This isn’t just about jewelry. It’s not just about the product you receive or the service you’re getting, or not getting, from the companies you’ve chosen to work with; it’s about life, in general, and how we’ve become a nation of “settlers.”
I’m writing to you from my airport hotel room. In front of me on my bed is a tray containing the half-eaten Cobb salad I did not pay for. Also on the tray is the empty martini glass which once contained a vodka martini, up, no rocks, slightly dirty, with extra olives, which, by the way, I also did not pay for. But it’s what happened in order to get me here that made me think back to my experiences in the jewelry industry, which is why I decided to share my anecdote. In my now forty-years on this planet I am finally living a valuable lesson learned: never, ever, accept something that’s sub-par simply because you don’t want to be the person who rocks the boat even for a little while. If you don’t, who will? And when they won’t, what happens? I’ll tell you what happens… an hour later you get a salad you didn’t order with a drink that has food in it and a manager who refuses to accept responsibility. But you don’t get it once; you get it again, and over again, and you get it everywhere you go, and with everything you do, in every career, and in every state. You get mediocrity in a country that prides itself on perfection. You get complacency and forgiveness for the sheer sake of not wanting to deal with the argument. You become a settler, and because you and everyone you know does the same, you find that greatness is a rarity and that extraordinary things are few and far between.
Working both in retail and e-tail opened my eyes to what I thought customer service should be. I remember my early days at one of the first places I worked. A total mom-and-pop type of business that struggled with the changing times. What I often heard from the staff was nothing short of constant complaining. “Ugh. So-and-so is coming in today. She’s saying her diamond is loose again. What does she do with her ring?” Notice how the responsibility for the problem immediately became the customer’s? Yeah. It was like that a lot. Come to find out, what she was doing with her ring was wearing it. Nothing more. Nothing less. She wore her ring that her now-husband paid several thousand dollars for and now she was upset that her center stone kept coming loose. How dare she? Yet instead of explaining to the customer (the husband) that it would have been better to set the large round center diamond in a platinum setting from the get-go, the sales associate was placing blame on the wearer, and you know what happened? She, apologized for getting so upset. She gave her engagement ring to the bench jeweler to tighten… just like before… picked it up later that afternoon, and I never saw the likes of her again.
Too often we find that our pride is greater than our ability to take blame. Here was a sales associate who worked on commission whose pride and lack of humility lost him who knows how many future dollars in his pocket. And yet the customer was just as wrong for not speaking up about what her feelings and experiences were. I would watch these occurrences and learn from every one. That’s not to say that there wasn’t the occasional wackadoo scientist customer who put every purchase he made under his 100X microscope – they exist too, don’t get me wrong – but overall it was something that the store/jeweler/salesperson did or didn’t do that caused the original angst and somehow in the end the customer would still just give in. No bueno in my book. That is not how this system should work.
If you’ve spent the money, then you deserve nothing less than great product and great service, regardless whether it’s a meal at a hotel or a ten-thousand dollar designer bracelet. You are always someone’s customer in the same way that you are always offering customer service. Read that over again because that’s an extremely important reminder to all of us. YOU ARE ALWAYS SOMEONE’S CUSTOMER. YET YOU ARE ALWAYS OFFERING CUSTOMER SERVICE. And do you know why that is? Because life… is… sales. You’re a doctor? You had to sell yourself to the board that allowed you to get into that great medical school. You’re a blogger? You’re selling yourself right now writing this blog post, hoping one day you’ll nab your dream job and become a “real writer.” A real estate developer? You sold yourself at your city hearing last night to both the neighbors and the board on the project you want started. Now, flip all of that around… you’re a patient? You’re expecting your doctor to know what he’s talking about and wanting his office to treat you with respect in your condition. You’re an editor? You want your staff to turn in their work on time, without an argument, and without excuses. A resident? You okayed that proposal because you expect the developer to have a safe project and clean up when it’s done. And as one of those on the receiving end you have every right to stand up and be heard when the services you’ve paid for (in one way or another) aren’t as expected.
