Working online, I’ve has my fair share of unpleasant customers. I’ve also found ways of dealing with the most unpleasant customer interactions. If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you probably have some idea of what it’s like to deal with a challenging customer. I used to work at McDonald’s and we had a lady who became known as the “Happy Meal thrower.” She would come through the drive-thru every day at the same time and chuck her Happy Meal through the window. While this was a little extreme, it certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience. While it can be difficult to handle customers such as the “Happy Meal thrower,” it’s also difficult handling customers online.
The unpleasant situations you will face online are different from the situations you will face in a store. If someone came into a restaurant and started screaming at you because their hamburger had one pickle instead of two, you would probably have the support of other employees around you. If the situation continued for multiple hours, the challenging customer might find himself or herself in legal troubles. Online, people can lie about their situations and can be abusive with virtually no consequences to them in the real world. The trouble is the lack of firm policies that set the grounds for consequences.
To avoid being susceptible to difficult customers or even scammers, make sure you take account of the following tips:
1. Declare Your Listing Description
My first suggestion in handling a challenging customer is to reference your listing description. For example, if you’re selling a used vase that has a small crack, you want to make sure that this is clearly stated in the description. In your listing, state that the vase has a small crack and take a picture specifically of the crack. This avoids any potential confusion with the terminology of a “small crack”. In this way, you can also prevent yourself from being the target of scammers who want to take advantage of a damaged product and create false claims.
If the customer claims a week later that the vase is not as expected due to a small crack and demands a full refund, you can point back to the listing description, where the pictures of the vase and description of the condition were clearly pointed out. Don’t take an immediate loss on your part and refund the customer — it might be beneficial to politely point out your description to the customer. In most cases, the customer will realize their mistake in not reading the description and apologize, but if the customer is more difficult than you anticipated, you can correct this issue by taking a step further with the claim and work with the marketplace (for example, eBay or Paypal Customer Service) and explain the situation. In this situation, if all the product details were clearly indicated, you will be able to win the claim.
2. Package With Care
When someone purchases your vase for $500, you have to also make sure you carefully package it with care and ship it to the customer. Packaging is crucial when your product isn’t in brand-new condition — this prevents the buyer from making any claims on poor packaging. Make sure that all your packages come with the adequate amount of packaging peanuts or air pillows that will fill up any empty space in your packaging box. This is the best way to avoid any complaints about receiving a damaged product because the packaging was inadequate. It also ensures that packaging is professional and looks better for your business.
3. Clear Return Policies
What if referencing the listing description doesn’t work? You reference the description and the unhappy customer responds and says that the crack doesn’t look the same as the picture and demands a refund, threatening to place a negative review. Unfortunately, this does happen occasionally. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the customer is most likely lying and is hoping to get a free $500 vase.
If you sell your items on a platform such as eBay or Amazon, your platform might have specific return policies. If so, let your customer know about the return policy and suggest that they return the item to you. To avoid losses on shipping, also make sure that they understand that they will have to pay for return shipping. Let them know that once they ship the item, you will refund their money. Although this is not the best situation, it’s probably better than receiving a negative review as this will have further consequences for your business’ reputation.
Troubleshooting with difficult customers can be tricky. If the customer refuses to return the item, it won’t be an easy fix to reclaim your item. I’ve dealt with this situation before, and it is truly a headache. Thankfully, I sold through eBay and I was able to contact seller support. In the end, the person who bought the item was part of a huge crime ring and had used a stolen credit card to pay.
In such a case, contacting Customer Support is your best bet to set things right with the marketplace and your earnings with the buyer. When dealing with an uncooperative buyer, you will have to expect you and the buyer will have two different stories. Stay true and honest to what happened and also make sure that all the details that can be mixed up, such as the clarity of the item condition, packaging quality, and overall company policies, are clear.
It is recommended to sell on an insured platform when starting out your business because you will have adequate seller protection and support. However, if you run your own website, troubleshooting can be even more frustrating. Since you’re not under the comfort of a marketplace, you will have to deal directly with credit card companies or Paypal, which can lead to longer resolves. Depending on the situation, it might be worth reporting any conversations to online law enforcement. Unfortunately, this is just not a good situation to be in because it will likely take a long time to get resolved.
5. Stay Professional
Not all unpleasant customer interactions are as difficult to handle as the scenario described above. Sometimes a customer might just be having a bad day and might take it out on you. In this case, I’ve found that it works best to respond within a timely manner and be as polite as possible. Never aggravate the situation by being unprofessional, such as calling the buyer names or refusing to reply or provide service. This will be used against you in claims and you will lose. If you’re kind about the situation, you will likely have a better end result, and you and the buyer will also be on good terms to work together to resolve the issue.