Friday, January 27, 2012

Complaint Department

As a shop owner/designer/publisher I am required to wear many different hats. In the Customer Service area alone I deal with questions, comments and of course complaints. Nobody is perfect, and I am not using that as an excuse, just a simple statement of fact. Every now and then, no matter how hard we try, we screw up.

The mistakes that the staff and I might make in the store are easy to fix. They are mostly made one-on-one with a single customer. Publishing mistakes are a MUCH bigger issue! I write instructions, do my own sample sewing, have others proof read and often the published patterns have been distributed to my shop clubs where dozens of people have used them before they go to print. Still, every now and then you get that call that starts "Did you know that there is a mistake in ......" and panic mode sets in! OMG! If it really is a mistake (and not a confused customer) correcting it can be overwhelming. I immediately begin the process of contacting vendors, consumers, other shops, posting corrections on the website, mailing corrected copies...... a nightmare.

At the other end of the customer complain spectrum are letters like this one. Hand scrawled hate mail from someone so frustrated with one of my patterns that they took the time to pen me a detailed letter about what a miserable human being I am for writing such horrendously bad instructions. These make me smile.

I know that on first impression the fact that I find this humorous doesn't seem very customer service oriented, but inevitably these letters are written by people that are their own worst enemy. The letter featured here was received last week and has detailed issues with our Easy Stripped Table Runner pattern. Really? I have been publishing that pattern in one form or another since the mid 1980's. We sell an average of 1000 copies a month and it has been on the best seller list for the last several years. More than a handful of people have had success using the step-by-step illustrated instructions that are included in the pattern that has only FIVE seams. There is a very good chance that in this particular instance, it isn't me with the problem.

Now I am faced with the issue of how to respond.

The author of this particular letter begins by telling me that she has been sewing for 49 years, quilting for 5, has a doctorate degree and is not stupid. She goes on to explain that it took her "hours to engineer a 60 degree triangle for the runner".

Dear Not Stupid in California,
I am sorry to hear that you are having issues with our Easy Striped Table Runner pattern. Please keep in mind that the materials list for a quilting project is much like the list of ingredients for a recipe. On the back of the Easy Striped Table Runner pattern you will find a list of materials necessary to make the project. Clearly listed between "thread for assembly and machine quilting" and "basic sewing supplies" is "Creative Grids 60 Degree triangle ruler" an important ingredient for the success of your project. This is the same ruler that is shown in the step-by-step photographs that accompany the written instructions. Attempting to make the project without the proper tools is akin to preparing beef stew without purchasing beef.

..... um... too snarky?

Ms. California also goes on to take issue with my use of the word "equilateral" in reference to the type of triangle needed for this project. She points out that the word equilateral means "all three sides need to be the same"...... uh, I agree? According to her drafting experience "You cannot make a 60 degree triangle that is equal for the 8 1/2 inch strip".

Dear Ms. California,

As a resident of the state of Pennsylvania I am unaware of any laws in the state of California that prohibit the use of 8 1/2 inch increments in basic geometry. To complete the Easy Striped Table Runner project I suggest that you purchase the required ruler from your local quilt shop. If sales of the 8 1/2 inch size are somehow prohibited in your state, the ruler is also available in a 12 1/2 inch size a well. You can also order the ruler directly from our website. We are willing to ship rulers across state lines at any time.

...bad idea. Ms. California probably isn't the type to appreciate my sense of humor.

And my favorite part of the letter: "My God, you charge $10 for this pattern"! Which is signed with her name, followed by "Esq." - meaning she is an attorney.

Dear Esq.
I am deeply troubled by your dissatisfaction with our Easy Striped Table Runner pattern. In an attempt to rectify the situation I would like to refund my profit from your purchase. Unfortunately I do not sell the pattern for $10. I retail it for $8.50 both in our store and on our website. Your purchase was made from another shop that ordered wholesale through a distributor and established their own retail in our free enterprise system. Our wholesale cost is $4.25 - 30% for the distributor or $2.97. Subtract from that the cost of the bag, color printing, paper, employee payroll to fold and ship the pattern and we are left with .86 cents. Would you like that in the form of a check or shall I make a charitable donation in your name?

....nope. She probably wouldn't like that either.

Customer Service experts will tell you that one disgruntled customer is like one bad apple. They can spread rot and ruin your entire reputation that you have worked so hard to build. I spend a portion of every day, and I do mean every day - 7 days a week, talking to customers via email and phone, helping them understand techniques, find old issues of free patterns or pages they have lost. I've talked many a customer through enlarging or reducing a project or helped them to understand that what the instructions say and what they are doing might not be the same thing. If Ms. Disgruntled had dashed off an email or picked up the phone I or one of my employees would have been happy to talk her through drafting a triangle using any brand of rotary ruler. We would have pointed out the importance of the blunt tip on the Creative Grids brand and explained why that is our ruler of choice.

Because she eloquently stated that she intends to "not walk, but RUN" the next time she sees my name on a pattern I think we have past the point of talking her through the issues she described. Therefore I am appealing to you, loyal blog readers, for opinions on how to respond to this letter. You are officially in charge of this persons Customer Service. Post a comment. If you were in her shoes, what would make you happy? Go for it.


justducky65 said...

After years of working in retail in what used to be another local fabric store in your area, I don't think there is anything that would please her other than possibly letting her have both the pattern and the ruler at no cost; however, you cannot just give merchandise away for free for every complaint you receive.

