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Dealing with Customer Complaints

Here's how to keep your cool, and make the best of a difficult situation.

As on online seller, keeping customers happy should be a top priority. But there’s always going to be the occasional problem or the customer who simply likes to complain.

Most customer concerns arise from issues dealing with cost, available options, speed, quality or a product that arrives broken. You might also have trouble receiving payment from your customer. The way you interact with these customers, from beginning to end, will show them how much you value their business.

The first thing to do is try to avoid any possible complaints by clearly advertising your product and communicating your policies. Provide information about your company’s return policy, as well as payment and shipping options. By explaining your expectations in advance, you protect yourself, reduce any potential surprises on your customers’ end and provide a level of trust for shoppers. It’s also helpful to supply a list of FAQs, which could answer potential questions and reduce the amount of email inquiries you might receive.

Acknowledge any mistakes that have been made, apologize if necessary and begin working toward a solution

Be friendly

Even in a virtual world, you, as the business owner, are like a host to those guests who enter your store. You want to come across as warm and respectful. If a customer comes to you with a complaint, be patient.

An important way to deal with a difficult customer is to maintain a friendly, professional tone. One trick is to smile while you talk. Now, we know shoppers can’t see you when they’re in your virtual store or browsing through your listings, but let your service do the smiling for you. Be understanding when they ask questions and put yourself in your buyers’ shoes. Let your emails smile for you by personalizing your messages and ending them with a sing off like “sincerely” or “kind regards.” Not only does this make your voice come across as friendly, but the task of “holding a smile” also helps you stay focused on remaining calm.

Usually if someone is upset, it’s because they feel they’ve been wronged in some way. With this in mind, don’t take complaints personally.

“When you do take it personally, your emotional state changes,” says Kurt Newman, co-founder of Sales Consultants. Your breathing changes, you end up in a stressed state and then you react rather than respond.

One of the main reasons why customers go elsewhere is rude service. Not only will they look elsewhere for their shopping needs, but they’ll also tell friends and family about their bad experiences. That’s why it’s crucial to be nice.

Be engaged

When dealing with an unhappy customer, stay actively engaged with them. That means you should turn away from any distractions around you and actively listen to what they’re saying.

“Part of active listening is to totally switch off, in terms of what is going on around you, whether it’s other people, noises and whatever else,” Newman says. “Totally focus on that particular customer.”

Empathize with the customer and don’t place the blame on your supplier, the postal service or elsewhere. Simply acknowledge any mistakes that have been made, apologize if necessary and begin working toward a solution.

It helps if you write down the details, ask questions and restate what you hear the problem is. When you’re actively listening, it’s easier to identify the heart of the problem. Sometimes it’s just a matter of misunderstanding. By acknowledging the customer and their complaint, they will likely move away from an emotional state to a more rational one.

As a professional merchant, you have the right to stick to your policies, but you may also negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome

Be responsive

One advantage as an online seller is that you get to manage a flexible schedule. However, it’s still important to regularly access your email and voice messages. If customers try to contact you with any concerns, they will appreciate your quick response. On the flip side, it doesn’t take long in this era of instant-gratification to lose your customer to another seller who will respond at the pace they want.

Part of being a responsive seller is to offer solutions to a customer’s complaint. Depending on the circumstance, the solution might be in the form of a refund, credit or exchange. You could also ask the customer what they feel would be a reasonable solution.

This doesn’t mean you cater to their terms. As a professional merchant, you have the right to stick to your policies, but you may also negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome, if you choose. Once an agreement has been made, communicate your proposed plan of action and the timeframe it will take to complete the task. When you clearly communicate your expectations and your understanding about what the problem is, your customer will feel valued.

Once you’ve settled the problem, follow up with your customer. Did their package arrive on time? Do they have more questions or needs? This is the sort of business management that shows you care about your product and your customer.

Finally, be sure to make a mental note of the problems you encounter. Keep an open mind and be willing to improve yourself and your business practices. Again, though, sometimes you’ll just have customers who are never happy. If you sense this early in the transaction, consider not doing business with them. eBay sellers have the ability to block buyers who pose a risk for difficult transactions.

In the end, if you do your best to maintain a solid, professional attitude, you will gain confidence with every transaction you make and continue building a loyal customer base.

About the author

Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Kaz138

    Like the above article, I would also add that I usually leave it a couple of hours or more to respond to complaint email – this allows me time to calm down and write a ‘nice’ response.  

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