How to handle customer complaints with grace : The Maker's Business Toolkit

How to handle customer complaints with grace

How you communicate with your customers is a vital part of your branding strategy and it’s so important that you get it right.

When people reach out to you with a problem (or even a complaint), it’s an opportunity for you to improve your processes and make your sales process better. It’s easy to get defensive and angry when people complain but with the right approach, it is possible to turn complainers back into fans.

Here are some tips for dealing with complaints with grace.

Give your customers the benefit of the doubt.

Your customer will write an email to you in about 10 seconds. They will not consider how this email will make you feel, or what impact their request will have on your plans or your cashflow or your workload. They do not know about running a small business.

They do not understand or care about your pricing, or manufacturing, or logistics.

They are not trying to be awkward or difficult or an asshole, they are simply asking for something they need.

As I’m sure you know, some people sound like complete asshats on email but are completely lovely when you meet in real life.

Some people write emails as if they are making comments on the Daily Mail.

And they do it for the same reason people make hateful comments on the Daily Mail….

They don’t consider the recipient of the email a real person. At least not yet.

It’s your job to respond in a human way so that they start to interact with you as a person.

If you feel particularly offended or upset by an email, if you feel that a customer is being snarky or grumpy, consider if this could merely be email miscommunication. If so, then give them the benefit of the doubt.

If their request is unreasonable then gently and politely say no.

What you should not do is spend all day reading and rereading their email, ranting on every Facebook Group you belong to and through Facebook messages with your friends, then slump on the couch with a packet of chocolate hobnobs before you finally get around to replying.

Take a deep breath and get on with something else until you feel calmer about the situation. It can also help to have email response templates that address certain issues that come up time and time again. You can send out one of these and immediately put it out of your mind.

Don’t assume that your customers are being dishonest. But accept that sometimes, some people will take advantage.

Everyone who sells online knows that consumer law, especially regarding online sales, is heavily skewed in favour of the buyer.

This is a good thing.

Buying something online requires trust and we need our customers to feel that they will be able to return items that aren’t quite right. But this can also lead to a very small group of people feeling like they can take advantage.

Thankfully this group is very small, and most scammers are more interested in iPads and other brand name goods than they are in artwork.

Jewellers may be a little more vulnerable but, on the whole, most people are honest.

Treating the majority of customers with suspicion because of the actions of a very small number of dishonest people is really self defeating and damaging to your business. Even when things seem suspicious they can often be perfectly innocuous, resulting from stuff like people entering their address or postcode incorrectly or just recently having moved house. Try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

There’s one caveat here. There are a number of scams that target artists and you should familiarise yourself with them so that you can recognise the danger signs.

Often these scams involve the “customer” overpaying and then asking you to return the overpayment via a different payment method.

If you’re not sure whether something is a scam or not, check with any Facebook Groups of other artists you know (some will have received similar emails) or Google the phrases in the email to see if people have flagged the email as a scam.

You can also click here for our post on common art scams.

Use every interaction as an opportunity to make something better.

Complaints and questions are feedback. And feedback gives you an opportunity to make changes.

Could you revise your product description to answer this question?

Always getting the same questions? Could you set up an FAQs page to answer them?

Losing sales because of your postage rate? Maybe it’s time to raise your prices and include the postage to get over that psychological irritation.

Are your customers always asking about how to return something? Maybe you need to include return instructions in the parcel.

Communication that anticipates and answers all of a customer’s potential questions is very powerful. It really increases the extent to which your customers trust you and the extent to which they believe that you are interested in them and their needs. Use every interaction as an opportunity to get better at this.

There’s one group of people I haven’t mentioned so far.

The assholes.

The troublemakers who just want to complain about EVERYTHING. The ones who want to abuse you or accuse you of having misled them.

After you have given them the benefit of the doubt, and responded to them like a human being who cares about their needs, if they are still being abusive or complaining, my advice would be simply to refund them and move on.

As much as you might not want to reward this kind of behaviour, it’s so much more important that you just get this person out of your life as soon as possible.

Preserving your positive mindset and not getting dragged into the kind of self doubt and general frustration that can be so distracting and so damaging to your business is far more important than the lost sale.

Get them out of your life ASAP but do it in a polite and respectful way that takes all of the drama out of the situation.

I'm Nicola Taylor

I’m the founder of Maker’s Business Toolkit and I help artists, makers, and handmade business owners to make more money with less stress.

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