Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Handling Customer Disputes When You Have An Online Business

No matter how you choose to do business, if you have customers you will have disputes. It doesn't matter how on top of things you are, or how attentive you are to your business, disputes are just unavoidable.

My earlier jobs, growing up, were always in customer service - retail, restaurant, AAA Emergency Road Service, tele-services, etc and they all teach you the same thing, "The customer is always right!" I, personally never agreed with this philosophy. I believe that the customer is often wrong and should be told so, but with a smile! :D I also believe that not all customers are worth keeping happy. It has been my experience that there are many people out there to scam you, the business, out of profits. For instance, I worked in a buffet restaurant and watched a man complain that he found a huge bolt screw in his Spanish Rice. Of course he didn't notice it until he was actually eating off of his plate (that he made himself). If you would have seen this screw, you would know that there is no way that he missed picking it up with the spoon. In addition, the screw was clean, hardly any food on it. Now if you don't know what Spanish Rice is, this dish was rice with a tomato sauce, spices, and cheeses, There is no way that the screw could have been swimming so deep in the dish that he didn't notice it when he fixed his plate and it would have weighed heavily on his fork and probably fell off due to it's size, so he couldn't have pulled it out of his mouth. What I'm trying to say here is that there is no way that the screw was actually in the food. Long story short, the guy walked out with his meal for the evening compliments of the restaurant and vouchers to come back for more free meals. Never mind the fact that he kept eating from the same plate and continued with his meal (most disgusted diners would lose their appetite and wouldn't be interested in free meal vouchers because they wouldn't want to eat there ever again). This is why that old philosophy doesn't work for me. They literally invited a scammer to come back to the restaurant and eat more for free just to keep him happy enough to come back and do it all over again. I don't need those kinds of customers, do you? I would have comp'd his meal, then had him fill out a complaint form (so that I could capture his name and information in case he tried it again) and sent him on his way. He wouldn't have gotten an invite to come back.

I've told this story because it teaches some valuable lessons:
  1. Don't Take It Personal. This is one of the most important rules of business. There will be a lot of things that will not be fair, or will work against you, or will infuriate you. You cannot, I repeat, cannot, take things personally. Some customers will make honest mistakes, others will make careless mistakes, and more will have buyers remorse and do whatever there is to be done to get you to give them their money back. I have had customers threaten to report my company to all kinds of bureaus and agencies over $13. A lot of these disgruntled customers think that $13 should be a drop in the bucket to your business and you should just give it back and be done with the complaint. It's petty and it makes you angry, because if they think it's a drop in a bucket, then why are they so adamant about getting it back? Truth is, they believe it is owed to them, but you have rules (terms and conditions) and you should enforce them, with a smile!
  2. Trust No Customer. Some new business owners will believe everything a customer tells them and will do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy, even as far as giving them free product/service, so that they come back. Most times this approach works for something that is or could have been your fault. However, when the problem is the customer's error, lack of attention to detail, or failure to read the terms and conditions of sale, not taking this approach will save your company money. Those customers that know that they made a mistake will say and do anything to correct it (get their money back), including lie. They don't care if you are a small or large business. They assume that if you are in business, you will take the loss just to make them happy. The laws of business are almost always in the customer's favor so you have to have good bookkeeping and make sure you give the customer every opportunity to read and understand what they are signing up for. As long as your I's are dotted and T's are crossed, you will prevail 99% of the time. The other 1% accounts for the risks you take in doing business in general.
  3. Kill Them With Kindness. You can send away a happy customer even when you don't give them everything for free! When it's your business' fault, be apologetic, and give the customer something for their frustration, or not. Depending on how inconvenienced the customer is, a simple "I'm sorry for your trouble, thank you for being patient with us!" is enough. Other times a discount or full refund is in order. When it is the customer's fault, with a warm voice and a smile, remind them of terms & conditions that were presented ( and where they were presented) to them before they made their purchase. Most customers will be good with that. Still, there are some that think the squeaky wheel gets the oil so they will be persistent. Depending on your/their mood, you can go out of your way to give them some sort of leniency. Regardless of how you handle the problem, don't take it personal, it's business and these things happen. Even if you are on the phone, take a deep breath, put a smile on your face, and give them your happy voice. The nicer you are to mean people, the worse those mean people feel when everything is all over.
  4. Keep Records! I put an exclamation on this because if you have a small business, most likely you are handling the customers personally. Even if you aren't, have a process that your employees follow for complaints that result in loss. Trust no customer. That nice old lady with the lost package that UPS says was left at the door this month, may also be the nice old lady who claims that her product arrived damaged next month, and then be the nice old lady with a lost package again 6 months after that. She just got a 2-for-1 special from you 3 times and you never ran a single sale. Track these complaints and monitor them. You want to know when you are being scammed.

Keep in mind that I'm not suggesting that you treat every customer like a thief, but use your instinct and trust your better judgement. You can be nice to everyone, but you can't make everyone happy. You also can't bankrupt your business because your customers failed to read the fine print. If you have terms and conditions of sale, make them visible and enforce them. It doesn't hurt to force the customer to agree to them before making their purchase either. There is something about saying "Per the terms and conditions that you agreed to upon purchase..." that tends to make it much easier to not give the customer what they are unreasonably asking for.


  1. So much for dispute handling! I placed an order on site on March 2nd, 2012. On the 12th, I called as I had no product or shipping information. On the 13th, I sent an e-mail to the customer service mailbox. On March 15th, I called again. Now on checking the order status on the web site, it said my funds were returned?!?!? They were never taken out of my account. The order was apparently cancelled. Cancelled without notifying the customer?!!? What the hell!?!?!? I've had absolutely no response to ANY of my attempts to contact them. I ADVISE NEVER ORDERING FROM THIS COMPANY!!! It's oblivious to me they don't respect or serve their customers or potential customers.

    1. It is our policy to not settle transactions until an order is shipped. This keeps your money in your hands, rightfully, until we honor our side of the transaction with the product you've requested. In the event that products are unavailable, your funds are returned to you sooner. Order status is available online 24/7 via the website. We do thank you for your feedback!