The majority of customers we deal with are great.
But from time to time difficult customers can turn up.
Anyone in retail can tell you that they’re a headache.
Unfortunately, because people can hide behind their computers and stay somewhat anonymous, things can get really rough for online businesses.
The longer you’ve been in business, the more likely you are to encounter these situations.
We might not be able to avoid uncomfortable situations with customers, but we can control how we handle them.
And that can make all the difference.
Hi, I’m Mei Pak, and I help artists, makers, and designers make a living selling their handmade products online.
I run three online businesses myself – so believe me, I’ve dealt with pretty much every type of situation with a customer.
You might want to hear that we don’t have to deal with tough customers.
If they’re being rude or have outrageous expectations, can’t we just shut them down and stop doing business with them?
Well, not exactly.
When it comes to customer service, my philosophy is to always try to make the customer happy, even if it costs me money or time.
And even if the problem isn’t my fault.
You may be thinking, “Why would we break our backs, and our banks, for difficult people?”.
Honestly, keeping our customers happy – even at our own expense – is one of the keys to long term success.
It actually saves our businesses, even if we think it might hurt it.
Trust me when I say that nothing will burn a business down faster than angry customers posting negative reviews online.
Don’t forget, people have so much power online these days.
When you think about it, reviews have the power to make or break a business!
Reviews are how we decide whether or not to trust a business.
If a customer posts that she had a bad experience, we’ll be less likely to buy from that business.
That’s why it’s ultimately worth it to make those sacrifices for our difficult customers.
It’s worth the cost of an extra shipment, if it means one less negative review.
Plus, customers really notice when we go out of our way for them and will give a 5 star review to thank us, and then tell all their friends about how awesome we are.
Of course, this is all easier said than done.
I see a lot of shop owners become protective and defensive when customers are upset.
And I get that.
I feel that way too all the time.
As makers, we’re proud of our products and our work ethic.
It’s totally understandable to be frustrated or upset, when dealing with a difficult customer.
It’s tempting to send that angry or sarcastic response back to the customer.
We’ve put so much hard work into our businesses and when people are rude or condescending, we have every right to feel sensitive about it.
Having said that, the best thing for your business is to keep our emotions to ourselves (or save them for a vent session with friends) and stay patient and calm with the customer.
Remember, when our customers are happy, our businesses are too.
The last thing we want is an even angrier customer dragging your shop name through the mud all over the internet!
With that in mind, I want to give some handy customer service tips.
These will help you know what to do when you’re dealing with those customers who are really giving you a hard time – and might leave you at a loss for how to handle the situation delicately.
1. Wait it Out
If you’re feeling emotional, wait to send an email back.
You don’t want to send a heated email in a moment of anger.
Give yourself a chance to calm down and reply when your emotions have had time to settle.
You’re going to be able to give the best service when you can detach yourself from the situation and not take things too personally.
Be empathetic. Remember, these customers aren’t complaining just to make your life miserable.
They have a reason for making their complaint.
Listen to them and be empathetic to their situation.
Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Even if they’re just having a bad day and their taking it out on you.
That might help you to see the bigger picture and be a little more patient.
3. Stay Neutral
Try to be objective. This can be hard, I know.
There have been many times when I just want to fire back at the customer.
But what good is that going to do anyone?!
When it comes to our businesses, that we built ourselves with our blood, sweat and tears, every complaint can feel like a personal attack.
If you find that you can’t be objective when dealing with certain customers, see if you can find someone else to handle that customer for you.
That way, your emotions don’t get in the way of doing the right thing for your business.
What I’ve found in these situations, what’s right for your business, is what’s hardest for you to do, which is often to swallow our pride.
4. Make it Right
Offer multiple solutions.
If you know that you can’t give the customer exactly what they want, offer multiple other solutions that could help them.
That way, your customer feels like they’re still in control of the situation, because they can choose how they want the problem to be solved.
Plus, it shows them that you really care about helping them, even when you can’t give them exactly what they want.
Of course, there are some situations that can be especially hard to navigate.
I want to give you a few examples, so you’ll know what to do if you ever have to deal with them.
