March 16, 2010

When Customers Complain, How Do You Respond?

Filed under: Ecommerce — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:59 am

I recently had an issue with a vendor. They’d sent me a defective product. When I contacted them to let them know about it, they asked me to send them pictures of the defects. As a customer here’s what I thought:

a. If I got a defective shipment I am probably not the only one, you’ve probably had this complaint before yet you’re treating me with suspicion.

b. You’re treating me with suspicion. Like I don’t have better things to do than email you about some imaginary problem?

c. You screwed up and now you want me to go to the trouble of taking pictures and emailing them to you?


This should get you thinking about how you respond when your customers complain. If a customer emails and says their bracelet clasp broke after one wear do you immediately send her a replacement or do you demand she send you the broken product first? If a customer calls to say that the lining in the new handbag she ordered from you is falling apart after just a few weeks do you try to blow her off?

Every company has different policies with regard to customer complaints. Some are more generous, or maybe trusting, when it comes to their customers. Others are more likely to make things a more difficult for customers. While placing the burden of proof on customers when a problem arises might sound like a good way to protect yourself from being conned, it’s also a good way to further alienate an unhappy customer with a legitimate complaint.

When a customer has a complaint, they’re at a crossroads. They’ve had a bad experience and it can be made a whole lot worse by a retailer who makes them jump through hoops. On the flip side, this is an opportunity to really delight a customer with top notch customer service and turn them into a loyal brand advocate.

Customer service done the right way: A few years ago I bought a sofa from Pottery Barn. About a year into owning the sofa, I found the material inside the sofa cushions was coming out through the upholstery like crazy! Even though it had been a year since my purchase, I called Pottery Barn to complain. They didn’t demand proof of my complaint, they didn’t ask me to mail them back the defective cushions. They immediately express shipped replacement cushions free of charge, along with a coupon for a future purchase. Their fast and satisfying response to my complaint reinforced my positive image of Pottery Barn. As a result, I will shop with them again in the future and recommend them to others.

So what do you when a customer complains? Take them at their word? Make things right only after they’ve shown proof of a defect? Hold your ground and tell them to suck it up?

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  1. When customers contact me to let me know that something they received was damaged, I do not ask for proof. (The audacity!) The customer is already having a less-than-stellar experience shopping for you so this is the moment to go the extra mile to ensure that they remember you in a positive light.

    My immediately reaction is to offer to send another one out with extra precautions on preventing what happened to them from happening again. So if a print was folded, I fort-knox the package (more so than I already do) so there is little to no chance of it being damaged again. If an order did not make it, I add tracking and add their email to the tracking so it cannot be questioned as to where the order is and when it will arrive.

    I do not have any customer complaints (knock on wood) but the ones who have emailed me to explain a less-than-ideal situation, have changed the approach I take to packaging and shipping. I now invest in mat backings and sleeves to protect my prints, and I always add delivery confirmation to all my packages. All this from just 2 customers saying that they did not receive their prints (which ultimately arrived AFTER they received the second re-sent package) and that was all before I made these changes. Investing in prevention up front means that you do not have to worry about making things up. It’s a small investment to make if you are serious about your business and about retaining your customers.

    I am interested to hear from business owners who have higher-cost products that they sell. I recognize that a print that I can easily re-make or re-print is not the same as a product that costs hundreds or hours of labor to replace.

    Thanks for the article!

    Grace Hester Designs
    Silhouette- and typography- based artwork and prints
    Shop my designs at

    Comment by Grace Hester Designs — March 17, 2010 @ 7:50 am

  2. My e-tail website sells apparel mostly. Not super expensive stuff, but it’s not cheap. We do delivery confirmation and poly mailers which are fairly sturdy for shipping clothing. They don’t tear so nothing can fall out. International is a little problematic because delivery confirmation there is so expensive. We do offer the option to go without it but strongly recommend against that. We have had trouble with non-tracked international packages in the past so we really urge international customers to select a shipment method we can track.

    Comment by Meredith — March 17, 2010 @ 8:15 am

  3. […] Minded BlogCreations by Heather Heffken @ Try Handmade Eco-Friendly Find: EveldasNEVERLAND @ Modish When Customers Complain, How Do You Respond? & Three Things That Could Make a Difference @ Smaller […]

    Pingback by Friday Links – Crafty New Orleans, Stones in Schools and More — March 19, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  4. I used to work in the mail order department of our local art supply company whose focus was on positive relationships with customers so I like to think that I have customer service down to a T. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of customer complaints I also know the whys behind some of the hoops disgruntled shoppers are asked to jump through. (kind of like how a person who has worked waiting tables in restaurants will normally tip except in cases of extreme bad service)

    Not knowing who you have been dealing with or white kind of defect your product arrived with I couldn’t tell you the reasons behind the hoops. But in the cases where I had to request that a customer take a few extra steps in order to correct an order that had gone wrong it was also policy to educate the customer about why we were asking for the extra work on their part, often it was for use in our purchasing department so that they could make a full complaint to our suppliers or the company who shipped for us.

