Please help me figure out how to handle this customer service issue
March 12, 2022 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm dealing with a tattoo artist who takes forever to reply to emails, and we've been emailing back and forth for months to finalize an appointment date, etc. Sometimes I can be a people-pleaser, and I probably give people the benefit of the doubt too often, so I bet I'm being too lenient about this...

OK, this will be long, but I should probably include all the details! I've been emailing with a tattoo artist whom I've gotten a tattoo from before, and I'd really like him to do another. On his Instagram profile, he has his email address for people to contact him for appointments, so that's how I got in touch. I'll call him "R."

Here's our epic email exchange:

8/7/21 - R has a very distinctive style, so I emailed him to ask if he does many tattoos that are outside that style, because I was looking for something different. (I did say I loved his style.)
8/16/21 - R apologized for not getting back to me sooner. He said that yes, he does, and that he's booking into December/January. He asked if that was OK.
8/20/21 - I said January sounded good and sent him an image of my idea. (It's based on a piece of mosaic art.)
8/26/21 - R liked the idea, said he had a bunch of January dates open, and asked what worked for me. He asked for a $100 deposit and said he might want to have me come in in December to settle on a size.
9/1/21 - I sent him $100 via PayPal and said that since I work from home (for myself), I'm pretty flexible on weekdays and very flexible on weekends. I said that my son gets home from school at 3pm but that I could get a babysitter if necessary. I told him that I PayPal-ed the $100 and asked his current rates.
10/24/21 (my follow-up) - I checked in with R and referred to my reply below my latest message.
11/10/21 - R finally emailed back, and apologized. He asked, "Do you want to leave a deposit now and book the appointment for summer?"
11/12/21 - I pointed out that I'd already aid $100 deposit on 9/1 and asked if the winter was now all booked.
11/21/21 (my follow-up) - I wrote, "Hey, just checking in about my last email. :) Thanks!"
12/3/21 - R wrote, "Sorry for the late response. Yes sorry I have your deposit. Just let me know some dates that work for you and I will make it happen."
12/4/21 - I wrote that I was really flexible because I work from home and that I could do almost any day/time except for usually Thursday evenings. I said that January, February, most of March are fine. I also wrote, "Did you say you wanted to do a quick appt. to decide on the size?"
12/17/21 - R wrote that he could do 3/19 at 5pm or 3/26 at 5pm.
12/18/21 - I said that 3/19 was good and asked (again) what his rate was and what's the best thing to wear for a thigh tattoo (e.g., loose pants or whatever).
2/17/21 (my follow-up) - I wrote, "Whoa, I don't know how two months have gone by -- I'm not great at following up with emails. Obviously you're really busy, and I know you were already squeezing me in to offer me the 3/19 time that you emailed about, so I have two Qs:
"1. Would you rather scratch that date (if it's still available; don't know if you saw my last email) and just schedule me some other time(s) later in the year?
"2. I want to save this idea for the future and do something else this time [gave brief description about an idea for my arm]. (I won't change my mind again, promise!). I can share those details whenever."
3/12/21 ... [still no response from R] So now it's only a week until my *unconfirmed* appointment.

OH WOW, writing out all that makes it look kinda ridiculous, and now I feel really silly to not have noped out already. Granted, I have not called R on the phone yet, but I don't have his cell, only the shop counter phone, so if I call and he's meeting with a client or actually doing a tattoo, he'll have to call me back anyway -- or NOT call back. And if I'm going to ask for a refund of the deposit, I want to put it in writing.

I probably would have ditched this situation a while ago if I hadn't already paid a deposit in Sepember, and I do feel weird about asking for it back. Plus, I really love R's work and the first tattoo he did for me. If I ask another tattoo artist, they'll be booking out for months anyway (well, the good ones), and this is too big a piece for a walk-in.

SOOOO, I have let this go on way too long, right?! What should I do?
posted by trillian to Human Relations (20 answers total)
Honestly I would just call the shop. Or, better yet, stop by. Depending on how old he is he may not be a big emailer.
posted by rogerroger at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

Call the shop every day until either you get him on the phone or he calls you back. I see basically two scenarios here:

1) He still has your appointment for the 19th and everything is fine, or

2) He tries to cancel your appointment on the 19th, in which case I think you’d be justified in asking for your deposit back and going elsewhere, if you want.

But definitely try the phone, since email seems to be not working very well.
posted by mekily at 2:10 PM on March 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Just call. Even if it’s the store phone they can a) probably confirm whether your appointment is on the books right then, and b) you can always email about the refund later for the paper trail. Get a physical person on the phone with you!
posted by lydhre at 2:14 PM on March 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, yes, the consensus will probably be "call." I'll probably have to to resolve this, but I get anxious about phone calls, especially with stuff like this... ugh.
posted by trillian at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Is it difficult to get there? You could just show up on 3/19 at 5pm with your pictures and have a consultation with him. If he has double-booked and is working with someone else, he'll still be able to tell you the rate and choose a new date with you, which will save you from all this back-and-forth in the future.

