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How to Maintain Relationships When Something Goes Wrong

This happens about once a year…

I get calls, emails and texts from customers saying, “My milk taste awful this week. I can’t drink it. Can I get a refund? What happened?”

All normal on a raw milk dairy — whether it’s the accidental jaunt through the onion patch or the excessive grass in spring, I can count on off-tasting milk once per year so I can even give all a heads up that it might happen.

But this week it was totally unexpected!

There are no onions, no spring grass, no nasty bacteria.

There is no explainable reason the milk should taste off.

Yet, I got the texts and the emails starting Saturday afternoon.

I ran out to the store immediately to taste the milk…

And had to SPIT IT OUT!

how to maintain relationships when something goes wrong

What’s Going On Here?

What the heck is going on? This IS gross…

Now my head is spinning trying to figure out what went wrong.

And I’m super embarrassed to admit…

BETSY IS PREGNANT! Holy cow, how did I miss this?

She was pregnant a few months back, but I thought she lost the calf when she showed signs of being in heat.

And then, every 3 weeks after that I swore I saw her in heat again. For months I hallucinated she was in heat!

But she wasn’t in heat.

The awful taste is the colostrum and edema and massive hormonal changes – as she’s due to calve at any moment and I was still milking her!!

So, if this has ever happened to you, you’re not alone.

And someone, please tell me it HAS happened to you, so I’m not alone here!

Tell Me I’m Not Alone!

Four days after discovering she was pregnant, she calved a healthy heifer.

As excited as I was to find out we were expecting, I still had these upset customers that wanted refunds.

And I can totally understand.

Listen, we’re dealing with live animals and these things happen.

I’ve been flooded with emails, texts messages and phone calls from customers that want to exchange the “bad” milk and/or get a refund.

I’ve been dishing out hundreds of dollars in refunds this week because I’m passionate about maintaining relationships with valuable customers.

And it’s all about relationships, right?

Last week I had to close my farm store.

This week I’m still refunding and emailing customers explaining what happened.

And they understand…

All because of the relationship I have with them. They trust me and know that I’m dealing with a live animal.

And if my customers are unhappy, they deserve a refund. Even if that means I take a loss.

Before I figured out the problem, I could have freaked out (blamed the customer) and told people, “NO. All sales are final.” but my policy is always, money back, no questions asked.

After I assure them they will get an immediate refund, I have a conversation with them to determine if it was my problem to fix or perhaps their fridge is off.

But still, I always refund first. This puts them in a very understanding and generous spot.

I had someone cook their chicken till it was like leather. It was the first chicken they bought from me. I gave them a free chicken (and a cooking lesson) and they were shocked that even though they had ruined it, I replaced it.

And guess what? They are customers for life. And they tell all their friends to shop with us.

I know that after my cow gives birth, I’ll have PLENTY of milk to go around — Which is a blessing.

And, I’ll be able to offer milk to a few people on my waiting list —which will make them very happy as well.

There are Good Days and Bad Days

These are the peaks and valleys that most farmers don’t talk about. It’s ok to issue a refund (maintain the relationship) and keep your customers happy.

…if your customer is ideal.

So, if you have a few customers that give you a hard time about having “bad” milk (they don’t understand that we’re dealing with LIVE animals), then it’s ok to cross them off the list and give their portion of milk to someone else.

And there are even more who refused to take the refund – asking if we would keep it instead.

These are our dream customers!

The tide will turn and you’ll make it up on the backend. After years of experience, I’m now able to roll with the punches and believe in the process.

Has this ever happened to you?

If so, tell me about it in the comments.

And here’s a quick video I did to go even deeper in how to maintain relationships – – even when something goes wrong!

powered by crowdcast

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Cindy D. Jeffrey August 16, 2018, 7:10 am

    Yep it has happened to me thank goodness I had stopped putting her in the tank started to dry her off. Next day bull Calf

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 7:58 am

      Thank goodness it’s happened to someone else. I got a few emails from people telling me how to preg check 😉 Got that, but mistakes still happen.

      You do this long enough I’ll bet it happens to us all!!

