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How would you handle unhappy customer

SewTruTerry | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello everyone.  I am going to ask those of you out there that sew for others what you would do in this situation. I have a client a young woman that came to me to sew her a formal gown that she could not find a pattern for.  She discussed and showed me ideas that she found from other dresses for a shoulderless dress that was virtually backless as well except for a strap that hid the back of the strapless bra that I sewed into the dress.  She decided that she wanted it out of off white polyester satin and purchased the material and lining per my estimates for the yardage.  I did up a muslin for the bodice as there was really just a straight long skirt with a train in the back.  I fitted the muslin and then made the dress and had her try on the outer shell before sewing the lining in so that I could refine the fit some more.  She had wanted an area of rhinestones at the bodice and again at the small of her back but did not want to pay $14.00 per yard since she was going to need at least 3 yards to accomplish the look she wanted.  So instead I came up with the idea and she agreed to using Fuse-A-Bead to get the sparkle that she wanted.  I did all of the work and she came over for the final fitting, and there were several areas that still needed some work and I did those.  She picked up the dress the day before the event that she wanted it for and I kept asking her what she thought and all she could say was that she wished that she had not had those 2 meals several days before because she had gained weight in her back but that she really liked the dress. Well the day after the event she calls me late at night to say that she wants a refund because after getting it home and showing her friends she did not like the dress and she went out after work and found another dress. She offered to show me the dress that she wore instead but I don’t think that is going to prove anything.  I of course want a happy customer so I will refund the labor cost because I really have nothing invested otherwise.  I will insist that she show me what she didn’t like about the dress so that perhaps there is something that I missed but other than that what could I do in this situation? 



  1. sewhat | | #1

    I used to sew for people some years ago and didn't persue the business due to customers like you have described.  You have obviously spent much time and effort to create the dress she asked for, and once she picked up the dress, that should have concluded your end of the agreement.  I can't believe her nerve in asking for her money back because she changed her mind after the fact, and even bought another dress without first asking you if you would consider a refund!

    As I see it, you custom made that dress for her per her wishes, and went out of the way to find an affordable substitute when the rhinestones were too costly--what more could she ask for?

    As for angering her, or making her an unhappy customer--who cares?  You sure don't want more of her business or any customers like her!!!

    To prevent future difficulties like this, you might consider a written agreement stating what the customer wants, what is required of them (like coming over for a fitting), plus other details like cost, materials, etc. and make it clear to them that once they accept delivery of the finished product, that it is final.  NO REFUNDS.

    I had a lady one time who brought over her pattern and fabric--she was about a size 12 and the pattern was a size 8.  She was unwilling to return for a fitting, despite all the alterations I was going to have to do.  She insisted that the pattern was her size.  As you might expect, when she came for the finished product, it didn't fit worth a darn.  I took her money and her harsh words, and told her to find somebody else for her future sewing needs.

    Another thought--don't ask what they think.  If they are unhappy, they will tell you without any prompting, but if you ask they might think you are unsure of your work and use that to their advantage. 

    I hope I don't seem to bitter or hard, but it really bugs me how some people take advantage of others whenever they can.

    Good luck with this one.

    Edited 12/9/2003 10:25:11 AM ET by ckaya748

    1. Barbaran8 | | #2

      There is a reason most department stores will not accept a return on a "single occasion gown" that has had the price tag removed... You did what she wanted, and now she is trying to steal your time and effort.

  2. FitnessNut | | #3

    NO, NO, NO.....I can't believe that you would even consider yourself to be in the wrong here. That is what you are implying by suggesting that you refund her money. No way. This client had multiple opportunities to change whatever she didn't like about the dress before it was finished. The time to ask what she thinks is at the muslin stage....after that it is too late. I always give my client a written estimate of my labour costs, which has a written description of the garment (occasionally a sketch), and has the following statement at the bottom:

    "Please note that this is an estimate of labour costs only and the actual charges may be higher or lower depending on changes made and the actual time required to complete the project. Charges are for design, patternmaking and garment construction and do not include fabric or notions. Design changes subsequent to muslin fittings will incur additional labour charges."

