MARIA NAVARRO HAD been a top sales professional at Allure Diamonds and Fine Jewelry for more than 20 years — since well before “alternative metals” for wedding bands became a thing. That was just one of many thoughts that crossed her mind as she contemplated the situation in which she’d found herself over the previous week.
ABOUT REAL DEAL
Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at email@example.com
Back in mid-January, Leanne Keller came into Allure to order a special wedding band for her husband as a gift for their tenth anniversary.
The ring was an 8mm tungsten carbide band with a 4mm meteorite inlay — a style that Allure’s wedding band supplier was able to make and deliver in plenty of time for the Kellers’ March 5 anniversary.
While writing up the order, Maria explained that unlike precious metal bands, the tungsten and meteorite ring Leanne was ordering could not be resized. She suggested that Leanne bring her husband back to the store so they could measure his finger and ensure a precise fit before placing the order. Leanne reminded Maria that this was going to be a surprise and said that she was certain that her husband wore a size 10. Maria noted on the order that the size was a customer request, not verified in-store.
As Leanne handed Maria her debit card to pay for the $1,450 ring, she asked if it was possible to have a special message engraved inside the ring. Maria knew that the manufacturer offered laser engraving, but in an effort to ensure that there would no misunderstanding, she brought her store manager in to answer the question.
The store manager told Leanne that they could engrave a short message in the ring and explained the laser engraving process. He told her that since she wanted the ring personalized, though, it was very important to order the correct size, since engraved rings were not even exchangeable under the manufacturer’s sizing warranty. He explained that should her husband need a different size at any point, she would be extended “courtesy pricing,” but that she would need to buy a replacement. Leanne impatiently repeated her assertion that her husband wore a size 10, insisting that she would not ruin her surprise by bringing him in. She gave Maria the engraving instructions, paid for the ring and left the store.
Leanne returned on Feb. 20 to pick up her ring. As was the store’s procedure, Maria went over the order with Leanne in detail and verified that everything was as promised. Leanne was very happy with the ring — inside and out — and even stopped to tell the store manager how much she loved it.
Maria felt a touch of dread when she saw Leanne scowling as she walked back into the store with her husband on March 7. She walked directly up to Maria, put the ring box on the counter and told her that the ring was too small. Maria calmly asked to measure the man’s finger and was not at all surprised to see that he needed a size 11. She explained to the couple that as previously discussed, the ring was not exchangeable, but that she would call the manufacturer to get the courtesy price for a replacement.
Leanne became belligerent, insisting that Maria had lied to her. She said she clearly remembered being told that though the ring could not be sized, it could easily be exchanged for the correct size at no additional charge. When Leanne’s tirade got loud enough for other customers to hear, the manager stepped in, with Allure’s owner at his side. Over constant, loud interruptions, the manager explained the same policy regarding engraving that he and Maria had explained to Leanne when she placed the order. He even pointed out her signature on the original order form, which included a clear statement that “engraved or altered items are not returnable or exchangeable.” During the exchange, Leanne’s husband stood silently off to the side, looking seriously embarrassed.
While Maria was processing the paperwork for the new order, Leanne kept loudly insisting to no one in particular that she would never come back again, that the entire staff was incompetent, and that the store was the biggest rip-off in town.
After they left, Maria went to the store owner in tears and told her about a number of other quite nasty things Leanne had said before she and the manager came over. The owner decided to call Leanne and tell her that the ring would not be reordered, and that a check for her full purchase price would be waiting for pickup at the store. Despite the owner’s calm demeanor, the call didn’t go well.
The next day, Leanne’s husband came into the store to pick up the check. Before he left, he apologized to Maria, to the store manager and to the owner for his wife’s behavior, saying that she was not well and was going through a difficult time. He told the owner that he still wanted the ring and asked her to please consider allowing him to reorder it in the correct size. He even offered to pay for the original ring in addition to the new one. The owner said she would think about it and get back to him in a few days.
The Big Questions
- Did the store owner do the right thing, or should she have simply told Leanne that she was stuck with the ring she had insisted on ordering?
- Was it sensible for the store owner to absorb a $725 loss in the process of “firing” an abusive customer?
- Should she sell a new ring to Leanne’s husband, knowing that she might be risking unknown hell once Leanne finds out?
I would have taken the husband’s offer immediately. He was fully apologetic, HE wanted the ring, he was willing to pay the agreed-upon price. (I would have given him the “courtesy price” on the replacement, even if it cut into profit.) HE is your customer then, not his harridan of a wife.
Post-COVID, it feels as though many customers’ fuses are non-existent (in our industry as well as many others *cough cough airlines*). While we all know the mantra “the customer is always right,” but more and more it feels as though anyone in the service industry has become a pin cushion for the angst of some out-of-control, ticking time bombs of people.
Ultimately, I don’t think we should be rewarding folks for bad behavior. It WOULD be easy and acceptable to bend over backwards to make this situation right, but just as customers are allowed to take their business elsewhere, we should be allowed to say goodbye to unruly hotheads.
Sure, the word of mouth may do some harm, but more than likely people in Leanne’s orbit don’t take her word as gospel either. The store did everything right in explaining the path she was headed and shouldn’t feel guilty for her disappointment (to put it nicely). Focus on providing excellent customer service for the many people who appreciate it and say goodbye to bad apples.
The store made a generous offer by getting another ring for cost. We had a similar situation this past Christmas with earrings I did not want to make. When Leanne made it PERSONAL, she should have been asked to leave. Deal with the husband another day.