R does not seem that flaky to me. Rather, it sounds like you're asking too many of the type of questions that aren't suited to email but are the beginnings of the conversations you'll be having in person. When people ask complicated "if not this, then how about that?" questions in the wrong medium, I think a lot of people don't reply rather than get deep in the weeds with long explanations that should really be live conversations.
posted by xo at 3:19 PM on March 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

How did you communicate the first time round and how/why did that work better? I also hate phone calls so I feel you. I’d stop by as suggested above, pretend I was in the area, but also be kinda forceful (“this has dragged on for 7 months, I’d like to resolve it now”). Hopefully they can at least confirm your appointment (provided it exists, ahem) or even book you in for a short consultation beforehand.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:29 PM on March 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Wow. I would ask for my money back, and if he didn't refund me quickly, I would complain through PayPal.

I don't understand why anyone would trust thus dude to ink them. To say he's flaky is an understatement. You've asked repeatedly for necessary info and he's been totally remiss in responding.

If you keep this appointment and pay him in full and he does a bad job, how will you feel? Will you wonder how your tat would have turned around if you'd had the initial appointment he recommended? Do you really want to hand yourself over to someone who seems indifferent at best to whether you're a customer?

I wouldn't call. I'd nope out, hard.

There are other tattoo artists who are skilled and who value their customers.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:34 PM on March 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd say this kind of thing is pretty common among sought-after tattoo artists with a strong Instagram following (not all, but common nonetheless). Many of them have achieved a kind of celebrity, or perhaps personal hubris.

Keep in mind, he'll be completely oblivious to the fact that this has caused you so much anxiety.

At this stage, I think you have to decide how badly you want to be tattooed by this person, someone who does appear pretty blase about his customers.

No one is so busy that they take that long to respond to an email, or quickly look at the email trail to see that, yes, a deposit has been paid.

If your emails contained too much extraneous detail, as another poster has suggested, he could easily have said that you could discuss all that at your appointment.

I think once you pay a deposit, you deserve a bit more consideration than this, as you've shown you're committed to the tattoo/appointment.

If you want the tattoo, call the studio (you are perfectly within your rights, without customers he wouldn't be able to keep tattooing), and if you still don't get a response, ask for your money back. Or you could just turn up at the appointed day/time, acting normal and ready to be inked. But it doesn't sound like you'd be comfortable with that.

Remember, he's just a tattoo artist, he's not superior to you, or above basic communication of mere mortals.
posted by NatalieWood at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

In addition to the above, in-demand artists tend to be even more uninterested in going outside their normal style, unless it’s an artistic direction they happen to be interested in pursuing or trying out. If that’s the case, he easily could have said that at the time, but he sounds conflict-averse, or just unwilling to do a bunch of back-and-forth to get to a happy medium over email (understandable, imo, I’ve only been able to do that process well in person).

A receptionist at the studio should be able to tell you whether you’re on the books or not; you shouldn’t even need to interact with the artist. If not, I’d immediately start looking to PayPal to try to get your deposit back. Maybe send a funds request to try to get his attention before attempting whatever equivalent of a chargeback you have available to you.
posted by supercres at 4:25 PM on March 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think R is poor at following up and is letting way too much time lapse between email... and I think you are poor at communicating directly and also letting way too much time lapse between emails. I agree about calling the shop and I would also say that you are following up via email. But you need to actually decide what you want and clearly communicate that in both spaces.
posted by sm1tten at 4:27 PM on March 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just to confirm, these emails are from 2021/22 and not 2020/2021 as you have written??
posted by dancinglamb at 4:37 PM on March 12, 2022

Response by poster: Whoops, yes, 8/2021 to 3/2022!
posted by trillian at 6:14 PM on March 12, 2022

Best answer: I have a fair few tattoos and most from the Instagram artist types vs local shop walk ins and this is pretty normal to me. Losing the note for the deposit sucked, but he found it. I would definitely call, and confirm, but to me this is "creative having to do admin and is overworked" vs "bad at his job". For instance I'm getting a tattoo from an artist I enquired with in October - I have had email contact in november, then January, then Feb. The tattoo is April. She is booked out for the rest of the year - her shop has hired a receptionist for all the bookkeeping and calendars though.

If you are looking at something big, or ornate, with placing and size questions, it is gonna take months to sort out. It may seem counterintuitive but having more definite times and days actually helps, because they have a much better idea of what gaps to look for.

