know you probably wish you hadn't done that, but seriously, it's a pretty great story! You did learn something from it so it's not that bad. Also, being a person who has bought and received one of your pieces, that lady might have needed to hear that. I was actually really impressed with how quickly we received it, and correspondence with your assistant was lovely. You are my favorite modern artist... that lady was just crazy! Keep up the good work, don't let her get you down.

    Sara

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    1. Sarah, I am so glad to hear you had a good experience with us! That makes me so happy, we work so hard to do our best. Thank you for your compliments, a girl never tires to hearing how awesome she is :)

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  14. good for you :) p.s. I'm in Atlanta next month for work, I don't know if you are open for visitors but I will be there a few days if you are

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    1. Keri thats awesome! I am going to be around so think of the best days and times and send me an email and we can get something on the calendar!

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  15. Wow, I can really relate to your story. As you said, some people are just crazy narcissists who make up their own reality and refuse to acknowledge or respect anyone else. You are totally right - nothing is worth dealing with people like this. They are emotional vampires who suck the life and joy out of you. I have learned the hard way to pass on dealing with folks like this because there is no financial renumeration that can make up for the grief that they cause. Their trick is to try to make YOU feel guilty for a reaction they generate because of their abuse/unreasonable behavior. I admire your courage in taking responsibility for going over the edge, even if it was provoked and justifiable. It shows the person you are. Every time I reject doing business with such a person or lowering my prices so they can de-value my work and abuse me, it creates another opportunity and more time to work with a person who is humane, respectful, SANE and a joy to deal with. Not to mention conserving my emotional and spiritual energy to create and be at my best for those who deserve it. Life is TOO short to dance with ugly men (or Carolines!). Keep up the good work - I love your paintings.

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    1. So eloquent. I really like how you reserve your energy and spirit for the people who come into your life who deserve to get it. Such a wise perspective.

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  16. As a professional blog voyeur I almost never comment on posts. However, your story was so "spot on" that I felt obligated. As an artist, yes it's relatable, but moreover for anyone who sells and/or ships anything can certainly identify with this story and your feelings. I love your takeaway and that you outlined a clear path of action to deal with the inevitable unreasonable/rude customer. You've completely taken the power back, which is what needs to happen in these cases. LIke you, I ALWAYS bend over backwards, forward and everything in between to ensure a customer has a fabulous experience. In-part b/c it makes great business sense, but at the end of the day for me, it comes from a place of gratitude. I believe anyone who has spent their hard earned money on my art deserves nothing but a great experience. However, b/c you are dealing with people and people come with issues (including myself) there are going to be times where it doesn't matter what you do or don'/t do --they will find fault. Bravo and thank you for sharing this story, as I will be banking it for the next unreasonable and rude customer that I come across.

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    1. Such a great perspective. I love that you say your business ethics come from a sense of gratitude. I just love that. You are right about people coming with issues, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when they are rude, you never know what they are dealing with in their personal lives. I am so pleased that you found this post helpful! I hope you never have to deal with a person like Caroline.

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  17. Michelle, from someone who wants to flip the bird to A LOT of clients behind their backs ("oh, you want that tagline rewritten for the 379 time for free because it still doesn't reflect your vision/mantra/crazy? Perfect.") I just want you to know that I laughed out loud reading this post. I didn't mean to, but it happened. Suck it, Caroline, that laugh was for you.

    That first part was written as a friend, and as a client? I can tell you that I know you to go out. of. your. way. for your customers 100% of the time. And I'd throw down Cable-Guy-Duel-At-Medieval-Times style with anyone who said otherwise. BOOM!

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  18. That frog might just have to be my new screen-saver. I love you Michi! You make me feel normal. ;-)

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  19. Thank you E, I am so glad that you have my back! I am pretty sure I would have laughed out loud reading it too :P

    K, awww, your the best! I imagined a frog, and wrote that before I ever found the frog image. I searched "fight" in Pinterest. HA!

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  20. You rock.

    Number 1, for writing this, and number 2, for not taking her crap! Seriously though, I think it's really awesome that you put this kind of stuff out there, because we've all done it in some form. Kudos to you for turning it into something positive! You seriously have such a great outlook. And just because it's a business transaction doesn't mean the customer is always right; I've been in too many positions where I've had to give in to people like her (not my company, not my rules), and I can't even tell you how gratifying it would have been to go all pissed off frog on some of them. Live and learn. :)

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  21. Thanks Jamie. I learned that next time I can say what I need to say before I get all pissed-off frog, awesome by the way. I am lucky that I get to dictate my company culture :)

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  22. I predict "Roses" will become a worldwide best seller. It's the story behind the painting that makes the painting, right? ;) You're awesome. -Rachel

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  23. Oh, thank you, thank you for posting this. I have been in exactly this same position. I feel like you've said "fuck you" for all of us that wish we could have had the cahones to say it when in that same, distressing situation.

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  24. i feel ya! sometimes it feels really good to tell people NO YOU MAY NOT BE MY CUSTOMER. most people are fine, but there are certainly a fair share of crazies out there.

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  25. Oh my Lord. I am so sorry this happened to you, but I am really grateful you've posted this cautionary tale. Stay strong, love.

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  26. Dammit...EVERY time I walk past the livingroom it feels like I am getting the royal finger.

    ~signed Caroline.

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