No one enjoys being on the wrong end of a frustrated or irate customer.
However, dealing with complaints or customer concerns is just part of being a business owner, says customer experience consultant Aileen Day, who has led customer experience at Bunnings and Officeworks. “It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, as soon as you’re dealing with a human being, there’s the likelihood that someone’s going to muck up.”
Day says that for every person who comes forward with a complaint, there’s likely to be another two dozen dissatisfied customers who’ll leave without a word – to you anyway…you can be sure they’re telling everyone else about their poor experience.
For that reason, Day encourages retailers to view unhappy customers as an opportunity to learn and improve their business. In other words, complaints are a great way to identify flaws, improve your business and recover that customer.
Here are six common complaints or concerns that you may encounter, and how to respond.
If products or services aren’t what customers are expecting, they’ll inevitably complain.
Staff training expert Justin Herald of Customer Culture has written a number of books about customer service, and recalls a customer once complaining that one of his books had arrived in the post in subpar condition.
“The packaging was torn, the book was wet when it got the customer,” says Herald. “My customer] sent an email saying what had happened. Now it wasn’t my fault - but it was my problem.”
Herald says that when products arrive in poor condition, it’s up to the retailer to rectify the situation. For his part, Herald decided to redeliver the book – and throw in two more books for free.
“Adding something extra as an ‘I’m sorry’ is a great way to get [customers] back onside again,” says Herald, who went one step further. “I actually got on my motorbike on a Saturday, rode out there because it was a nice day, and hand-delivered it to the lady. She was quietly shocked.”
Thanks very much for letting us know about the delivery problems with your book. We are sorry this happened – so please accept two free books, along with your original order, as a token of our appreciation for your patience and understanding.
Day says complaints commonly arise when the customer and the business have a different understanding of what’s being offered – or businesses have failed to communicate properly.
“Let’s say a florist offers free delivery over $50. But what happens is a customer on the other side of town goes and buys a bunch of flowers and expects free delivery, but then the business says it’s only up to 20 kilometres.”
First, take some deep breaths. “As business owners we can get very, very defensive because [our business] is the thing that we put our heart and soul into and we don’t like being told that we’re wrong,” says Day.
Listen carefully and empathetically, and respond with fact, not emotion. If the conversation is happening on social media, Day points out that you’re not just speaking to one customer – but their followers and friends, too. In that case, she recommends acknowledging the issue, before apologising and encouraging the disgruntled customer to reach out via direct message.
Thank you for bringing this to attention. We’re sorry if our delivery guidelines aren’t as clear as they could have been (we’re now working on this!). On this occasion, we are happy to offer free delivery to make up for any confusion. We hope to help you with some beautiful flowers again soon!
When it comes to online shopping, no one enjoys waiting longer than necessary for their parcel to arrive – and shipping delays emerged as a common issue during COVID-19 as postal services struggled to keep up. Fail to keep your customers in the loop, and you (and social media) are sure to hear about it.
Respond quickly. The first step might be for the business to offer a tracking number for the delivery or service, and then ensure that the customer isn’t forced to repeat their case to multiple customer service staff. “What customers hate doing is repeating themselves.”
Where it’s impossible to hasten the delivery process, “the least you should do is apologise and thank them for their patience”, says Day.
“Customers hate repeating themselves.”
Should the situation drag on further, consider offering a future discount or gift card by way of apology - a much cheaper alternative than running the risk of losing a customer.
Thank you for your patience, and we’re really sorry this is taking longer than expected. We have escalated your concern, and will be back in contact with you as soon as possible. Here is your tracking number, should you need to get in touch. Again, we appreciate your understanding.
It’s increasingly common for shoppers – particularly socially conscious millennials – to want to know more about how your products are made, says Kim Honor, lead trainer at the Customer Service Institute of Australia. Are you prepared if shoppers have customer concerns and want to know if your products are vegan, organic or cruelty-free?
If your products are not ethically made or you’re not sure of their provenance, don’t just ignore the customer concern. If someone’s passionate enough to ask detailed questions about your products, view it as an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with your customer – and undertake customer research to inform future decision-making.
“Sometimes when they’re asking questions that we’re not comfortable with, we get awkward and run away from it, instead of really embracing it, and approaching it with curiosity,” says Honor, who recommends asking probing questions to find out what’s most important to the customer.
Honor also suggests using positive language, and focusing on what you are doing to solve this problem, rather than what you’re not. For example, don’t just say ‘sorry, we don’t stock vegan leather shoes’.
Thanks for getting in touch. We’re finding that more customers are interested in vegan leather, which we agree is a great idea. To that end, we’re currently speaking to a number of vegan leather suppliers, and hope to have something more to report soon. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about the kinds of footwear you’d be interested in.
Consumers increasingly expect brands to be transparent about the make-up of their executive team and staff – and whether they are tackling issues of diversity. So, what should you do if someone emails with consumer concerns about diversity? Or confronts you on social media about a lack of diversity in your advertising campaigns?
Small businesses – especially those with only two or three employees – may struggle to achieve the level of diversity on staff that consumers demand, says Honor.
However, it’s important to look at all the ways in which your business can address diversity – from the casting of models in marketing campaigns to your own hiring policies, supplier arrangements and stocked ranges.
If you don’t have diversity policies and you’re being called out by customers, be honest, advises Honor, who adds that if you approach the conversation with a genuine interest in learning more, you can transform that transaction into a relationship.
It’s fantastic to hear that you feel so passionately about this issue. Many of our customers share your way of thinking, and in fact, so do we. However we agree we could have done better this time. As such, we are currently working on a new campaign that focuses on diversity. It will be released in June, and we hope you’ll be excited as we are to see it. Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.
Supply chain issues and workers’ rights have been in the spotlight since the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, where more than 1000 workers died after a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.
So, if you’re an online retailer, particularly in fashion, expect this question to pop up from increasingly aware consumers. They’ll likely want to know that the clothes they’re wearing, or the products they’re buying, match their own ethics. And the more transparency the better.
Again, be honest in any communications with your customers. If you’re massaging the truth, expect to be called out on it, says Honor.
If you do have a supply chain code of conduct or a map, she suggests embedding it in your website and your social media, and referring customers to it. If you don’t have this information at hand, frame your response positively and commit to providing an answer within a certain timeframe, says Honor.
And if you don’t have all your ducks in a row just yet, don’t panic. “Sometimes it’s just acknowledging that that’s something that we hadn’t considered, or that we’re still in the process of implementing, or wherever you’re at, but framing it from a point of action,” says Honor.
Thank you for getting in touch about our supply chain ethics. This is something we are constantly working to improve, and as you can imagine, it is an ongoing process. We would love to hear about any specific areas of concern for you, and how you think we might be able to help.