    In my own personal experience I have had no customer complaints and only one instance of a package taking too long to arrive to a give away recipient. As far as I’m concerned it’s all about communication. If you allow the unhappy customer to get their complaint off their chest, listen to what they have to say and let them know that you have heard them you can move on from there. Of course this is much easier to do if you start the communication off before there are any problems. Thanking your customer for shopping with you, sending them a copy of your shop policies, letting them know when a package has been shipped and giving them the tracking number so they can check shipping progress on their end is a great way to initiate that line of communication.

    If a package of mine ever arrives damaged (also knock on wood) I have how to handle the situation lined out for both myself and my customer. A damaged package is the responsibility of the post office or courier. If the item is damaged inside of a damaged package it is my job to contact the post and get the insurance ball rolling, at the same time I will replace the item that was damaged right away. I always include insurance on my packages for this reason. I may have to provide proof of the damaged package which means I might have to ask my customer to photograph the package. Since I have opened a line of communication with my customer they know why I’m asking for them to photograph the item for me, we are working as a team to make things better.

    If a product arrives defective because something I did or because the material I was working with was defective (ie necklace clasp) it is my policy to replace the item or send a replacement part as quickly as I can. It is my responsibility to pay for return shipping and the cost of shipping out the new item. In the interest of knowing the exact nature of the damage and figuring out how to avoid a problem with the second package I may ask for photographs. Again because I’ve been communicating with the customer we can work as a team to correct the situation.

    If the customer decides that the item is not what they wanted it is my policy that I will replace the item once the first on has been returned or in some cases refund their money minus shipping fees once the item is returned. It is the customer’s job to ship back the item to me since they are wanting to return the item based on changing their mind about it.

    In the end it’s all about creating a relationship through communication. I’d love to hear about other peoples ideas and thoughts too.

    Comment by tami — March 20, 2010 @ 8:14 am

  5. As a customer who shops weekly at both Etsy and Ebay; among other online business. I have a few things I would like to add.
    I buy almost everything online. Clothes to make up, housewares, some times even sweet treats on etsy etc- Spending close to $7,000 a year. Mostly to independent sellers.
    Just recently, I had an AWFUL experience, for me this one really took the cake.
    I bought an cell phone protector screen on ebay. I think I paid around $12 + $3 shipping. I received it promptly. Packaging was less then desirable, a bubble envelope cut in half taped together. Whatever. I open the packaging and noticed it was not ‘new in package’ but rather an obvious opened return from bestbuy (their yellow return sticker was still somewhat on). I inspected further only to notice that the screen protector was obviously used, dirty and old. That’s fine. I assumed the seller figured that overlooked it etc.
    I contact him with a nice email.

    “thanks for the great deal & fast shipping. One problem-
    I received the shield and noticed it it was an
    open item… Not a problem. EXCEPT the screen
    protector clearly had been used and was in the box
    in fair condition, these screen protectors are
    once use only and I am clearly upset that I paid
    and received a used protector. I am requesting my
    money back i.e: full refund.
    Thank you. ”

    To which a string of emails ensued.

    The seller telling, me, the buyer to return the package put tracking and insurance on it and he will THINK about refunding my money.

    I was very put off by this.
    Not only was I called a liar but also a thief and a con. Clearly not the case. I had to take the loss. Now, I know most etsy as well as other sellers are cordial and understanding. But I think we all really need to
    re think how we treat our buyers after all they are our INCOME. Without buyers, sellers will not succeed.
    Obviously I encompassed a bad seller. But never the less he lost my future business as well as possibly others (Neg. Feedback).

    Sometimes sellers need to take a loss. As well as to trust their buyers. After all buyers are trusting the sellers by paying ahead in expectancy of a package to arrive.

    Even, if it is you who will refund shipping. Or whatever do it. Your business will thrive on great customer service. Not greed over a few bucks.
    Just my 2 cents!

    Sorry for such a long post.
    And thanks for reading if you are still there 😉

    Comment by brooke — March 28, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  6. […] When customers complain […]

    Pingback by Links to Share : The Selling Sisters: — May 19, 2010 @ 6:58 am

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