      Thanks for being here, Cindy –

      xoxo Charlotte

  • Maria Losh August 16, 2018, 7:45 am

    Thank you for sharing this story! This is my first year milking, so not an experience I’ve had yet, but I’m sure it will and I’ll know that and unknown pregnancy could be the explanation. Very valuable information!

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 7:57 am

      Ah, if it’s your first year of milking, you’ll have so many stories of your own experiences, soon!! One thing’s for sure, you learn something new every day in this business 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!!

      xoxox Charlotte

  • Stacy August 16, 2018, 8:26 am

    No, it hasn’t. I’ve had 4 cattle in milk for 7 months now. The FTCDL lawyer I got stuck with refuses to give me proper contracts. In VA we have to do it that way. Each day we carefully milk and care for everyone. Each night, I scrape cream and dump gallons and gallons of milk.
    So far though, we only had a few bad milk tasting days, in the beginning of August.

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 10:58 am

      Hi Stacy,

      Which lawyer are you in contact with? Perhaps I can intervene and recommend someone else. I know lots of producers in VA working with herdshares.

      Thanks for sharing! Sounds like August is your challenging month 🙂 Hopefully you have pigs or chickens that can eat the dumped milk. They don’t seem to notice the flavor 😉

      Thanks again for commenting!

      xoxo Charlotte

    • Elizabeth Rich August 16, 2018, 7:21 pm

      Hi Stacy–Virginia has been a real challenge for our FTCLDF attorneys. The statutes and the court cases say that selling raw milk, even through herdshares, is illegal. Yet, we (and, we suspect, the state authorities) are aware of hundreds of Virginia farmers selling raw milk through herdshares. So, we set out to try to work with State officials to come up with a contract they would approve. We were making significant progress with one of the higher-ups and then … he died. This happened a couple of months ago, and no one has stepped in to pick up where he left off. That leaves us in limbo, and our farmers without the certainty we had hoped to deliver. We sent out letters explaining this to our Virginia clients, but I know that it can sound like legal mumbo-jumbo that misses the point (i.e., dumping milk for want of a legal alternative). I’d be happy to talk this through and suggest some interim steps for you if you’d like to contact me. Just call the general number and ask for me. Elizabeth Rich, FTCLDF Executive Director.

  • Paul Nehring August 16, 2018, 9:12 am

    I don’t sell raw milk, but had a similar experience with the farmer who I used to buy milk from–he is now retired. He called to apologize and offered a refund or credit. That is the best way. I use the same approach with my meat sales. Things can go wrong, and will go wrong. Don’t blame the customer or the butcher, take full responsibility for the products you sell. It hurts initially, but will minimalize the pain on the long run and build trust, which is the foundation of good relationships.

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 10:59 am

      Hi, Paul – thanks for your comment sharing your farmer’s experience.

      I think only a farmer truly understands that these things are going to happen. Great advice – don’t blame the customer.

      I appreciate you being here!

      Charlotte

  • Kristen Leu August 16, 2018, 9:27 am

    What a great story and lesson. I just discovered one of our gilts is pregnant after hallucinating that she was having heat cycles as well! And now she’s due in 3 weeks with our first litter of kunekune piglets! I am just glad i have some time to prepare now! You handled the situation perfectly. Good customer care is soo important and unfortunately sometimes hard to find these days.

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 10:59 am

      Kristen, thanks so much for sharing it happened to you!!

      It’s easy to hallucinate heat-like behavior, isn’t it?? I did it for months!!!

      Best of luck with your piggies!!

      xoxo Charlotte

  • Michelle Greenwood August 16, 2018, 11:18 am

    I’m so far away from our food source! Love this relationship you’re driving by being vulnerable and sharing the highs and lows of life on the farm while you’re building such an engaged community around you. Someday, I hope we have an community of folks willing to share their financial resources and the risk through Slow Money type investments. Until then, the understanding we’re (I’m gaining), by your honesty and kindness is truly priceless. Thank you!

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 11:27 am

      Thanks, Michelle!!

