If you sell on Merch by Amazon or other PODs where they take care of the entire transaction, you don’t have to worry about this. But if you sell print-on-demand items on Etsy, Shopify, eBay, Amazon, etc., you will be faced with tricky customer service issues from time to time.
For many sellers, the prospect of getting a nasty email or bad review fills them with fear and dread, and it’s not hard to understand why. These days, there is a difficult customer around every corner, it seems.
But you don’t have to be afraid if you employ the following tactics.
#1 – Try not to get emotional
Yeah, it hurts! You’ve put hours and hours into your designs and products; they’re your babies. And this customer is hating on something you’ve done or have not done. It’s easy to let it wound you.
But you can’t take it personally. Remember, they ordered it because they loved it, and just because now some issue has arisen, it doesn’t mean they hate it or hate you. They don’t know you from Adam.
They often don’t realize or they forget that there’s a human behind the web site where they make their purchases and think they’re railing against a big impersonal company who doesn’t care about the individual customer. So they get emotional and start attacking.
If you get emotional too, there may be no saving the relationship! It’s up to you to bring things back to a professional level. A kind, reasonable response may be all that’s needed to help them regain their composure, and from there, you can work together toward a solution that makes everyone happy.
If you get a nastygram and respond in the same vein, you are allowing your customers to determine the level of professionalism your business believes in. Why give them that power? They can say whatever they want, however they want, but YOU are still running your dream business and they don’t GET to determine how you run it!
#2 – Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated
Yep, it’s the old Golden Rule! Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They may not be in the right, but if you can show that you sympathize with their frustration, they will feel like you are validating their viewpoint, even if you don’t do exactly what they want you to do.
All sellers have been buyers too. And it’s unlikely that every time you’ve purchased something online, you’ve been 100% happy with the company you bought from. How they responded to your complaint probably had a huge effect on whether you ever bought from them again and on how you talked about them to others.
Remember that they are handing over their hard-earned cash to you, which means they’re saying, I’m willing to trust you with my money, and I trust that you will give me something that is worth that amount. They can feel helpless if the transaction doesn’t go the way they expected.
#3 – View complaints as opportunities
Instead of getting super stressed out when you get one of “those” emails, view it as a chance to demonstrate to them what your customer service is like. If they leave a public review, your response will reassure them – as well as potential customers who read the reviews – that you can be trusted. After all, until there’s a problem, your customers have no idea what they’re going to be up against if something isn’t right. So show them!
Take a positive tone. Don’t write back in a panic, coming from a place of thinking about how you may lose money on this transaction or worrying that they’re going to ruin your reputation and you’ll never be successful because of a mad customer. Those stresses are going to negatively impact how you address their problem because you’re making it about your own problem.
Your first goal is let them know that you are willing to work with them to find a solution. Be calm and professional. If the mistake was yours, don’t hesitate to apologize. But at the same time, don’t grovel.
How to do it
• First, acknowledge their feelings. Right or wrong, it’s how they feel.
• Second, determine whether their complaint is valid, and be honest with yourself about this. Are your listings or policies unclear? Did you mislead them in any way before they purchased, even inadvertently? Did you promise something and now you’ve realized that you shouldn’t have because you will lose money on the deal?
If you determine that they have a point, apologize and let them know that you will be addressing the issue that caused the problem. Better yet, let them know that you HAVE fixed it.
On the other hand, if they’re way off base and you need to stick to your policies, be kind but authoritative. If you do whatever a customer wants because you’re in fear of a bad review, they will take advantage of you — and they will try it on other sellers too. That doesn’t benefit anybody.
• Third, decide whether any compensation is warranted, whether that be a total or partial refund, replacement, or some other concession. If they’ve told you what they want you to do, consider it, but you are not obligated to do exactly that.
• Fourth, thank them again for their purchase, and assure them that you appreciate their support of your small business.
• Fifth, make sure you double-check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. A poorly written response does nothing to reassure them that you are a professional businessperson who is willing to work with them. This is not the place for internet abbreviations like LOL and IMO, and use emojis sparingly, if at all.
