Tough Call: The battle of Karen

Tough Call Karen

Karen wants to speak to the manager. She wants a refund on her non-refundable custom order and says she’ll raise a public ruckus until she gets her way. What would you do?

If anything good came from the pandemic, it was the boost in homeowner traffic in search of materials to take on out-door projects while quarantining. While your customer base has traditionally been comprised mostly of professional builders and remodelers, your showroom and the depth and breadth of stocked products has earned you strong reviews and word of mouth from many local DIYers. It’s true that while serving homeowners and weekend warriors is more labor intensive, the vast majority of them are a pleasure to work with. Most understand that, unlike Amazon or Target, not everything is returnable—especially special orders. Unfortunately, there’s always one who you wished had never stopped in your store. In this case, that one is named Karen.

From the moment she encountered Sarah, your customer service lead, Karen made it crystal clear that she’d done her research on the Internet, and she wasn’t going to be taken advantage of. “I know how you people are,” she said. “You’re going to try to sell me expensive materials that won’t last, so that I have to redo my project in a couple of years. If you think you can pull those shenanigans with me, then you don’t know me!”

With the transaction off to a less-then-stellar start, Sarah asked what kind of project she was working on, and how she could help. Karen explained that she’d decided to replace her home’s entry door and, since she’d done her research on the Internet, she knew exactly what she wanted to buy—and how much it should cost. “It’s a brand you carry, so I’m sure you have it in stock.”

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Sarah explained that the model Karen wanted was a special-order item, so it was important to get all the details right—since special orders aren’t returnable. Karen made it clear that she wasn’t happy about having to wait for her new door, but said she had all the measurements (she’d done it herself, she said, to make sure it was done right). She specified she needed a right-hand door swing. Sarah emphasized the importance of that detail and began explaining the difference…but Karen shut her down. “I know what I need, and I don’t need you questioning me.” Sarah said again that special orders aren’t returnable, had Karen sign the agreement and prepay for the door, and bid her a good day.

Eight weeks later, and one day after her door was delivered, Karen stormed into your showroom and shouted, “I want to talk to the manager!” As the owner, you invited her into your office to discuss the situation, but she held her ground, so everyone in your store would hear what she had to say. “My new door that I ordered from YOUR STORE isn’t right. The handle is on the wrong side, and I know that I ordered it correctly.” You reviewed the paperwork with her, including her signature showing that the order was correct, and that special orders aren’t returnable. “It’s your fault that I got the wrong door—how was I supposed to know what door swing means?! You’re going to make this right, or I’m going to make so much noise about your horrible service on Yelp, and Google, and everywhere I can, that you’ll regret selling me the wrong door!”

Clearly, Karen is wrong. But being Karen, she’s going to make sure your company pays for her mistake—either in reputation with bad reviews or by covering the cost of ordering the right door. What would you do?

  • GIVE IN. You’re in a no-win situation. Order Karen the correct door, then hope and pray she never darkens your door again.
  • DON’T CAVE. She knew special orders aren’t returnable, and her signature shows that she agreed to your terms.
  • FIGHT FIRE. If she wants to go to war, then so be it. Talk to a lawyer about your options if she slanders your company in public, then let her know you’re prepared to fight back.
  • WIN HER OVER. Go to her house with her, measure the door yourself, explain door swing, place the order for the correct door, and turn her into a customer for life.

What would you do?

SOMETHING ELSE? If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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