I do like the explanation of having the right tools in order to complete the project. A letter in response explaining this along with an offer to help with verbal instructions might help. It depends on how receptive this customer is, however. Sometimes, as you know, there is just that one person who you cannot please.

bmayer said...

justducky65 is way too kind. This is what I would say:
"You are an idiot, and should have your sewing machine and all your fancy degrees taken away".
This is the very reason why I dont own a business, and why nobody would ever hire me for their customer service dept. I have no patience for stupidity. Obviously.

Sew Unique Creations said...

My response to this women? I would suggest a mental evaluation. We as designers have to deal with this type of issue on a daily basis. Instead of attacking you like this woman "lawyer" did in this letter, she should have just admitted she wanted a little help instead of venting off at you for whatever has built her up to this state of emotion. It's a shame our world has come to this type of crazy attitude. I like each one of your responses. Personally - I would make a copy of the letter, then attach my own letter to it stating what you talked about toward the end of your blog post - showing her just what you make off this pattern. Write her a check for the 86 cents or whatever it is and be done with it. You'll have satisfaction once that envelope is stamped and in the mail and it's now considered a closed issue. Hope your day gets better!

Anonymous said...

First you have to establish which pattern she has. Maybe she has one that was published, in one form or another in the mid 1980's ? I did not think the Quilt Company opened till 1993.

Anonymous said...

If you are not bothered by the letter, why did you post it?

You do a great job! You can never please 100% of the people 100% of the time. I know many people who are way 'book' smarter then me, but have difficulties with what I consider common sense tasks. Our 'uniqueness' makes the world go round :)

Jolene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jolene said...

Sorry for the long winded post.

Just send her a paper template.

Nancy said...

Make a Video and send it to her. I found from experience, the easiest way is to sit at a table and use a paper napkin explaining how it is cut,folded,then sewed. Makes a world of diference when you see it done first hand. There are some people who just don't have it, and never will. You can't teach talent, You have to be born with it.

banjo795 said...

Since this woman pointed out that she has a doctorate degree, and took the time to emphasize her education by including "Esq" in her signature, she is obviously very sensitive about her intelligence. So making her feel stupid in any way would not be a good idea! The explanation about the right tools is good idea; maybe just take some of the "snark" out ;>.

Stacy Lindblom said...

Unfortunately this person probably won't be happy no matter what you do. Pointing out that she didn't pay attention to the items needed probably will just make her unhappier. Guessing by the content of her letter, she's unhappy and wants to make others feel the same way which is sad because creating is supposed to make us feel good.

Nancy said...

Unfortunately education and degrees do not guarantee anything. The willingness to workout solutions in a happy environment is what fuels my world. No degree needed. Thank you.

JoAnne said...

Since the writer did not have the supplies needed for making the item, your sending her a paper template and pointing out what the needed supplies are sounds like a good idea. Boy! Some people really don't read the directions, do they?

Anonymous said...

First and foremost to me is the issue of writing the letter on lined notebook paper. Even the least discerning person realizes that communication must have a background to make the reader WANT to read the content. I find it hard to believe that this person with so many advanced degree and does not have a computer available at all times...unless she has returned o all natural living without electricity or any other modern application. But then how could she sew except on a treadle
It amazes me that someone can "claim" to have such advanced knowledge and training. Often people use this as a way to grab the attention of the reader. People with this supposed knowledge know not to write when angry.
I believe the most expedient and fair means of reply is to refund the money that you charge for the pattern. A modification of your explanation of the process from the designer to market distribution should be adequate. Gently reinforcing the need for the correct ruler is important. The offer for verbal communication with you or a staff member to call her at an arranged time might decrease her unreasonable emotion. Although I would hesitant to do this unless this becomes your store policy.
And the letter should be written at fifth grade reading level which is the current standard for many written topics/instructions.! She probably is not who she says she is. Or now realizes she used a poor means of communication.
Good luck as these individuals are difficult to impossible to satisfy. Many years ago I was exposed to several employees in a department that responded to complaints. This one is a whooper for any store owner.
Is there any way you can track from the return address label, if she was dumb enough to give it, where in her area she might have purchased the pattern? I do agree with the idea that she may have an older copy of pattern.
And after all this diatribe on my part, how much is it this really worth in time and effort? I have only found satisfaction with service and all your products and I am not easy to please. Plus I just returned after living in another state for many years. There were many more quilt stores in the area, but I am glad to be closer to your level of quality and service.

Nancy said...

California.... The land of fruits and nuts !

JoAnne said...

I really don't think that Nancy's comment "Nancy said...

California.... The land of fruits and nuts !"

was at all necessary and it offended me. I'm a Californian and though, like any other place, we have our share of not really very smart people, ALL of us are not at all like that!

JoAnne said...

Karen, I was telling my DH about the letter you received. He spent many years as a manager for a large utility company and oversaw m hundreds of employees. He told me that with something like that he would just answer the questions asked. Just answer the questions and if you want to supply a template, tell the person that one is available for whatever amount you wish to charge.
He provided several examples of "just answering the questions" and I saw how well it worked. And I see how he's used it on me. Hmmm, a very good idea.

Nancy said...

JoAnne, No Yinz have more than your share of "not really very smart people". Too bad you were offended, (it doesn't take much these days) so put on your big girl pants and deal with it ! You did notice where this letter came from ?

amber connell said...

Some people really do not understand how the retail world works, when you talked about how much your company actually got to keep for your patterns after all the expenses are paid, I certainly gained more appreciation for this, and hopefully the person who sent you the letter will also learn from this.