Also, use polite greetings and closings. A terse message with no pleasantries is very off-putting, even if you smile while typing it!
Don’t backpedal – you might fall off the bike!
In the last section, we mentioned going back on promises. We’ve all done it – or at least were sorely tempted to. You gave a customer a certain price or promised a certain shipping speed or whatever. Then you discover you messed up. How you handle this type of situation will say a lot about your integrity.
I’ll give you an example of how NOT to handle it.
I bought a piece of software from a well-known “guru” in a certain field of endeavor. Later this seller added a bunch of new features and stated that those who had already paid X amount for the software during their special sale a few months prior would automatically be given access to the new features.
Well, I had paid X amount, but it had been prior to the special sale. So I contacted the seller about it, told him I was seeing the new features in my dashboard, and specifically asked whether that meant I was in, even though the purchase date wasn’t the same. He said yes.
Several days later, the new features were gone. I emailed requesting help to get them back, and customer service stated that I wasn’t eligible for the new features. I forwarded my conversation with the seller to show them that he had told me I was in. They were unmoved.
So I asked them to have him to contact me, as I was SURE that once he was reminded of the conversation he would realize that he himself had said I would have access.
Instead, he started backpedaling. He said, “You told me yourself that you weren’t eligible.” I asked where he was seeing that. His response was, “You clearly stated that you didn’t buy during the sale.”
I said, “Right, which is why I specifically asked whether I qualified since I did pay the proper amount, just not during the sale you mentioned. You said I was in.”
His answer to that? “When I said ‘you’re in,’ I meant you were in your current access level, not the extra features.”
I was like, What the…?!?!? I told him that anybody else reading that conversation would certainly have known what I was asking. Obviously, I was asking whether I was “in” the new software.
He disagreed. After I emailed him again explaining how disappointed I was that he was going back on his word, he begrudgingly gave me access to the new features “as a one-time courtesy.” Now, that phrase can legitimately be used with a customer who you know will hound you till your dying day if you don’t give them some sort of concession. But to have it applied to me in this situation was really frustrating, especially when I had made a special effort to confirm my eligibility, rather than just assuming I should get it and blowing my top when I didn’t.
If he had just said, “No, I’m sorry, you don’t qualify,” when I asked, it would have been fine. I would have been disappointed, sure, but he had the total right to decide who qualified and who didn’t. No problem. But he confirmed and then backpedaled.
So now I have permanent access to the software…but I hardly use it. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from the experience. I doubt his integrity now, and I feel that I had no value in his eyes except as someone who he could get more money out of later even though I paid the same amount as the others who were getting access.
That is NOT how you get loyal customers who will shout from the rooftops how great you are and how everyone should buy from you. Instead, you get cast in a negative light in articles like this, even though I’m not naming names. He lost far more by handling it this way than he would have otherwise.
An example to imitate
I also have a good example to share with you. And this time I will name names.
I’ve been using GearBubble for about a year and a half now. They do print-on-demand shirts, mugs, jewelry, canvases, and many more items.
The quality of their products is pretty much on par with other PODs. But I’ve been frustrated by the fact that they keep printing my customers’ mugs upside-down.
So every time I get an upset customer, I find myself emailing Gearbubble with a plea to take care of it pronto because I’ve got a customer here who ordered this as a gift and now getting a replacement in time may be impossible.
Their customer service is stellar, in my opinion. They respond quickly to replace the mug, and in almost every case, it has been enough to appease my customer. They’ve even on occasion given me a completely refund AND replaced the mug, meaning that they are out two mugs, but they realize this is the price they pay for mistakes.
If they blew me off and said, “accidents happen” and that they’d send a new mug when they could get around to it, I would have closed my account. But they go above and beyond to get a replacement out immediately.
Do I wish they would figure out which of their employees are printing mugs while doing upside-down yoga poses so I wouldn’t have to call customer service in the first place? Yes, of course. But they’ve kept me as a customer because they know how important it is to respond to a customer’s complaint quickly and with sympathy and sometimes with financial compensation, even when I don’t ask for it.