    The client is given a copy for themselves and signs my copy, just in case.

    You are not in any way responsible for the client changing her mind. Custom-made goods are not refundable. You should explain this to your client in very clear terms and refuse to discuss the matter further. Do NOT feel guilty. This is no longer your problem. If you produced a well-made, properly fitted garment, your part in the transaction was performed.

    Sometimes you have to be "hard" in business and this is one of those times. You must stand up for yourself. Practice in the mirror if necessary. (I need this lesson from time to time too, despite having been sewing for others for the better part of 12 years.)

    Good luck. Let us know how it goes. We're pulling for you.


    1. SewTruTerry | | #4

      Well call me old softy but I did refund her money. I guess I was afraid to encounter a lawsuit or something.  Maybe I should stop payment on the check.  Just kidding because then she would have reason to come back into my life.  I guess though that I should consider myself lucky in the 5 years that I have been in business this is the only customer that was this nasty.  Of course I have had those that have bounced checks on me but that is a different matter and they continued as clients but on a cash or credit card basis only.  I guess at least I can live with myself and get a good nights sleep.  I can only wonder how she sleeps.

      Thanks for all of your encouragement but I guess this is one of those hard life lessons.  I know that I will probably take down your information regarding the contract to prevent such events in the future. 

      1. sarahkayla | | #5

        did you take the dress back so you at least have it as a sample to show other customers???

        sarah in nyc

        1. GinnaS | | #6

          Taking the dress back could be sticky since the customer paid for the fabric.  Although that could have been a bargaining tool.  If the customer keeps the dress she could still wear the dress even though she did not pay for it.  If she refused to return it then she should pay for it.


      2. FitnessNut | | #7

        Just curious, but how could she sue you if you provided the service for which you were hired? Additionally, she said that she was happy with the dress when she picked it up. That doesn't make much sense to me.

        You did what you felt you had to do to be at peace with yourself. No one can fault you for that. I just hate seeing people being taken advantage of. Like you said, this is probably one of those life lessons we all must endure.


        1. SewTruTerry | | #8

          Well you are right it is one way that I will live with myself.  As far as the fear of lawsuit I guess if one can sue McD's for having hot coffee... well enough said on that one. 

          I guess I also figured that I was only out the labor she still had paid for the fabric. I guess it takes all kinds.  But I do know where she lives and works and goes to school and may run into her again and if that is the case I make just find out that she wore the dress after all and then I will balance bill her. 

          1. stitchmd | | #9

            I suspect she intended to stiff you all along and that if you have a way of checking around local small businesses you'll find she has a habit of this kind of thing. A friend who is a veterinarian describes about 10% of clients not paying bills and some being on a list circulated by all vets in the area as serial non-payers. Other self-employed people when I've told them they were too trusting have responded that they can pretty much tell who will or won't pay right at the beginning.

      3. carolfresia | | #10

        It certainly sounds to me like she's an impossible customer, and if refunding her money was the easiest, most comfortable way for you to get her out of your life, then it was the right thing to do in this case. I must say, though, that she really sounds nervy--after all, you did make her the dress she asked for, and since you've been successfully running a dressmaking business for 5 years, I can't imagine there was anything wrong with the finished garment. It was clearly her perogative to go out and buy another dress to wear instead, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't pay you for the one you made. Somewhere along the line she apparently missed a lesson in business relations and in common courtesy! 

        On a more practical level: one former dressmaker I know suggests that, for complex projects like this, and esp. with new clients with whom you don't already have an on-going relationship, you ask for partial payments throughout the process. E.g., 25% after your initial consultation and when they agree to go ahead with the garment, 25% at the first fitting, 25% at a subsequent fitting or try-on session before finishing, and the last 25% when the finished garment is delivered. She also says that it's unheard of for a client to expect a refund on any custom, special-occasion garment.

        Here's hoping you never see her again (or if you do, she's wearing the dress and there are lots of witnesses!), and that all your future clients are smarter and more thoughtful.


