As an online bookseller, I have personally received some obnoxious emails from customers that have purchased used books from me in the past few years. Fortunately, there were few of them, and their numbers were dwarfed by the absolutely thoughtful emails sent by other customers. Most people are genuinely grateful that I take the time to adequately describe the book they bought and that I ship their orders in a timely manner, but there is the occasional delay by the post office for which a customer assumes I am responsible.
It does not matter how well you pack a book, or how clearly you label your packages, the post office will inevitably lose one or destroy it with one of their book munching machines. From the customer's perspective, they do not care why they did not get their book or whatever product you are selling, they only care that they paid for it and you did not deliver it. Sometimes they even get irate when they pay you to ship it to them via Media Mail (which is stated to be 4-14 business days) and it takes a week for them to get it. I guess they expect you make sure the post office knows they are special and should receive preferential treatment, even though they are not willing to spend a couple extra bucks for priority service. It does not really matter what the reason is, why your customer is irate, or how stupid or petty you think their gripe is, do not even imply that they might be wrong.
It is not going to help your business to put your customers down, make them feel as stupid as you might think they are, or prove to them that they are wrong. Reply courteously, professionally, and respectfully. Try to put yourself in their position and explain what the probable cause of the problem is without being defensive. I have had a couple negative feedback comments left by buyers that were disappointed by the delivery times of their books. Both were unjustified, and when I explained the situation to these customers, both removed their negative feedback comments.
In one case, the buyer was outraged that they had not received their book after five days because they paid for Priority Mail. I reviewed their purchase notification and indeed they had paid for Priority Mail. It turns out I shipped the book to them via Priority Mail, but when they looked at the shipping information I sent them, they noticed that they had provided me with an incorrect address because they moved a few months earlier and had forgotten to update their Amazon account information.
The other buyer was annoyed because their international delivery had taken more than four weeks to arrive in Brazil. I reviewed their order and replied, letting them know the exact date I had shipped their book, the day after they ordered it. I gave them the US Customs tracking number, I pointed out that the book ($3.99) was over six pounds and had to be shipped via M-Bag delivery ($11.00+ for shipping) and that the $9.
98 they had paid for shipping was for a 6 - 8 week delivery. I also told them that I appreciated their patience and if the book did not arrive within the eight-week delivery time, I would gladly refund their entire purchase. This particular buyer was not content to wait the eight weeks, so I went ahead and refunded them.
A week later, their book arrived, they were very apologetic, they removed the negative feedback, and they wanted to know how they could send me the money for the book and shipping I had refunded. I told them not to bother, just to enjoy the book. A year later, this customer was in the U.S. (New York) and they mailed me a USPS money order for $20 with a note explaining that they did not feel right about accepting the book and getting a refund. They also said that I had been very helpful and responsive, and they did not want me to be apprehensive about selling books internationally.
I was surprised to get this payment after so long, but I was not surprised to see how far common decency, courteous customer care, and a professional response would go. It is inevitable; you will get some kind of feedback from a sour customer with few if any manners. What will determine your character and the image that your business is perceived, will be the manner in which you decide to respond. The "Soup Nazi" approach to customer communication does not work for most.
In fact, it only works if it is a theme that the customer expects before participating in a transaction with your company. I want to take this one step further because I can already anticipate someone responding with, "Why does it matter if I will never be doing business with this customer ever again?" Well, if you handle their complaint wrong, you can be assured of never doing business with them again, but handled properly, they just might seek you out the next time they are looking for a product you sell. In either case, like most people, they are likely to vent their frustration with other people, e.g., friends, co-workers, peers, family, etc., and word of mouth, despite who may be right or wrong, can have a damaging effect on your business.
Similarly, most people, even if they are still upset about something you may have sold them, will go out of their way to tell others about how you went out of your way to make sure they were satisfied in the end, or the admirable way you handled the situation. This can have a very profound effect on your business because no amount of advertising will substitute for good word-of-mouth advertising by satisfied customers. Something else worth mentioning is the use of the Internet. Now days, a dissatisfied customer can post their gripes about you on any number of message boards and potential customers can find these gripes by doing a Google search of you or your business. As a consumer myself, I tend to associate customer complaints aired out on the Internet as being those of customers that were not treated very well or a poor customer service ethic on the part of the company.
If customers are outraged enough to go out of their way like that, I have to think twice about doing business with the company they are complaining about myself. On the other hand, a very satisfied customer can post positive things on the Internet that will steer more customers your way. A good reputation in business is a lot like the building of trust in a relationship. You can spend years building trust in a relationship and a single indiscretion can destroy it almost instantly. In business if you handle one situation wrong, it can come back to blemish your reputation severely and take a lot longer and more effort to recover from than treating your customer properly in the first place.
Michael E. Mould is the author of "Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide with Detailed Explanations and Insightful Tips," [Paperback ISBN 1427600708, CD-ROM ISBN 1599714876] and the developer of "Bookkeeping for Booksellers" [CD ISBN 1427600694], you can learn more about online bookselling at: http://www.online-bookselling.com , or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .