No ecommerce store-owners like handling complaints, but in some ways, receiving your first is a rite of passage.

Usually, it’s nothing to do with you or your site either. Even the biggest names in ecommerce receive negative feedback. Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take complaint handling seriously.

The good news is, there’s some great perks in store if you do.

In this article, we’ll be exploring the steps you need to take once you’ve received your first customer complaint. Take note and see how you can turn any negativity into a positive advantage.

Why is customer service important in ecommerce?

First up, let’s take a look at the basics of why great customer service is crucial during the complaints handling process.

According to research, poor customer service costs businesses $75 billion per year. At the same time, over 50% of customers have stated that they’ve bought additional purchases from companies after receiving great customer service.

So, it’s easy to see how your store will benefit from prioritising your customer service efforts. It means more happy customers and, in turn, more sales in the long run. It also means better social reviews and a higher social proof.

Most importantly of all, effectively addressing ecommerce complaints and customer feedback can turn unhappy shoppers into brand advocates.

What are the most common ecommerce complaints?

Whether or not you’ve received a complaint in the following areas, it’s a good idea to gain an understanding of why a customer might get annoyed during the following scenarios.

By gaining an understanding of their frustrations, you’ll be better equipped to deal with customer complaints quickly and empathetically.

So let’s take a look at the most common issues ecommerce sites deal with when handling complaints.

Unfit products

This is probably the worst ecommerce complaint you’ll ever find yourself handling - a lot of the time, this kind of slip-up might not even be your fault.

If a customer orders a product and it arrives damaged, it usually means there’s been a hiccup during the delivery process. Unfortunately, your customers will still likely blame you.

There’s also the risk that, occasionally, some of your stock might prove faulty. While this might also be no fault of your own, your customers won't see it that way.

On the other hand, perhaps your products don’t live up to your customers’ expectations because of poor product descriptions.

Whatever the reason, these complaints can be very damaging to your business as your customer feels their trust has been broken. If you don’t handle their complaint effectively, they aren’t going to buy from you again.

You might even receive bad press in the way of negative reviews and comments on social media. It means other customers won’t buy from you either.

Late delivery

Handling this kind of complaint can also be incredibly frustrating, as once again, you might not actually be at fault.

Nevertheless, customers will always see a late delivery as a breach of their trust, just like they will if they open a package to find a damaged or faulty product.

When ordering from your ecommerce site, customers develop hopeful expectations. They want the best customer experience possible.

By underdelivering on these expectations, customers feel like they are being disregarded. Instead of receiving convenience, they receive a hold-up and a headache.

In turn, you’ll have to endure a complaint handling process with a customer who’s already lost their patience. It’s certainly not the best position to find yourself in.

Poor customer service

Whenever you find yourself in the middle of a complaints handling process, offering poor customer service is a sure-fire way to make things a whole lot worse.

Customers see poor customer service as adding insult to injury. If they believe they’ve been short-changed during a transaction, the last thing they want is to be challenged in a defensive manner.

Another complaint you might find yourself handling is a lack of customer service options on your site. After all, a customer support email address isn’t everyone’s favourite method of contact.

What’s more, if you’re slow to respond or ignore customers, you might end up amplifying a customer’s frustrations.

Even if they only had a minor query to begin with, a lack of response or a lack of appropriate communication channels can push their query into a full on complaint. Ultimately, the customer will feel disrespected and ignored - and no-one wants to feel like that.

How do you handle customer complaints? 4 key steps

Now that we’ve recognised why customers commonly get frustrated, let’s take a look at how to tackle the complaints handling process.

Follow the four steps below and you’ll turn negative reviewers and complaining customers into loyal brand advocates.

Be available

Regardless of how young your ecommerce store is, offering the right customer service contact channels is crucial. Doing so will signal to your customers that you’re on their side should a problem arise. It’ll also make sure your complaint handling is quick off the mark.

Different contact channels will work for different businesses. If you’re just starting out, a channel like live web chat is a great ecommerce option. It’s inexpensive, and the immediacy of the interaction means your complaint handling process can get started straight away.

That said, email can be a great free alternative - so long as you make a commitment to respond to every query fast.

In fact, if you are going to offer email as a customer service channel, it’s a great idea to let your customers know how quickly they can expect a response. By setting a timeline for the complaint handling process, it’ll help to manage customer expectations, as well as soothe customer tension.

Just remember that not all your complaints are going to come in the form of formal interactions.

You may get them in the form of bad reviews or social media comments too.

To make sure you’re able to respond to these as quickly as you would any other query, check out Kudobuzz. It’ll help you respond to these comments fast.

Key Takeaway: To make sure your complaints handling process gets off the ground running, make sure you prioritise speed and efficiency when responding. And whatever medium customers complain through, always, always respond.

Seek to understand the issue

It’s a saying we’ve all heard before: ‘the customer is always right’. The reason this phrase is a cliche is because it’s true - even when a customer is wrong!

Ultimately, splitting hairs or getting technical over whether your customer is right or wrong is a waste of time. If they perceive their customer experience to be a negative one, challenging them on their opinions isn’t going to be useful.

