How should I handle a customer complaint to ensure that I don’t lose her as a future buyer?

This article first appeared on January 6th, 2011.


I’ve started up an online clothing retailer and have sold my first few items.


However, I’ve already had a complaint from a customer over a tear in the item I sent her.


How should I handle the complaint to ensure that I don’t lose her as a future customer?


Firstly, congratulations on starting your own venture and having sold your first few items. As you can see, complaints happen and, when they do, it’s important how you handle them.


Most customers don’t complain. They simply don’t come back. So the fact that your customer has alerted you to a problem is wonderful! You now have the chance to dazzle her with your service.


Here is what I would do:


1. The minute I knew there was a problem I would make immediate contact. Too many businesses avoid getting in contact with their complaining customer immediately. When there is a problem you need to fix it FAST.


2. Apologise profusely for the inconvenience this has caused her and let her know that you are personally checking a second item and putting it in an Express Mail bag to her overnight.


3. Include something extra when you do send the replacement product – a gift voucher that entitles her to a discount on her next order; a small additional item as a gift – something unexpected that makes you appear generous. Include a handwritten note [and always write in blue ink so that it doesn’t look computer generated].


4. If she is unhappy with this and wants a refund – do it. But send her the second item anyway. See it as part of your marketing budget.


5. Do not request that she send the original item back to you. This makes it appear as though you don’t believe her story and she won’t forgive you for the inconvenience that you are now causing her. If she hates you, she will never come back and she will tell all her friends not to shop with you either.


What this does highlight is a need for a quality assurance procedure. Did you or one of your staff check the item for any fault prior to sending it to her or did you assume that it would be in A1 condition?


It might be worthwhile developing a ‘quality item check’ card which requires someone to check the item prior to despatch, sign the card [including a tracking number that you retain] and include it in packages you send out. This gives peace of mind in knowing that your product was in perfect condition when it left your hands.


Something else you may want to consider is developing a complaints handling procedure and post it on your website. Guidelines are available from Consumer Affairs – get the guidelines and design your process around the points raised.


Importantly, remember that the majority of customers are decent people and that complaints are not to be avoided. They’re actually a gift in that they show you a ‘gap’ in your business which you can fix. Without the complaint you wouldn’t be aware of the ‘gap’.


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