To me this is very much "tattoo artist got popular and is overwhelmed" and super common. If you want his art and style, it's part of the process. If you just want a tattoo, other options are generally going to be quicker.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:22 PM on March 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Hindsight being 20/20, you aren’t totally to blame but honestly? You should have suggested actual hard dates and times, and your emails were too long with too many questions and extraneous details and you seemed a bit flaky, changing your mind, etc. Messages like yours might get buried in my inbox as well.
posted by kapers at 6:31 PM on March 12, 2022 [11 favorites]

Like, he probably gets dozens to hundreds of queries a week that don’t result in actual services, so messages that seem more direct and serious probably get prioritized.

Tattoo artists get a ton of people hemming and hawing and no-showing, so they learn to read the signs. I think you were inadvertently sending out those signs. And I think your suspicion this may have to do with people-pleasing is interesting. If you sound too passive, sometimes your point is completely missed.
posted by kapers at 6:35 PM on March 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: this is only useful advice for a future appointment, not this one that you may or may not have. but when someone you are trying to hire says “Just let me know some dates that work for you”, you’ve got to do that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:40 PM on March 12, 2022 [7 favorites]

I would personally move on. You’ve gotten a tattoo from him before, so he should know that you’re serious and willing to pay.

Yeah, maybe he’s a big shot, but this still isn’t professional. I don’t know anything about the world of tattooing, so maybe this is Not Done, but if he’s so overwhelmed with requests for appointments and payments being issued that he loses track of, there are other professionals who deal with that kind of thing, and they are called administrative assistants. Hiring one to run interference between him and clients would help everyone in this scenario. It seems like he’s doing well enough to hire one.

If email isn’t his preferred method of communication for discussing artistic details, he should have offered a time to chat on the phone/Zoom/meet in person, Covid depending. How the hell would you know if he doesn’t like email?

I think you’ve been more than fair. Unless you really want only this artist, I’d save myself any future irritation.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 3:40 AM on March 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, I'm finding it sorta crazy that you didn't move it to a call since you had that info early on. You buried that detail. Call him. I get that you don't like to make phone calls... but from your description of the interaction, you've been a little too indecisive and open-ended. You mean it as flexible, but it's probably coming across as wishy-washy.

And then the possibility that he's a creative that isn't great on organization skills... and it's pretty easy to think he might have ended up assuming you'd give him a call when you made up your mind. It's also possible he missed your last email about the choice of date.

This whole description reminds me of trying to arrange a meeting/appointment with a series of back and forth voicemails. It gets exhausting and frustrating and time-consuming very quickly, when if one just managed to catch the other on the phone - or just go in, to avoid the phone entirely - it could be solved very quickly.
posted by stormyteal at 12:36 PM on March 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

You’re not in the wrong here. I honestly have no idea why people are defending his conduct with this. There seems to be this halo effect around tattoo artists, and as someone who works in the visual arts, I think it’s bizarre. Once a deposit is paid, it’s up to him to be direct and to work with the customer.

This kind of wish-washy behaviour would get one fired from pretty much any other commercial visual arts job. The whole “creatives are bad at admin” thing might make sense for a week or so delay in communication, but months? Nah. I deal with people of all communication styles and abilities, and I’d never leave them hanging after the deposit is paid, especially since shooting off an email at the end of the day takes maybe 5 minutes. Somehow tattoo artists get around this expectation of conduct (and tbh it makes me wish I hadn’t turned down an apprenticeship years ago). If he wasn’t feeling it or changed his mind, that’s totally fine, but he should’ve refunded your deposit. He may be overbooked or bad at the business side, but this amount of time passing with no solid date set is not exactly respectful.

Also, I have had a few larger tattoos by artist who didn’t seem to respect my time, and personally, the end result ended up being underwhelming as their treatment of their customers pre-appointment is a pretty good indicator of their ability to sustain interest in the project’s end result.

If you really love his work, show up for your 5pm time, and potentially be ready to let go if he flakes again. There will be an artist out there who suits your tastes AND has their bookkeeping and customer relations in order.
posted by Pemberly at 12:55 AM on March 15, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all the advice! Interesting how opinions differ...

On Monday my last-ditch effort before calling (ugh, I'm not usually THIS bad with phone calls) was to DM him on Instagram (he's on it a lot), and I said I'd call the shop Tuesday if I didn't hear back. Then I DIDN'T call Tuesday, but I FINALLY called Wednesday and talked to a very nice person who checked R's books for me. Yes, I am on the schedule for this Saturday. I got a reply to my DM today, Thursday, and R and I have been messaging about design ideas (for my second idea -- he said he's totally fine with changing plans at this point), his rate, etc. He said I could come in tonight for a consultation or we could just chat about it. SO, all is well.

And this tattoo will take a few sessions, so I will be more direct about getting those in the books!

Thanks again.
posted by trillian at 1:21 PM on March 17, 2022

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