Resolving disputes with customers

Written by Amy Monaghan

February 4th, 2021
Resolving disputes with customers

If you haven't noticed already, here at Small Market we're big advocates of small businesses. Things can be tough, and we know that you have to do it all. So what happens when you've got an unhappy customer, because it's bound to happen.

Because you own a small business you're invested in it emotionally, and it's very easy to take criticism personally. Couple this with the fact that the world that we live in means that it's likely the first you're going to hear from an unsatisfied customer is on social media and this means two things - firstly you'll be annoyed that they didn't contact you directly first, and secondly it's already public. The first thing you need to do is put your emotions to one side. It's unlikely they're trying to make a personal attack on you, it's the business they're unhappy with. And it's not unusual for people to contact smaller businesses on social media, so that bit's not personal either.

What you need to try and do is de-escalate the complaint, politely and privately. Reply to their post saying that you're sorry there's been a problem and you'll contact them to resolve it. If you've done this in a timely way then it's an indicator to your other customers that you're helping if they do find the original complaint.

Then you need to establish what the problem is. People tend to be cross when they complain. It's not something that you do if you're just a little disappointed, but closer to being let down. This means they're emotional too, so try to see things from their perspective. Yes, you might be cross at your courier company for not delivering the parcel on time, and you could choose to just rant about how unfair it is that someone is blaming you for that. But, from their perspective they've tried to support a small business and now the birthday present for their great aunt is late and they might not bother again. So, how do you balance this? Show them the benefit of shopping small. You are a human and they are too so make the solution together and suggest to them how to make something good out of the situation.

In the instance where a parcel is late you could... Design them a printable card with the item on which they can gift now and deliver the real item later. Ask them if you can send out a birthday tweet to celebrate auntie's birthday with your followers making her a celebrity for the day (and promising her the lovely gift to come). Or even offer to make a video of the item and how it's made that they can show just how special it is and why it's taking a little bit longer. You've made a bad situation much better, and shown a lot of benefits to that small purchase. And it hasn't cost you anything.

Many people go straight to the discount code off future orders, and whilst that's not a bad idea in itself, the trick is to make sure that person is going to want to order from you again first. Then you can offer them that as a gesture of good will, which feels much more genuine if you're not just trying to keep them quiet.

Other issues can be more tricky to solve. What if they've received your product and it's not what they were expecting, or the person they've gifted it to doesn't like it? It's really up to you what your returns policies are, but an exchange for another item, provided they pay for the postage, is often a nice compromise which doesn't mean you're loosing out on revenue. And of course if the item is faulty or arrives broken the only thing to do is to refund it. You can claim back damages from your courier/supplier later, in this instance the customer is always right.

Not all disputes start online, you might have an email, a phone call or even someone turning up at your craft fair. The principles are still the same. Establish what's wrong, reply quickly if you can, be friendly and offer a resolution, but don't feel that you need to just refund the product to try and get rid of them. There are often great solutions that both of you will prefer. And might even win you repeat business if they're that impressed.