Missing or Broken Product
What do you do when a customer tells you they need their order reshipped because their package never arrived or maybe it arrived broken?
And the customer won’t provide any proof?
This has happened to me a couple of times.
Even in a situation like this, I believe in coming from a place of empathy.
Remember, this person might be having a bad day – and I don’t want to make it worse.
I also never make any assumptions about this person.
That means not assuming that they’re a liar, a freeloader, or anything else negative.
When it comes to my business, my products are always priced appropriately with at least a 2x markup.
(Side note: you can check out my video on pricing by clicking this link.)
So, even though I might not want to send something for free, I can afford to mail a new product if I need to.
This situation is rare – so it’s worth the sacrifice to keep this customer happy.
In the grand scheme of things, this is not going to make a dent in my business because I’ll still be profitable.
But to the customer, this could be a really important product for them, and it could really make a difference in their day.
So if you have the power to do that, why wouldn’t you?
That’s how I think about it.
I’ve found that it’s better, and won’t be a burden on your conscience, to assume that the other person is telling the truth.
We never want to assume that they’re lying – that’s their own weight to carry, not ours.
If you can’t afford to provide this level of service, I highly encourage you to revisit your pricing.
It might be time to raise those prices.
It’s a part of building a long term business that lasts.
Misunderstanding of Product
Another tough situation is when people don’t read item descriptions then provide poor feedback when the item isn’t exactly what they expected.
For example, they might not pay attention to the size of the item, and then complain when it’s smaller than they thought it would be.
This has happened to all of us at one time or another.
We live in such a fast-paced world that it’s really easy to miss those little details.
I’ve definitely been on that end as a buyer.
So, again, let’s come to a place of empathy for our customers.
We can approach this differently depending on the situation.
For example, if the customer is on Etsy, we can send them a private message and try to find a solution.
We might offer to send them a size they really want or provide them with a refund.
I know this situation isn’t our fault – so spending time and money on mailing them a new size or providing that refund might sting a little bit.
But I guarantee that a poor review will hurt a lot more in the long term.
If your customer is happy with the solution you offer, politely ask them to change their feedback.
Remember, positive feedback is SUPER important to maintain on Etsy – because it affects your rankings.
Do whatever it takes.
Let me say that again: DO WHATEVER IT TAKES.
Now, if this happens on Shopify, there’s a little less pressure.
On Shopify, you manage your own product feedback and can choose not to display feedback that’s false or not your fault.
Still, you want to do whatever it takes to keep your customers happy and coming back for more.
So take the time to reach out and offer a solution when your customer comes to you with this problem.
Finally, this third situation that Andi Anu shared. “I just had a customer ask for the delivery number of their package but I lost the receipt it’s on! I feeel soo bad idk what to say”.
Don’t worry Andi, this happens all the time, it’s a very human mistake. Don’t feel bad.
Let’s talk about what we can do when WE, the business owners, are the ones who messed up.
For the record, I mess up all the time – it’s bound to happen when we’re running a business, and it’s best to just own up to the truth.
Provide an honest and sincere apology – this isn’t the time to give excuses or try to hide the mistake so we can save face.
You want the customer to know that you genuinely feel bad for what happened.
That could gain your customer’s trust, their understanding, and even their loyalty.
After you apologize, offer some kind of a solution.
In this case, I would let them know the date their package shipped and give them an idea of when it should arrive.
Because my products are priced with a 2x markup, I can also offer to resend their package if it doesn’t arrive by a certain date.
Customers can refuse the duplicate package if they both arrive.
Don’t be surprised to find that most people are super accommodating and cooperative, especially when we acknowledge our mistakes.
I know none of us like to deal with negative customers.
Honestly, sometimes I get anxiety just logging into my inbox – but the good news is that these situations are rare.
Most of the time, customers are not trying to take advantage of us or make our lives harder.
So, don’t let the idea of difficult customers keep you from starting your own business.
Every situation is handleable, and the really tough ones will rarely happen.
How have you handled difficult customers?
Let me know in the comments!
If you feel extra proud about how you handled a certain situation, PLEASE share it with us.
And be sure to check out my YouTube channel for more great handmade business tips and tricks!