Mark My Words—July, 2017

By Mark Lipton,

  Filed under: Departments, Mark My Words

Contributing Writer

Happy At (Almost) Any Price

My daughter, my dog, my fiancée, and I were sitting on the couch the other night. We weren’t “deep chatting,” as my daughter likes to say. Lying around “j-chillin” was about all we were doing. Turns out that me and the dog were the only two “j-chillin” because the silence was broken when my daughter said, “Dad, you know what you do that everyone wishes you didn’t?” I’m no psychiatrist nor am I an expert in body language; but one look at my fiancée told me that she was thinking, “You’re about to find out.” She was in on this too!! Thankfully my Brittany spaniel Perry had no intentions in jumping into the fray, and I knew I could survive a two on one!

It turns out that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. This didn’t exactly come as news to me. As an independent paint retailer, the list of people that I need to make happy is a single spaced small font nightmare! I have vendors who want tons of volume and fast payments; employees that want less hours but more pay; landlords that demand a monthly tribute like they were the Godfather (no disrespect to any members of the mafia reading this) and of course…the customers. The difference is that with the customers, I actually CARE about getting it right and making them happy.

For the most part, I have a pretty customer-friendly set of policies in my stores. Custom colors are not returnable ever: unless you’re unhappy with the color and would like another color or a refund. We never waive our $20 delivery fee unless you buy enough paint that we want to waive it for you. Those are easy ways to make a customer happy. The bigger problem is, “What do you do with the customers that can’t be made happy?”

We have all been there. “The customer is always right” only takes you so far with a customer who is being unreasonable in their demands. It can be hard to know what to do when nothing you try is coming out right.

I give my managers a lot of latitude in handling customer issues but they know that if they’ve got someone who is operating outside the lines of “reasonable,” to give them my number or better yet, get me theirs. One of the reasons I like to handle tougher cases myself is that it gives the situation a fresh start. When I make contact, my first step is to try and de-escalate their anger. My most common move is that right from the beginning of the first contact I tell them that they don’t have to be angry because by the time we are done, they are going to be made happy! Most people believe me or at least calm down enough to listen. Then, generally, I can find a solution that makes all sides happy.

I visited a customer recently who was angry about some peeling floor paint in her basement. She was being entirely unreasonable. While she did not have a receipt, she insisted that she had bought the paint from us and now that it was peeling she wanted it removed and repainted. Despite the fact that I knew from the start that I had NO intentions of writing her a check to have the floor repainted, I started by assuring her that I was going to make her happy, but I needed her a bit calmer if I was going to succeed.

I went through the floor and found the problem—it had been covered with oil or grease of some kind and the paint had no chance to adhere. By clearly showing her the problem and the spot on the label that said “remove all grease and oil” I was able to get a little leverage; what I always look for in any negotiation.

I continued to explain that I was glad she called us and I still wanted to “take care of her.” A little charm and detective work and she was ready to be made happy. I explained to her that she needed two gallons of paint and some degreaser to repair the situation and offered her $20 off per gallon of paint. She was thrilled! I never like selling paint for no profit, but I kept the customer and I’ll get her the next time because she will be back now.

They don’t all go this smoothly; sometimes people can be so unreasonable that you need to just walk away. But generally, if I am willing to give a little to keep a customer, they meet me halfway and I can avoid hearing from them exactly what it is I do that everyone wishes I didn’t!

Mark Lipton is the 4th generation owner of Tremont Paint in New York City as well as a consultant to the coatings industry.