        1. SewTruTerry | | #11

          By the way I did get a deposit for the dress and she brought along a "friend" that started to tell me everything that was wrong with the dress.  Of course I told her to keep quiet because she was not involved in the transactions or had been present for the fittings.  I then wrote the check to the young lady and she began to then go over everything again.  At that point I kicked her and her friend out of my house.  After all they got what they came for and I did not have to rehash it with them again. I slept very well that night.  Also I am currently trying to find out if there really was an event when she said there was (she event told me what time and where it was being held )because if there was not then I will stop payment on the check.

          1. carolfresia | | #12

            So you now also know which "friends" of hers to avoid working with in the future, should they have the nerve to come knocking at your door! What a presumptuous crew.


  3. pitterpatter | | #13


    You are an absolute softie. I have a policy of no refunds on custom or special orders, period. Some have come back up to a week after picking up the item to say that it wasn't what they expected/envisioned and demanded a refund. All items have clearly been used and I tell them so and show them the door. Yes, I am a b**** but will not be taken advantage of and have built up a regular client base and they know my policy and my "take no crap" attitude.

    Have them sign a contract with your policies stated and have a large one posted in an obvious area in your shop and make them read it (and discuss it with them) before starting a project.

    Thankfully, I mainly have easygoing male clients for repairs.


    1. stitchmd | | #14

      Good for you. These people are a few rungs below those who buy something from a department store, tuck in the labels, wear it and return it. A friend who worked in returns said she even had to take back something which smelled of embalming fluid. You have nothing to lose by tossing these types out, future transactions would be unpleasant and not worth the money.

    2. SewTruTerry | | #18

      Yeah I guess it takes all kinds but at least I can sleep at night.  I guess since I have always been honest with myself and others I always have faith in others to do the right thing as well.  I also thought that after 5 years in the business without a written contract that I would not need one but I guess I was wrong.  I  started the contract as soon as I kicked her out of my house.  Oh yeah maybe I didn't tell you but after I wrote her the check she stood in my house trying to give me more grief.  At that point I told her the horse was dead so stop beating it and get out.  I guess it was worth the money to tell her off, and I figured that she would not have a leg to stand on if she tried to contact the Better Business Bureau or anything.

      1. Crafty_Manx | | #19

        Well, ultimately, what goes around comes around.  She'll get it in the end.  And honestly, you did what you felt to be right and are at peace with your decision.  That's all that matters.

        Here's to better luck in the future!


  4. CTI | | #15

    This topic hurts my heart and soul to tears and makes me realize even more that there are only two types of people - givers and takers. The takers know how to identify us givers, but the opposite isn’t necessarily true. If that she-devil hasn't cashed the check (unlikely), then stop payment. If she has, can you write it off as a bad debt?

    Please take note of how most big businesses and governments "work" - they cover their behinds and don't care one whit about anyone (except wealthy donors) as long as the $ comes in. Also, as sad as your experience is, you have given a lot of people who read this forum a reason to take the important and wise precautions mentioned by all the posters.

    I am so sorry you had to experience this. Something similar has happened to me many times due to that stupid love-one-another, turn-the-other-cheek garbage I was brought up on by well-meaning parents. What is wrong with the world when decent people always get ripped off, and ripping off others for personal wealth-building is the end-all and be-all for slimeballs like that girl who got too fat for the designer dress you so carefully prepared? What do you want to bet it fit her friend, which is why your client chose another dress?

    They are surely saying “Let us prey {on the unsuspecting}”, but I’d say “Let us pray.” Sorry, I’m on a caffeine high, but that customer deserves something quirky and unexpected as a result of trying to rip you off. Terry, I wish you well, but you have to start realizing that honest people get taken advantage of. (I have horror stories.) How sad is that. Very.

    1. SEWSERIOU1 | | #16

      Honest people don't get taken advantage of, only the niave.  That said, to "do something" to the lady who wanted her money back is stooping to her level.  While I would not have refunded her money, 'getting revenge' is not the way to go either. 

      1. CTI | | #17

        I guess we will have to disagree. Sorry about that.

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