Don't Blame The Customer

Don't Blame The Customer

It is in favour of Customers

Continuing my Friday series on keeping your business out of court, let me tell you what happened recently to my friend Joan. An avid crafter, Joan is also a not-so-secret Ebay addict. She’s built up quite a stash of craft supplies by bidding on Ebay, and she usually enjoys wonderful relationships with sellers who are glad to get her spare cash.

A few weeks ago, however, Joan bought three yards of fringe from an Ebay seller that she thought would be perfect to trim a pillow in her living room. (Every pillow in Joan’s house is decorated to within an inch of its life, but I digress.) She spent about $20 all told, and eagerly awaited the delivery of her latest find. When the fringe arrived, though, it absolutely stank of cigarette smoke. Joan tried airing it out, running it through the dryer with a fabric softener sheet, and various other shenanigans. When the stench still lingered, Joan gave up and threw the stinky stuff away.

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Ebay has a feedback process where customers and sellers can leave messages about one another. Rather than leave negative feedback that could hurt the seller’s reputation with other buyers, Joan sent a private note telling the seller what had happened. The seller shot back a snotty reply, informing Joan that the trim couldn’t possibly smell (how would the seller know?), telling her she’d been foolish to discard it and pointing out that the trim would have been perfect for a museum project that the seller was working to finish, safe behind glass where the smell wouldn’t matter. The seller’s tone was officious and dismissive, and it made Joan livid. Joan left blistering feedback on Ebay, and told me later that she only wished the purchase had been big enough to justify taking the obnoxious seller to court.

This story is a great little example of a mistake that businesses all too frequently make. Customers come in with complaints and, rather than listening politely and trying to fix the problem, businesses get defensive and start trying to tell the customer that she, and not the business, is really to blame. Nothing infuriates an already irritated customer faster. In Joan’s case there wasn’t enough at stake to head to court but, if she’d spent more money, the seller could have expected to spend far more defending his high-handed dismissal of Joan’s concerns.

Customers complain - it’s part of business. Even if the customer isn’t always right, the customer is still entitled to a fair hearing and a polite reply. The next time a customer complains to you, stop and consider the merits before you get defensive. It could just keep you and your business out of court.

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