Not every transaction goes as smoothly or perfectly as businesses might hope. Most every company receives customer complaints.
As this article is being written, many online retailers are experiencing heavy Christmas sales. Thanksgiving Day kicked off the frenzy. Black Friday was good for physical and online stores, and Cyber Monday is rapidly becoming Cyber Week. On or about December 25, all of those gift purchases will be handed to their final recipients, and just in time for 2015, merchants will experience a rush of returns, exchanges, and other customer concerns.
… just in time for 2015, merchants will experience a rush of returns, exchanges, and other customer concerns.
In many cases, nothing will be wrong. The customer may have misunderstood or misused a product, and he wants something done.
Here is a summary of an actual customer complaint call that came into a brick-and-click retailer on Black Friday 2014.
As far as this caller was concerned the site search didn’t work. She wasn’t a regular online shopper, so the entire experience was foreign to her. And she was extremely frustrated. Ultimately, she’d misspelled the search query. The site search would have returned the proper results for a near miss, but this was significantly off. The customer service representative listened, apologized, and even as they were still speaking on the phone, he added the brutal misspelling to a list of site search synonyms. She refreshed her browser window, and suddenly the search worked. Problem resolved.
Similarly, another customer complained that an online retailer had sent him the wrong size pants. He wanted a full refund because he could not believe how stupid the store was. It turned out that he received the size ordered, but that he reversed the inseam and waist sizes when he’d made the purchase. The retailer provided the refund and paid for the return shipping.
Regardless of the complaint’s cause or validity, there are three steps that a customer service department can take: “listen,” “resolve,” and “log.”
Step 1: Listen
Note the customer service agent did not argue with the shopper in either of the examples described above.
Arguing with a customer is a fool’s errand, not because the customer is always right, but simply because there is nothing to win. Even if a customer service representative somehow manages to win an argument with a customer, that representative has almost certainly lost that customer’s future purchases.
What’s worse, the representative may have made an enemy who will discourage others from making purchases from the business in the future. This new enemy can turn to Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, or other social media sites to spread her disdain.
Instead of fighting, just listen. Let the upset customer vent. Let the customer feel like he’s been heard. This simple act alone will defuse nearly every customer complaint a business receives.
Step 2: Resolve
Once the customer has had time to vent, speak, and be heard, then return, refund, and resolve the issue.
For small online businesses, the loss of profit can hurt a bit. On that particular sale, a company might lose the cost of the product, the cost of shipping, or both. But for most customer service problems this is simply the proper response.
For mid-sized and larger businesses, it can actually be much less expensive to simply resolve the customer service issue quickly than to try and draw out the issue or negotiate with a customer, even if the customer is simply wrong.
Finally, it is part of doing business. Things sometimes go wrong, and sometimes correcting issues costs a little bit of money.
Step 3: Log
Some business experts believe that customer complaints can be beneficial to a business, if that business logs those complaints and looks for trends both for individual customers and for customers collectively.
Imagine that a mid-sized online retailer’s customer service department receives about 200 customer complaints, concerns, or questions per day. Now imagine that this company logs every customer service interaction, tracking the customer’s name, email address, and specific concern or complaint.
Over time, if this online retailer is logging similar complaints about its checkout process, there may be an opportunity to improve the checkout’s user interface, and increase conversions for the business overall.
Similarly, if a merchant noticed that several customers were complaining about getting the wrong sized pants, and found that in many cases those customers were confusing the inseam with the waist size, it might be the case that the product detail page layout is contributing to the problem. Instead of the customers being wrong or foolish, it may have been the layout or interface that was not clear.
Finally, logging customer complaints can help identify bad customers. Perhaps these are customers taking advantage of a seller’s generous refund policy. As described in step 2, it is often better to simply resolve a customer service complaint quickly (which could cost a bit of money). But this does not mean that a company should allow a bad customer to consistently cheat it. When a company logs complaints and ultimately identifies bad customers, it can simply stop selling to them.