      Your investment plan sounds great. Lots of farmers would welcome that 🙂

      Take care,

      Charlotte

    • Jan Steinman August 16, 2018, 12:45 pm

      Someday, I hope we have an community of folks willing to share their financial resources and the risk through Slow Money type investments.

      This is so very, very difficult to do.

      We organized as a cooperative, so that people could buy shares and invest directly. But people are so very used to thinking of “investing” simply as “seeking the highest financial return.”

      So now, instead of looking for “investors,” we say we are looking for “member-funders,” who are willing to take as a “return” on their investment, clean air, great water, tasty and nutritious food, and Right Livelihood.

      We still don’t get any funders who are willing to put money in for any less than 5% annual return, but at least we feel better about what we’re offering.

  • Jan Steinman August 16, 2018, 12:38 pm

    The awful taste is the colostrum and edema and massive hormonal changes – as she’s due to calve at any moment and I was still milking her!!

    Woa, cows do that?

    I’ve missed pregnancy in our goats before, but they simply go on strike about 3/5ths of the way through. I recall thinking, “That’s odd, that she’s drying off,” then two months later, kids!

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 1:19 pm

      Yes, they can milk all the way through! I wish they’d dry off like goats. Some do, some don’t.

      Thanks so much for your comment!!

      xoxo Charlotte

  • Lyn Brown August 16, 2018, 2:12 pm

    Not a milk story. I am conducting a rare sheep breed rebuilding project. My bloodlines are brand new to the breed. I have a customer who has prepaid for 10 animals (2 rams 8 ewes) She is picking up a partial herd this year and the rest next year. I knew I didn’t have to worry about conflicting bloodlines in her flock so I just picked out lambs I knew would work well in her program. When I printed out the paperwork the night before she was to pick up, I realized that all the animals were sired by the same ram. (I guess he’s a keeper). The ewes are not a problem because she has other rams. But related rams is not what I should be selling her. They were already vet certed and inspected by the livestock inspector. So, as soon as she arrived I explained what I had done and told her to go ahead and take both and try them this year. Then, next year when she comes to get the rest of her girls she can bring on ram back and I will swap for a ram from a different bloodline. She’s happy and understands. I’m still kind of kicking myself for not checking when I was filling my waiting list. But, it all worked out for all of us.

    • Charlotte August 16, 2018, 2:18 pm

      Ah, Lyn, that’s a great learning lesson.

      I’m sure the customer is very happy with the solution – way to keep the relationship open and strong.

      Thanks for commenting!!

      xoxo Charlotte

  • Kenya Abraham August 16, 2018, 3:33 pm

    Charlotte,
    Thank you for sharing this. I just experienced a situation with a customer that was the same but a little bit different.
    I received an email where she stated the following…
    “The milk we have been getting ever since your two new cows came (or since you switched milking equipment–I’m not sure what’s causing the taste) has not tasted good to me and Edison, sadly. Perhaps it is partly because we are a picky 4-year-old and a chemically sensitive adult, but as Edison described it, it tastes like how the dirt and cow poop at Kenya’s farm smell.”
    She also went on to say a few other things like how much money she waisted buying expensive milk then buying expensive ingredients because she tried to cook with the bad milk, so not to just throw it out.
    Mind you this is a customer who claims she has extreme sensitivity to fragrances and also carbon missions in food.
    Her account of experiencing this “bad milk” would have actually been each week for the past 5 months! …OMG, Shut the front door!
    As a herd share I keep records of who comes and goes everyday. So I went and looked up the other folks who had the same milk as her pickup days for the past 5 months. All of them said they have NEVER had milk that smelled or taste like poop or anything else for that matter… So what’s a girl to do?
    I responded like this…

    Hi Shannon,
    I appreciate you getting in touch with me about this issue you are experiencing with the milk.
    I want you to know that I take this very seriously. Looking into it, we have not had any issues noted from the start of our milking sessions with Ela’Noor to date.
    Unfortunately it may be that your sensitivity issues are the cause.
    It’s also unfortunate that you were not able to tell me about this during any of the weeks when exactly it was happening.
    I do understand though, as life is very busy for you and me both.
    I will keep you and that sweet little boy in in prayers and ask that you do the same for us.
    The good news is, we have resumed milking with our original machine / equipment. So if the changes in equipment is the cause of your issues, then hopefully it will subdue.
    Unfortunately, your request for milk from the other cows is impossible because they are dry and will not calve until spring.
    My door is always open for a visit if you would like to discuss this any further.
    xoxoxox,
    Kenya
    **She came into the store a few days later. Told me all her troubles over a cup o’tea! Tasted a sample of today’s milk and left with a gallon!