This is why empathy and understanding are key in the complaint handling process. Even if the issue the customer is complaining about isn’t your fault, it’s your responsibility as the store-owner to fix their problem.

Of course, some customers will always take things a step too far. If you’re facing your first complaint right now, it might feel like you’ve been treated unfairly.

Just remember that this is how the customer most likely feels too. Whether it’s due to a late delivery or a faulty product, the customer feels hard done by.

So, if a customer is being rude or disrespectful, just remember:  

  1. Don’t get defensive.
  2. Apologise and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Truly listen to their complaint.

Not only will it give you a chance to discover what’s gone wrong, it’ll also give you the insight you need to get the customer smiling once again.

Key Takeaway: It might feel natural to get frustrated with customer complaints, but handling them effectively requires empathy and patience. Listen to your customers and you’ll get to the root cause quickly.

Offer a resolution

This is the real crux of your complaint handling process. The actions you take here will depend on what your customer is complaining about and the severity of the issue.

That said, there’s two main things customers want to hear once they’ve complained, whatever problem they’ve encountered:

  1. They want a personalised apology.
  2. They want a resolution.

The good news is, if you’ve already made yourself available and sought to understand the issue at hand, this next step in handling their complaint will come a lot easier. In fact, your next move might prove self-evident.

For example, say a customer has received a faulty product. After listening to their complaint, you’d first offer a sincere apology. Then, you’d offer a resolution.

This could either come in the form of a full refund or a replacement product. For best results, you might want to add a discount code for a future purchase too.

Either way, you’ve handled the customer complaint by providing a resolution to the customers’ problem. But what if you’re dealing with a more complicated query like a late delivery?

Technically, as the product has already arrived, you can’t exactly give them back their time, can you?

In these kinds of complaint handling scenarios, it’s your apology that matters most, so make sure it’s personalised and sincere.

You should also remember that actions speak louder than words, and this is no less true when making up for a bad customer experience.

For best results when complaint handling, you should not only apologise, you should also let the customer know that you’re committed to fixing the issue for the future.

This might be done by improving your current processes and procedures. Returning to the example of a late delivery, you might inform your customers that you’ll be seeking new delivery providers so that this setback doesn’t happen again.

However you offer your apology, the next best step is to round off these more complicated exchanges by offering a token of gratitude.

After all, while a complaint might sting at first, your customer is actually helping you to identify where your ecommerce store is going wrong.

By giving them a discount code or a free gift, while also offering an apology and a commitment to do better, you’re proving to your customers that you’ll do all you can to keep them happy.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all customers will be happy following your complaints handling exchange - some will prove a lot more stubborn than others. It’s these customers that you’ll wow in the next step we’ll cover.

Key Takeaway: Regardless of the complaint you're handling, customers will always want to hear an apology and receive a resolution. Make sure you give them both in a personalised and sincere manner.

Follow up and show appreciation

Following the last section, you might be thinking that the complaint handling process is now done with. You’ve listened to your customer, sought to understand the issue, and finally apologised and provided resolution.

However, to truly show your customers how much you care, it’s a great idea to follow up with them at a later date.

The important thing to remember here is that you’re not getting in touch to see if they’ve got more complaints to make.

Instead, you’re simply touching base to see how they’re getting on with their product. You can also ask whether there’s anything you can do to make their customer experience that bit more enjoyable.

The great thing about this tactic is that customers who’ve previously complained barely ever receive personalised correspondence regarding their purchases. By doing so, you can set yourself apart from your competitors.

Of course, contacting every single customer in this way isn’t scalable. But by contacting your customers who’ve had previous issues, you can make sure they see the overall complaint handling process as a positive one.

Rather than seeing themselves as a wronged party who received a much-needed apology, following up and thanking them for their feedback continues your dialogue.

The customer will remember you not for the mistake or the problem they faced, but the way in which you dealt with it professionally and effectively. It’s this continued interaction that can turn complaining consumers into brand loyal customers.

Key Takeaway: Once you’ve effectively handled a complaint, email the customer a month or so after their purchase to thank them again for providing you with feedback. Ask how they are getting on with your product too. It’s a great move for improving customer relations.

Why handling customer complaints can help you succeed

Ecommerce complaint handling can certainly be a tricky business, but whatever kind of complaint you're facing, you can still use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Success can never happen in a vacuum, and receiving feedback is one of the best ways for you to address your site’s blindspots and improve your business.

The problem is, valuable and honest feedback isn’t always easy to get. But as we’ve seen, that’s certainly not the case with customer complaints.

In fact, certain customer reviews and messages will feel like some of the most hard-hitting criticism you’ll ever receive. And this is why handling customer complaints can help you and your store succeed.

Yes, some of the complaints you receive will be a little over the top. But if you’re resilient and open to change, you can take the most useful of these complaints and implement crucial changes. It’ll help keep you and your customers smiling in the long run.

For more on how to improve your ecommerce site, check out our blogs on increasing ecommerce conversion.

Author Bio:  
Chris Thomas is a Content Marketing Executive at Talkative, a video customer service platform that provides businesses with a smarter way to talk to their online customers.

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