A few nights ago I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s a pretty little college town, Fayetteville. It reminds me a bit of Austin and a lot of Asheville. Bars and restaurants all along one main drag, with a handful of gems tucked away on side streets. An Italian restaurant was recommended to me which was walking distance from my hotel. As a descendant of Neapolitan ancestors I’m always up for the challenge of what the South refers to as a “real Italian restaurant” and so my curiosity and hunger got the best of me. I walked in and, as I always do when I’m on the road, sat at the bar. It was empty, but still early, and so I enjoyed the quiet until the locals started filing in. The menu was impressive at first sight. When I see that a restaurant serves rabbit I know that, for the most part, I can depend on them to do even the most basic of dishes correctly. My server was my bartender, which is usually how it works when you eat at the bar. He seemed nervous with me; maybe because I asked immediately if they served limoncello and whether or not they kept it chilled. To me, this was a standard question I’d ask at any *real Italian* restaurant, and so his visible nervousness – hands shaking/misplacement of silverware/lack of eye contact – put my first check mark in the “not up to par” category, and unfortunately, the experience never got any better.
If I’m to pay $37.00 for a pork chop, no matter how tasty the amaretto cream and shitake mushroom sauce is that accompanies it (and it was), I don’t want to have to ask the server how the chef prepares it and have it answered with an “I don’t know.” Know. It’s your job to know. It’s what you do. A glass of the most low-end Pinot Grigio here is twelve bucks. So, know. And when it’s supposed to be prepared medium and it comes out as raw as Eddie Murphy circa 1987, don’t have your response be “is that not how you wanted it?” when I show you that it’s clearly not cooked the way you (eventually) told me it should be. Take responsibility, or, hell, have the chef come out himself and take it. But know. And if you don’t, then do something else, because you don’t belong where you are.
All over, in every genre, every field, and every part of everyday life, many people have simply stopped caring because we’ve allowed them to. I thought to myself that had a fair amount of my friends been sitting at that bar when that pork chop was placed in front of them, they would have just eaten the most cooked parts and left the rest on the plate. That’s a foreign concept to me. Maybe because I grew up so poor. Maybe because it took me decades of hard work, dedication to my field, and frankly, knowing, to be able to afford a thirty-seven dollar piece of meat that I would have paid six dollars for at a supermarket, and not think twice about it. And it isn’t just with food. If you’re a customer, you shouldn’t accept sh*tty craftsmanship from wherever you buy your goods, whether it’s clothing, or jewelry, or home décor. If you’re a retail jeweler and you receive an item from a wholesaler that’s been polished poorly, or set crookedly, send it the hell back and give them a piece of your mind about it. You are represented to your customer, so if you don’t catch their mistakes, you can’t just blame the manufacturer, you also have to blame yourself. Quality control exists in every stage of both the jewelry making and jewelry buying processes. The refiner has to do their job. So does the CAD lady, and the caster, and the polisher. The stone setters must make sure they’re doing it properly, as do the diamond pickers, and before them, the diamond buyers. In every stage of the jewelry-making process there has to be one person who is the knower but the knower doesn’t always have to be the doer, which is why directors, and managers, and executives exist.
I end my story with a full-enough stomach and a gentle buzz at no cost to me thanks to the hotel manager I complained to about my experience with their restaurant. And tomorrow when I awake, there will be breakfast waiting for me as a further apology for my troubles, because the woman I spoke to and dealt with knew what would be the right thing to do in order to gain my further business.
The moral of the story is this, in a not-so-nutty nutshell:
Answer your emails, and respond to your answered emails. Follow up with your customers, and be a gracious customer. Send out your catalogs when you say you’re going to, and acknowledge you’ve received the ones you’ve gotten. Check every piece you make with a fine-toothed comb, and be complimentary when you receive something that goes beyond special. Don’t take the easy way out, but don’t accept the easy way out being taken. Stand up for your rights as a customer, but also make sure you’re the person every customer wants to work with.
And never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever settle.