About this class

Introduction to the selling specifics of framing, indicating the client and their demands. Sharing personal experiences about the first considerations in sales and customer service.

Video transcript

Picture framers need to work with – and succeed with – all sorts of customers, including the occasional difficult customer, who may be fussy, stubborn, uncooperative, uncompromising, or unreasonably time-consuming.  Yes, customers can be difficult at times, but we still need to work with them, and that’s our topic for this session.

What is a difficult customer? 

First, it’s important to distinguish between difficult customers and customers with difficulties, caused by circumstances beyond their control. A customer may have a physical disability, or an impairment of hearing, or vision, or speech. One who normally speaks a different language may have a heavy accent, or a limited understanding of vocabulary. These difficulties may require special attention, and we should provide it with a smile.  It’s not the same as figuring out how to work with a difficult customer.

It’s also important to distinguish between a difficult customer and one who is simply disinterested.  Difficult customers are at least interested in having something framed, so there’s good reason to persist in trying to work with them.  But a disinterested consumer has no such vested interest, and might not buy in any case. A disinterested consumer represents a marketing or sales challenge, and that’s different from working with a difficult framing customer.

It’s helpful to discover why a customer is difficult. For example, short-term personal stress could be the cause.  Most of us could be difficult on occasion, depending on temporary influences.  Issues at work or in the family might be involved.  Or maybe the difficult customer has a temporary health issue, such as an allergy, or a virus, or a migraine.  

Some difficult customers have chronic issues that may not go away. A customer who perceives that all sales people generally are deceptive, may be skeptical about the explanations of technical framing features.  For example, the skeptic might not believe that conservation-grade mats really are better-quality than mats made of buffered wood pulp, or that preservation framing could actually protect an item from anticipated hazards and slow down deterioration.  The skeptic may believe that sales people overstate the positive and understate the negative, and may doubt the framing designer’s recommendations.

Aggressive customers might want to control or limit the conversation. For example, if the framing designer asks for a description of the display environment, the aggressive customer might say that is irrelevant or unimportant for the framing design conversation.

A customer who comes back dissatisfied for any reason can be difficult. An accidental defect in the framing might seem like a major problem to a customer, who might then regret the purchase, and bring it back, feeling angry.

In another situation, a customer who is unsure that the design or quality of the framing justifies the price might still agree to buy without fully understanding the value, expecting that it would become apparent soon. But if the value does not become apparent, then buyer’s remorse could set in, prompting the customer to come back with demands for a price adjustment or a refund. This customer may tend to be adversarial or defensive, and could expect a confrontation - or could create one.

What do they value? 

Often, a customer who is suffering short-term personal stress, perhaps a temporary health issue or hardship, probably would appreciate working with a framer who is not only friendly, but also patient and sympathetic about whatever is going wrong.  For instance, overlooking negative or sarcastic remarks may be difficult even for the friendliest framer, but a customer under stress might value that, and it probably would bring the best result.

Everyone appreciates fair treatment, sincerity, honesty, and good customer service, but skeptics may expect something less from their experience in a custom framing shop.  Skeptical customers might respond positively to assurances, early and often, that we expect to provide satisfaction, because the business relationship is valuable to us. Agreement and cooperation may be most valuable to a skeptical customer.

Aggressive customers generally value understanding, so the aggressive customer who, for example, thinks the display environment is irrelevant needs to know why that discussion is important in the framing design.

A dissatisfied customer, such as the one who brings back defective framing, is looking for acknowledgement that there is a problem, and assurance that whatever is wrong will be corrected as quickly as possible.

For a customer suffering buyer’s remorse, the only cure is to make sure the value of the features and benefits of the framing are fully explained, understood, and agreed. Regardless of whether the customer misunderstood the explanations during the design conversation, or the framing designer thought the explanations were unnecessary to earn the sale, it may be necessary to review all features of the project. It might also be necessary to re-do the framing with a new design.

How to negotiate with difficult customers 

There are many ways that customers can be difficult, but there are some things that we should never do in working with them.  For example, we should never take it personally. For us, it’s not personal, it’s business. Never argue with a customer, no matter how difficult. Even if you win, you lose. Never lose your temper, because that would only make matters worse.  

Never give up. Be diplomatic and complete the transaction as gracefully as possible. If you truly feel that a particularly difficult customer deserves to be “fired”, delay that action until later, when emotions have settled down. Make it a clear-headed business decision.

Here are some suggestions for working with the occasional difficult customer:

First, figure out what is the matter. Is the problem related to this transaction, or to the company, or something else? Is it a specific issue, or some general dissatisfaction? Is it a short-term problem or a long-term problem? Do your best to pinpoint the difficulty.

If the customer seems preoccupied or shows emotional stress, be sympathetic. Without blowing off the distracting issue, try to focus attention on the matter at hand, and away from the distracting issue.

If there is disagreement, try to find common ground. Consider what the customer wants versus what you want. What can you do to satisfy this customer?  If there is hostility, try to make peace. Rather than adding to the hostility, remain calm. If emotions are running high, it might be a good idea to delay the conversation until emotions are under control.


As we deal with difficult customers, we need to keep reality in mind. Framers can be difficult, too. In the shop I once made a stupid cutting mistake, ruined a pair of saw blades, and wasted some expensive moulding at the same time. I was having a bad day, counting my losses, and feeling sorry for myself. One of my favorite customers came in that day, noticed my bad mood, and asked what was wrong, so I spent about an hour telling him all about my troubles. It was unprofessional and I regretted it immediately.  Fortunately, when I apologized later, he understood and forgave me. That was a learning experience for me. Now, when I see a customer in a bad mood, I try to understand and forgive…and get the framing order, of course!

What we say and do can have positive effects in negative circumstances. For example, I recall a lady bringing in a family portrait that we had framed for her a few years before. She was visibly upset and quite defensive when she insisted that I remove the portrait, have her ex-husband digitally erased from the image, and re-fit the corrected portrait. I calmly explained that we didn’t have the expertise to digitally modify the image, but she nearly begged me to get it done for her anyway, because she trusted our discretion and would have been embarrassed to take it back to the photographer.  She seemed ashamed to make this request, but with my assurance that we would do the job discreetly, her outlook immediately improved.  She became one of our most loyal customers. 

We appreciate that most of our custom framing customers are friendly and cooperative, but when the occasional difficult customer comes along, let’s do our best to not only close the sale, but also to improve the buyer/seller relationship.  Selling strategically is an essential element in buyer-seller relationships, which is our next topic. 

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James Miller

James Miller is not only framer but educator on a global scale. Miller specialise in preservation framing, which means that both technique and materials are in huge importance. 
Also being an author of two successful books on professional framing, Miller is one of the most acknowledged framing specialist around the world. Now he has teamed up with GroGlass to provide an online course to invite framers aim for excellence. 

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