How do You Turn Down a Customer and What do You Tell Them?

When you offer to do custom orders you get very used to turning people down. Most of the time it is not because you feel uneasy about the transaction, it has to do with the type of request.

You probably know instantly whether you are going to take on a project, but coming up with a legitimate reason for turning it down can be tough. You do not want to just say no and leave your potential customer out in the cold with no direction, but you also don’t want to spend too much time talking with them about a project that you knew from the start you did not want to take on.

Rather than just saying no thanks, here are a few very common reasons and some short explanations you can give to turn them down softly and maybe even lead them in the right direction.

It’s out of my area of expertise – This is one of the most common reasons for turning down an order and is a legitimate reason you can state to your customer.

Not your style – Sometimes you will get requests for items that you can technically make, but are in a totally different style. It can be difficult to get your head around ideas like this. In response to these requests you can politely decline by saying that you are currently focusing on x style. X obviously being what you most commonly focus on, abstract, modern, contemporary, rustic, landscape, portrait, etc.

You are too busy – This is not a bad problem to have, but it can be frustrating turning down orders that you would otherwise accept. You can either turn down the order by saying that you are currently booked up or you can give a lead time and state that it will be a certain number of days or weeks before you will be available to get started. They may be willing to wait.

Not able to accept another custom order at this time – I think this is better than saying you are not accepting any custom orders at all. Your website may state that you do take on custom projects so you cannot really tell certain people that you do not. Stating that you cannot take on another custom project at this time can be a good reason to give. Custom orders do take more time that regular orders and your plate may be full at the moment.

The idea shouldn’t be handmade – Not everything is handmade. Maybe your customer’s requested design should really be stamped out, cast, or cut out by a machine. If you really know of a better process that your customer should look into, let them know. That is a lot better than them not being happy with something you spent hours making.

An example is with logos – If a company needs a perfect rendition of their logo, hand painting it for them will never be as perfect as having a sign shop either print or have one of their computer controlled machines cut it out. This is especially true for lettering where straight lines are expected to be perfectly straight.

Say you are not set up for it – You can tell by looking at a sketch or photo of something what it is going to take to make it. Sometimes it is obvious that you would need to make templates or special fixtures and it may not make sense to spend time getting set up for a single item. Some customers offer to pay a setup fee and if you are willing to do that, then you can accept the order. Otherwise, simply state that you are not set up to make their particular item.

The project does not make sense – From a financial standpoint. People often think items are simpler to make than they really are. Sometimes they will want something made, and you know that it should be a $10 item, but it would take you 6 hours to make by hand. I think it is better to decline politely rather than take on an order and feel that you are really overcharging them for what the particular item is. If you know of less expensive similar items on the market you can send them some links.

The exception to this is with sentimental items. Sometimes you may be the last resort for a customer and you have the talent to do their project. Maybe they will be very happy to pay you what is necessary to make their item. If it is a project you feel good about, feel free give a quote for a reasonable amount.

Restoration and repair projects are like this. It is common to charge more to restore something than it is worth, but from a sentimental standpoint it is priceless. You should just give them a reasonable quote that makes it worth your time.

You’re not comfortable with it – Sometimes this can really be true. This would be for the item or design itself. Maybe their design has a chance of not working or could even be dangerous. You can simply state that you are not comfortable with their request and can give the reason.

The issue may not be the item – You may also not be comfortable with either shipping it to a foreign location, or maybe even shipping such an expensive item to a foreign location. Sometimes the shipping charge alone can be so much that you would be out a lot if something went wrong. In this case, you can simply state that the shipping and expense is the issue.

That item was actually mass produced – Sometimes people will send you a photo of something off the internet either hoping you can make it, or hoping you can make it cheaper. Often these are mass produced items. It would not make sense to try and make it by hand and you would be hesitant to even give a quote. Legitimate reasons for turning down requests like this could simply be that you do not remake another artist’s designs.

Time-frame – It hurts to turn down a request simply because of a limited time-frame, especially when it is something you can make, given a reasonable amount of time. You can simply tell your customer that you cannot build their item with your quality standards in that amount of time.

Price – Sometimes along with a request comes a budget. This can be good since it will keep you from spending too much time thinking about a project that you will eventually have to turn down due to budget constraints. Most of the time, but not always, the budget is very low. People have either seen something else that was cheaper and looked similar, or they do not realize the time involved in creating the piece. Simply state that you will have at least x number of hours in the project and you will not be able to create their piece within the proposed budget.

Whatever reason you give – Customers actually do appreciate your honesty and may thank you after you turn them down. It is so commonplace to hear people say yes to just about anything that an honest rejection is refreshing.

I think giving a reason is important as well. Often times your customers have been searching very hard to get something made and if you can give them a reason why you have to turn them down, it can help lead them in the direction.

Should you refer them to someone else? – This can be a courtesy. What they want could be a mass produced item. They may not realize that and you may know where it came from.

You may also know another name the item goes by and that would aid them in searching.

Do not vouch for others – If you refer them to someone else, let your customer know that you cannot recommend or endorse the other persons items, you are just trying to be helpful. You could have just found the other person in a search. Make it clear if you have not actually seen the other person’s work in person.

Will helping like this help you? The reality is they may never be in the market for what you offer. Think of it as good karma. If it only takes a minute or two to lead them in the right direction then there is really no reason not to.

What is the most common reason you have for turning down customer requests?



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