Soothing the savage beast
I’ll give you one more example from the seller’s point of view – me this time. I got an email just yesterday from an angry customer who bought a hoodie from my Shopify store.
No pleasantries, no greetings, just ‘You sent me a coupon that EXPIRED IN JANUARY, this is false advertising! If you had good customer service you’d reimburse me for the coupon!’ etc.
I was like, Oh, crap. I forgot to renew that coupon.
So right from the start, I knew it was my mistake. Still, I had to take a few deep breaths. I don’t understand why people can’t just say, “Hey, the coupon you sent me didn’t work, can you please fix it?” Why the immediate aggression, the assumption that you’re being scammed? Sigh. But that’s not how people are these days.
So I let a little time pass so I could cool down before I formulated a reply. I started out by conveying my frustration with myself for forgetting to change the expiration date. I apologized that it didn’t work. I told her I had just refunded her 20% for the coupon and an extra 5% for the inconvenience.
The funny thing is that I recognized her name and that she and I had ridden the same bus to school for years! So I brought that to her attention in a friendly way and just completely ignored the fact that her behavior had been less than professional. I told her a little about how she had purchased from the small online business my husband and I had created and that I really appreciated it.
If I hadn’t known who she was, I probably would have thrown in a brief statement like, “I’m not sure I understand why the immediate hostility, I’m just a real person like you who regrettably made a mistake with the coupon,” or something like that. But because I knew her, I figured she would come to the conclusion on her own that her anger was misplaced and uncalled for.
Within a couple of hours I had an extremely pleasant response from her, saying she remembered me, how happy she was to be buying from someone who grew up in the same town, what she had been doing since high school, etc. She didn’t apologize, but that’s okay. She was probably too embarrassed to call further attention to her original message.
The bottom line is that we are now both happy. She got her discount, will receive the product she obviously loved enough to part with her money for, and I got a happy customer who is now very likely to recommend me and my site. If I had responded to her in kind, it may have escalated, making us both upset and unsatisfied with the experience.
Of course, you won’t usually have this personal tie that can help you smooth things over. But in the world of POD, if you’re creating designs in a niche you love, and your customers are buying from you because they love the niche, you do have that in common. Build on that, make friendly overtures toward them, find the positives, let go of small slights.
But don’t be a doormat
Don’t conclude from all the foregoing information that you should take whatever customers dish out, though. You are not required to deal with someone who is spewing profanity, personal attacks, or threatening feedback extortion.
If they are in the right but being total jerks about it, you should still make it right. But there is nothing wrong with stating something like, “I am happy to work with you to resolve this situation. However, I do not appreciate being threatened or extorted or being repeatedly sworn at. Let’s resolve this in a professional way” — or something like that.
If this is on a platform you don’t own such as Etsy or eBay, this kind of abuse can and should be reported. Offenders can find themselves banned from the platform, and they would not be missed.
If it takes place on your own web site, such as Shopify or a WordPress site, you are the final authority, so you can make your own rules as to what will be tolerated.
About those bad reviews…
Never operate your business under a fear of bad reviews. I’ve seen seller after seller after seller cave because they’re afraid the customer’s going to leave a bad review.
You know what happens when they do that?
Yup, they give away the farm, let the customer walk all over them, and then they get the bad review ANYWAY. Scamming customers who do this to sellers as a regular thing are often going to let you have it in the review EVEN IF you give them what they want.
Moving on after a complaint
Once you’ve taken care of the problem, don’t continue to obsess and agonize about it. But at the same time, you should immediately fix whatever led to the problem so you can head off future issues with other buyers. Don’t assume that it was just this customer who didn’t understand something. Use what you’ve learned to prevent it from happening again.
Remember, people don’t read anymore. Repeat important information in multiple places in your listings. If it’s hidden in the fine print, there will be problems.
What’s your experience?
Please tell us an experience of your own in the comments and how you handled it!