Haines City, FL
I totally agree and respect the response from the store owner. I believe owners/managers need to always stick to store policy, if not for consistency, then to show loyalty to employees who enforce policies every day. When an owner or manager shows up during a store complaint and goes against store policy, it makes the employees look incompetent and gives customers the right to demand breaking store policy. I believe the owner keeps loyal employees because of the support they show their staff! Great story!
Old Saybrook, CT
She did the right thing. Goodbye, good riddance!
Obviously something is seriously wrong with Leanne. Let the husband pay for both rings and let him know that you’re grateful for his business and hope his wife gets well soon. He apologized, and if Leanne ever becomes normal again, she’s going to be grateful for their compassion and forgiveness. When someone asks forgiveness sincerely, you have to forgive, especially since no one died. Forgive and accept the payment!
I think that the store owner did the right thing by refunding the customer and banning them from future purchases. Protecting your staff from abusive customers when they did nothing wrong is the right thing to do.
I would have exchanged the ring at no cost to the customer, no questions asked. It is so rare this would happen that I would rather pay another $200 for another ring and have it engraved than make an unhappy customer who will badmouth us to others, or even worse, put out a bad review. Good reviews trump all! One bad review could scare many other customers away.
Maria, and the store owner did everything right. The customer was clearly out of line — for whatever reason! In some rare cases, it is better to separate a disruptive customer than try to retain her/him. Leanne’s husband was gracious in acknowledging and apologizing for his wife’s conduct. Although he wants to keep and pay for the earlier ring and offers to order and pay for one in the correct size, I would prefer not to be involved in another potentially volatile situation with the couple. I would thank the husband for his understanding and kindness and explain that I cannot accept his offer in order to avoid a future elevated situation that would be difficult for everyone. And ask for his understanding. As retailers, we certainly want to cherish our customers, but we also must have the backs of our loyal team members and not allow blatant customer abuse that borders on insult.
The husband might want to get the ring because it could be the last significant gift he gets from his wife. She could be in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, or some other kind of mental or medical crisis. I would have compassion on the husband and honor his request for a replacement at an attractive (but profitable) price. He does not expect the store to take a loss, so he is an honorable man. But he does want the gift from his wife — although he’s only had it a day, it already has great sentimental value to him. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s can be extraordinarily mean, no matter how sweet or kind they were before. Until she is better (if she can get better), I would help him get his ring and consider him to be the client instead of her. He has opened the door for us to kindly ask what we should do the next time she comes shopping, and to request that he be with her.
I would relay to the husband that, with regret, they’re fired! Don’t give her another chance to abuse your employees.
Show Low, AZ
Giving the obnoxious customer her money back is simply encouraging her (and those like her) to abuse businesses. As soon as the customer got belligerent, they should have been asked to leave. The “very difficult time” the witch is going through does not give her the right to treat others badly. If the husband wants to buy a second ring, he would still need to pay for both the first ring and the discounted price for the second. It would be good to mention to him that his wife isn’t allowed in the store unless she can behave herself. If that offends him, so be it. If she was a good customer and behaved like a decent person, that could be taken into account when the time comes to charge for the second ring, but I would charge for the second ring. When we clearly convey a possible problem to the customer, and that issue comes to light, it is not the store’s responsibility to cater to the customer’s stupidity.
Interestingly enough, I had a very similar situation, only it dealt with a diamond engagement ring. While in Las Vegas, the client claimed her diamond “jumped” out of her 4-prong solitaire and was lost. As I inspected the ring, noting that the prongs had been severely struck by something, I commented she was lucky she didn’t lose a finger or worse. At this point, the client became quite abusive with her language. After telling her that we would replace her diamond with an equal or better diamond at no cost to her, I declared the issue to be resolved. At this juncture, I turned to the overly embarrassed and red-faced husband and began talking about sports, totally ignoring the still complaining wife. Luckily the husband took the cue and hurriedly escorted his wife out of the door. As promised, we replaced the diamond with a bigger, better-quality diamond and at no additional cost to her. Bottom line, no matter what course of action you take, you’ll never see that client again.
So many mistakes, first of all selling crap metal as valuable jewelry. I have hated the stuff since the 90s and refuse to sell it in rings. Chains and bracelets, okay; rings, never. Screamers make a lot of noise, but the worst they can do is a one star. I would have mailed the check, not made them come back in. If the husband wants the ring, order it for him. I give my customers 3 strikes for bad behavior, one each time. That allows for personal struggles that turn ugly in my store, or a fight with a loved one, or bad medical news. You go straight to 3 strikes if you give a one-star review, in which case we never work for you again. She was told six ways to Sunday how things were going to roll out, but I would not have engraved the ring until we knew it fit. A gift cert for the engraving could have been included with the ring, just in case, because people are sometimes stupid.
Sherwood Park, AB
This owner should write a book under the title, “Perfect Response to an Impossible Situation”! She not only saved the sale by offering a full refund, she received an apology from a new customer. Chalk up two wins in her column, three if you count the support she showed her staff!
It’s tough because I understand why the owner did what she did to just get rid of the headache, but if someone was insulting my staff, my store and making a scene like that … I wouldn’t have been that accommodating. She would have been stuck with the ring and I would have fired her as a customer. The situation played out, however, and her husband is trying to make it right. I would let him re-order and pay for both rings so at least you’re not out the money. And no excuse makes up for her scummy behavior. Maybe she’ll feel bad and apologize, or maybe she’ll raise more trouble because her husband tried to make it right and went behind her back. Who knows, but keep an eye on this woman!
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