How to do customer service when the customer is wrong

Customers will complain, it’s a part of business. Although it can be a tricky issue to deal with, it’s an excellent opportunity to demonstrate great customer service. This is where your company core values are useful: they will determine how you respond.

First of all, is your customer really wrong? Before getting into how to explain to a customer that they’re wrong, ask yourself, “Is the customer wrong to begin with?” To be able to answer this question effectively, you need to train yourself to be completely objective when dealing with customer feedback.

Here are some steps that I apply to my businesses and recommend to my e-commerce consulting clients:

1. Never dismiss a complaint immediately

As tempting as it can be to simply dismiss the customer’s complaint as soon as they raise it, this will only ensure that the customer becomes more irate. Complaints come about when customers are unhappy with a certain product or service.

"If they’ve taken the time to contact you to raise their concerns, the issue is likely have caused them to feel angry, upset or annoyed – the last thing they want, is to feel they aren’t being listened to." Matt Edmundson

2. Treat all complaints equally

You should always treat all complaints in exactly the same way – listen to the customer, record their complaint in full and go through exactly the same process you would with any other complaint. If you’re able to provide a response outright (by following steps three and four), that’s fantastic. However, if you are unsure, further investigation is always the way forward, no matter how ludicrous you believe the complaint to be.

3. Give an explanation

The importance of customer communication continues to grow. The further development of internet technologies means people want to feel the companies they’re spending their money with are both listening to and understand their views.When it comes to responding to customer complaints and providing suitable explanations, quality always prevails over quantity. You may be able to work through more customer complaints if you respond with a short, stock reply, but you’re likely to see more repeat custom, and less negative impact on brand reputation, if you take the time to provide full, personal, tailored, in-depth explanations.

4. Offer an alternative

Just because a customer’s complaint is incorrect and can’t be justified, it doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently from a customer with a genuine complaint. If you can, offer the customer an alternative or provide them with a solution to the problem they believe they have. Again, it may mean a matter of quality over quantity, but the benefits could be considerable.

5. Analyse the source of the complaint

You should not only record and respond to all complaints, but report on them regularly. If you’re receiving regular complaints from customers where the customer is wrong, it would beneficial to understand what is causing confusion and if anything can be implemented to reduce this.

6. It’s okay to ‘sack’ the customer, providing it is handled tactfully

Do you have a clearly defined approach to customer feedback in your business? Sometimes complaints can be very beneficial to a business in terms of ironing out processes and making products or services more user friendly.


Working with your team

There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.

Paulo Coelho

There will be times as a business owner when things don’t go according to plan. In fact, things might go terribly wrong. Never waste a good trial. That’s a great motto but it’s also important to reflect on what you are learning in the midst of a difficult season. Whatever you learn, it is important to write it down, because these lessons could become invaluable later in life. Here’s what I’ve learned from dealing with extremely difficult situations in the past.

"Communicate, communicate, communicate – especially with your team. Whatever is happening, is happening to them too and the more information they have the more they support you." Matt Edmundson

Foundations matter. Build solid foundations when things are going well, establish the culture and be intentional about it because when things get tricky, you really rely on that culture. If the culture is right, you and your team will respond with courage and poise rather than panic and self-serving.

Create space for yourself. As the leader, you need to be clear and full of faith – because everyone is looking to you. Their courage is feed by your courage. You need space, a lot of it, to process what you are going through. It is tempting to work all of the hours and get caught up in the detail. You can’t afford to do that, as tempting as it is. Now is the time to lead. So lead.

Journalling really helps!

Be honest, real and vulnerable but at the same time, be strong and faith-filled. People value both sides of the coin. You can’t be “the whole world is caving in” and not offer hope. At the same time you can’t be “everything is fine” when it clearly isn’t. Tell the truth, attractively. Tell the truth, faithfully.

Never underestimate how loyal customers are to a great company. If you have worked hard to get the foundations right and offer the customer a great service, you will have loyal customers. They will stick with you. They will trust you.

