How to deal with your tough customers in e-commerce
E-commerce has one glaring disadvantage over physical sales: there is no body language.
Body language is fundamental to how we interact as humans, and written interaction mostly leaves that out. Sure, you can use smileys, emojis or pictures, but it's not the same. As a rule, writing appears to be much harsher than spoken words.

The tough love proposition

That said, the remoteness of online interaction is also disinhibiting to some people – think of how Internet trolls type up insults they would never have the nerve to say to a person's face. But how do you deal with tough customers in e-commerce? What is the reasonable thing to do in the face of what could be perceived as hostility?

First, it's always best to assume that people act in good faith when they are giving you tough love. If someone is unhappy with your products or services in some way and they care enough to let you know, that's a unique chance for you to improve what you do. Most unhappy customers will simply disappear without a word.

Between self-flagellation and defensiveness

Even if a certain comment looks or feels mean, the unhappy customer may not have had this intention, and it certainly doesn't do you any good to lash out in turn. If someone really has it out for you or begins to be insulting (i.e. sending threats, belittling you, etc.), you can block that person or lodge a complaint.

If a customer has a (valid) complaint about your product or service, own up to it. You don't need to self-flagellate, or you can explain why feature X or Y isn't a part of your offer, but getting super-defensive will not help you in any circumstance.

The horizontal customer relationship

The days of a brand dictating its story to its customers are over. The Internet has leveled the playing field – customers can interact with brands whenever they want to, and can get into the public eye. This has also raised expectations. When people have a question for a company, they want an answer in less than 24 hours, certainly if it's a complaint.

This doesn't just apply to service, but also to the online sales process. Customer Experience Insight writes: "Nearly half of consumers will dump their online cart if they can't find a quick answer to their questions. That means a customer service rep better be available to chat at any given second customers navigate your website."

The end of spin

Marketing expert Jay Baer notes: "When customer service becomes public it becomes a spectator sport. If you are really good at public customer service, then your social care can become a new form of marketing."

The Internet also has other implications for your customer interaction. While spin is everywhere, eventually people will find out if your stories don't match the reality. Honesty is the best policy – that doesn't mean you should share every last detail, but make sure that what you share with your audience lines up with the truth.

Reactive vs proactive

While a proactive customer engagement is always preferred, many businesses have no time or resources for that. This is perfectly understandable, certainly if you're running a small business or if you're just starting out. But not engaging at all is becoming increasingly indefensible.

In summarizing, here are the key points to remember when adopting a 'reactive' approach (i.e. what most companies realistically do):

  • Listen to what your customers are saying rather than how they say it
  • Assume most people act in good faith
  • Be humble and generous – but politely stand your ground on what matters
  • Act in accordance with your company values
  • Don't distort the truth
  • Don't do 'fauxpologies' (e.g. "I'm sorry you're offended")
  • If a customer reaches out, respond as quickly as you can
  • Manage expectations: what can your customers realistically expect from you?
How Sayl Retail helps

By the way, one way of managing expectations can be done early in the buying process, e.g. through automated e-mails that describe when your customer can expect what to happen. It's a repeatable and very affordable way of getting this right, and it's a feature that Sayl Retail offers for its users.

It's also possible to set this feature in multiple languages, which further adds to customer engagement. You're always free to come and take a look yourself and try out Sayl Retail – it's free as long as you have three or less transactions per month, and your shop will be set up in less than 30 minutes. Unlike the Hobbitses, we pull no trickses.
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