    • Charlotte August 17, 2018, 8:42 am

      Oh, Kenya, what a story!

      How crazy she said it tasted like that. I, too, have learned that if no one else complains, then it’s just that person’s sensitivities.

      Great response. Yes, she should have contacted you right away! I’ve even had people bring the milk over so I can make sure it doesn’t taste like what they say 😉

      Big hugs,
      Charlotte

  • Simone Boyd August 16, 2018, 4:30 pm

    I love the vulnerability with which you share. It inspires me and helps me to realize I am not alone in this farming discovery.

    I grow heirloom vegetables, and recently had a regular customer email me stating the pumpkin she had purchased from me was rotten when she cut into it. She had attached a photo, which I didn’t even look at before offering a full refund without question. The customer replied asking for a credit on her next order. Interestingly, she asked if I had any more pumpkins as what they had eaten (of the so called rotten pumpkin) was incredible. At that point, I looked at the photo and think she had eaten part of the pumpkin and then not appropriately stored the rest, leading it to grow mould. The offer of a refund has led to an ongoing relationship and a good learning for me not to take it for granted everyone knows about storing veggies. Next season…a flyer on storage will accompany my pumpkins.

  • Jonathan Cook August 17, 2018, 8:33 am

    We milk 50 cows and have had surprise calving before. Luckily dilution factor would apply quite well our this case!

    We get the odd person that have bad associations with milk. Usually warm milk served at school. Apparently it can smell like sick! I tell them it’s something you have to teach your taste buds to enjoy. They’ve been so used to watered down (reduced fat) milk that raw is too big a step!

    We used to feed stubble turnips and kale years ago and this has the same affect on milk as asparagus does on urine in humans! We made the mistake of feeding them all day once and the smell from the tank was disgusting! We don’t feed brassicas now since selling milk raw for this reason.

    The taste of the milk changes from field to field and a few customers notice it. Most don’t though as it’s subtle.

    Honestly and refund is the best policy. You get a better reputation and a much better relationship if people are willing to tell you about their experience with your product. I always thank them for any information and assure them of how important it is for us to know. Then spin it in to a positive if I can. They nearly always walk away having bought another product or sometimes I give them something else to try for free. “Let me know how you get on with this”. They go away happy and attention from a minor problem is dissipated.

    • Charlotte August 17, 2018, 8:44 am

      You give such great customer service, Jonathan!

      Boy you’ve learned a lot… yes, dilution helps a lot when you have 50 cows 🙂 Our Oregon law is so limiting. Only 3 cows if you sell raw milk. So everyone gets to taste everything!!

      Thanks for your comment!!

      Charlotte

  • Jonathan Cook August 17, 2018, 8:55 am

    Your US laws are far more ridiculous than ours and ours are ridiculous!

    We are starting a Raw Milk Producers Association. First meeting next month. Many aims but mainly to set up a best practice protocol and then to educate the public and regulators!

    Very exciting times ahead.

    • Charlotte August 18, 2018, 10:57 am

      Hi Jonathan – that is very exciting!! Best of luck to you in the UK on your producers association. That’s very important.

      Take care,

      Charlotte

  • J. Healy August 18, 2018, 5:01 am

    Hi Charlotte,

    Just to let you know that you are not crazy: Pregnant cows can still show signs of heat even though they are pregnant. The heat signs are usually a little less intense than when not pregnant. This is why preg testing is so important. It happens more in dairy cows and about 5-10% are affected by it ;-).

    • Charlotte August 18, 2018, 10:57 am

      Crazy they can do that. The behavior wasn’t as pronounced, but definitely there. A great learning lesson for sure!!

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