In your efforts to restructure, protect and rebuild your business – never forget the basics: your values, your customers and your team. Do that with an eye of commercial viability and it will work.

Deal with today. The short term is where the horror is, the medium to long term is where the hope is. Don’t put off dealing with today because of what you think might happen in 2-3 months or even the next year.

Triage. Asses the situation. Deal with those things that have the most impact, give your attention to that. Get everything down to the basics, forget the periphery and get the core strong again. Re-prioritise and do that very quickly. Let people know what they should be doing, and get them on it quickly.

Watch what you say. People are looking to you and your words. Don’t blame. Remember the rule of forgiveness. It is what it is. Complaining never solved anything. Deal with it, move on. There are plenty of opportunities waiting for you in this new arena. You’ll never find them complaining or being negative for very long.

Be decisive. Now is not the time to second guess yourself. Make the hard decisions. Make them quickly. Stick with that decision and move on to the next. If it really is apparent that you have made the wrong decision, change course quickly. But don’t do that unless absolutely necessary. You will create confusion in you, your team and your customers.


Is Live Chat worth it?

We live in a 30 second world. As a business, it’s important to be available.
In 2013, 6000 consumers across the UK, US, Australia, Germany, France and Italy were interviewed* about online customer support and live chat, some key findings concluded:

  • 83% admitted they need some form of support during their online journey
  • 51% either try once or give up immediately when seeking help before an online purchase
  • 71% expect to be able to access help when purchasing online within five minutes – 31% expect help to be immediate
  • If a response is not delivered in the expected timeframe, 48% of shoppers will either go elsewhere or abandon the purchase altogether.

Technology will never be the answer to improved customer experiences; it’s implementation always needs to be carefully considered. ‘Live Chat’ is no exception. I read two good examples online recently. Both case studies come from the telecoms industry and both are from disgruntled customers based in Australia. However, you can imagine a very similar scenario here in the UK or elsewhere.

Case Study 1

Telstra’s live support: A lengthy problem had led me to the Foxtel service page on the Telstra website, and once there I was presented with an offer to chat. I duly typed ‘Foxtel outage’ into the box and had an exchange which, technically speaking, worked well – fast responses, friendly, and correct phrasing. But after 60 seconds, or 4-5 messages, I was told I would need to be transferred to a Foxtel specialist (even though I’d started from a Foxtel service page and already given my reason to chat). My second chat was also friendly, despite having to repeat myself a little, but ultimately came to an unhelpful ‘we don’t know when this will be fixed’ conclusion. Essentially, an unresolved query, and several minutes wasted of both my and two Telstra staff’s time.
The lack of intelligence in the routing of my query, the lack of care on the agent’s part to read my previous exchange carefully, and both agents lacking the tools or technology necessary to resolve my query, ultimately resulted in a superficial service. The chat itself was fine, but the supporting methods and tools were not. It’s clear that the issues I saw were systemic and would be experienced by many customers.

Case Study 2

Optus – whilst looking for a new phone, I noticed after a few minutes that a small ‘Chat now’ box had appeared in the navigation bar where there wasn’t one before. It wasn’t that obvious or inviting, so I decided to continue browsing. Later, however, after adding an item to my cart and pausing for a while, a more obvious, targeted offer to chat popped up in a highlighted box on the screen. I clicked and had a short conversation with the agent to answer my questions. What’s happening here is that the website detects customers who are not exhibiting the ‘right’ buyer behaviour and presents them with a real-time offer to chat.

The Optus approach seems to be the technology enabled equivalent of a shop assistant or alert concierge, who sees that you look confused or unsure, and comes over to ask if you need any help. Personal, timely and relevant.

Live chat can be very effective, but you have to design the right experience from the outside-in, and change your internal support processes too, not just implement a glossy new customer channel on top of a poor process and poor back-end system that still won’t result in a good customer experience.