Debbie Cook of Lancaster’s The Bridal Collection shares a memory and advice of dealing with a problematic customer
No matter what business you run or how good you are at what you do, we all have ‘diﬃcult’ customers. In my experience there are several reasons for this and probably the most common in our industry is down to the fact that brides get stressed!
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Whatever the scenario causing the problem, stress can be further fuelled by a bride often overspending on their wedding budget – and all too often we take the brunt of this when it comes to them having to pay for their goods and your services.
But, it’s a fact of ‘bridal life’ and although we shouldn’t be too shocked when we experience it – it doesn’t mean to say we have to put up with unreasonable behaviour or we can’t deal with the situation in a calm and professional way.
We get many a bride who, once calmed, is very apologetic for her behaviour and the real reason for the stress comes out, usually nothing to do with us and we can sympathise and advise, and the relationship is restored.
That said, let’s face it, there are some people in this world that are just (for want of a better phrase) ‘not nice’ and you just know from day one there are going to be ‘problems’. We all know people whose ‘glass is always half empty’ and there’s just no pleasing them no matter what you do!
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In our 10 years of business, we have only had one bride that still makes us shudder and this was only 18 months ago.
She was what we call a ‘high maintenance bride’ – all the signs were there… after ordering her dress she insisted on two further appointments to show other people the sample and spent hours in front of the mirror so her guests could admire her.
Once her gown arrived, she made every excuse in the book to delay paying for it and eventually, given her wedding was eight weeks away, we had to give her an ultimatum and advised that we needed to start her ﬁttings.
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Even when we managed to get her into the boutique and put her gown on, at the till she had conveniently forgotten her payment card... and so it went on. She promised to phone with the balance and again I had to phone her to ask for it and instead got a barrage saying she wasn’t happy as she’d seen a mark on her £1,800 dress and was expecting a discount.
I invited her in for a meeting and said we would examine the dress together. Once she came in, and of course, no mark could be found, she paid up happily and apologised profusely saying how stressed she was and that we were very understanding.
Unbelievably, two weeks later at her check ﬁt after alterations had been done, she started again that she could see the ‘invisible mark’ and that she wasn’t paying for alterations. It got so bad I could hear her swearing at our seamstress and manager.
Once I got her out of the dress, which was examined again and no mark could be seen, I asked her to leave and come back the next day to collect her gown when she had calmed down and we would discuss again, at which point she would have to pay the alterations charge of £200 before taking her dress.
When she picked up the dress, she came without her payment card again but with a cheque for the alterations. I was 99% certain the cheque would bounce but, despite being ﬁrm, I couldn’t ﬁnd it in me to say ‘no card, no dress’ so I took the cheque and got her to sign the release form stating she was happy with everything.
She was very apologetic about her behaviour and said we had been ‘marvellous’ and left to get married. The cheque was, of course, returned unpaid twice and two subsequent letters to her were ignored. Yes, I could have started a small claims procedure but decided it just wasn’t worth the stress and we put the whole episode down to a learning curve!
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We felt we handled the whole business in a professional manner and did everything we could have done and we honestly feel that this was purely down to a bride that had run out of money and would do anything she could to avoid paying – and so we now no longer take cheques!
When dealing with these customers it is more important than ever to be ﬁrm – make sure you have your policies in place and your team know them and when to use them if needed.
Make sure your communication channels are ﬂowing as they should and keep your customers informed, especially when something out of your control, happens – for example, a supplier has a problem getting a gown to you on time or a gown arrives and is damaged.
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My advice is don’t try to cover things up or it will come back to bite you! Explaining the situation to a bride and also telling her what you are going to do about it is the key. Fobbing her oﬀ with generalisations is not going to keep an already stressed bride calm.
Over the 10 years in our boutique we have fortunately never had the situation where we’ve let a bride down and not provided her with a dress, but my word, we have come very close a few times!
These have been due to brides ordering late, but our policy now is that we won’t take an order unless we know our supplier can get a dress to us eight weeks before the wedding to give margin for a little lateness.
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We also tell the bride it is expected around four weeks before to usually beat her expectation when it does arrive. It’s also important here to work with designers you trust and you know are not going to pull the wool over your eyes!
We’re not stupid and neither are our customers – treat them how you want to be treated yourself and you won’t go far wrong.
With every difficult customer comes the perfect one! We spoke to six retailers to find out the best experience they’ve had in their boutique.