You know the feeling: You’ve done everything you can to satisfy an unhappy customer when you find a rambling, spiteful, unfair review online. You’ve refunded the order, but the customer is still angry.

Customer complaints can be a nightmare for e-commerce companies that build their business on their online reputation. Unfortunately, e-commerce companies tend to make two mistakes in dealing with complaints: They either manipulate their reviews or respond as if they’re putting out forest fires as they pop up.

Profit-focused dishonesty is shortsighted and guaranteed to catch up to you in the long run, and responding to complaints as they come will leave your team feeling defeated and always one step behind.

I’d like to share how my company keeps our customers happy so you can do the same. It starts by thinking about customer satisfaction before it’s ever in jeopardy.

The Basics of Customer Satisfaction

To keep your customers happy, you have to shift your focus from profits to customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are loyal. They become brand advocates, enthusiastically referring you to their friends and family. This kind of loyalty is invaluable to your company’s reputation and success.

Here are the guiding principles that keep my company in check:

  1. Think long-term first. The main reason for dissatisfied customers is short-term thinking on the part of the company’s leaders. If profits are your main motivation, your company will receive customer complaints. Eliminating complaints is part of our long-term vision, which means customer satisfaction is our No. 1 priority in the short term.
  2. Resolve every issue regardless of losses. I once had to return a fairly expensive espresso machine I ordered from Amazon because it didn’t work. Even though it was past the 30-day return period, Amazon took the machine back and refunded my credit card immediately. Sure, Amazon lost money on the espresso machine, but it gained a loyal customer. Anticipate and respond to complaints before they come up, and aim to solve every single issue regardless of potential loss.
  3. Offer service you would want to use. Have the kind of company you would want to buy from. Conduct your business with your customers’ best interests at heart.
  4. Don’t miss a chance to make your customers happy. If you’re focused on the bottom line, you’ll miss the chance to make your customers happy. One of our customers complained to us that the third-party freight company we hired showed up without a lift gate to unload pallets of our travertine pavers. The freight company offered to come back the next day to unload, but our client was in a rush and needed the pavers the same day. Since our customer’s satisfaction depended on it, we located a forklift rental company to provide the service. We organized it and paid for it, and our customer appreciated the fact that we took the financial hit to ensure satisfaction.

How to Minimize and Handle Customer Complaints

Good customer service comes down to the tedious work of providing quality service from the moment someone hears about your company until his order is delivered. This means providing clear guidance through pre-ordering, ordering, delivery, and assembly or installation to minimize confusion and problems.

Here are some tips to keep those customer complaints in check: 

  1.   Make it easy for customers to find answers. Start by providing an extensive FAQs page on your website, and make sure employees are available online and over the phone to answer questions and respond to issues immediately. 
  1.   Train your staff to spot potential complainers. If your staff can identify people who are more likely to complain about your service, they can better make sure they’re satisfied. These types of customers have the potential to become the most vocal advocates of your brand if they’re treated with care.
  1.   Make responding to complaints a top priority. No customer complaint should ever get out of control. If the customer feels ignored, you’ll hear about it publicly. Make responding to complaints a top priority for your staff and managers. Train your team to work together to resolve complaints, and don’t be afraid to contact complainers directly to finalize issues.
  1.   Have management review every disgruntled customer issue. It seems like overkill, but this is key to keeping your customers happy. If the satisfaction of your customers isn’t important enough for your time, then what is?
  1.   Find the root cause of every issue to keep it from happening again. If one person has a problem with your product, service, process, or website, you can bet someone else will have the same problem again. Cut down on complaints by fixing the root issue as soon as possible.

The customer may not always be right, but he does have the right to be heard. Ignoring complaints only leads to bigger problems, while working to resolve them quickly and efficiently can actually improve your company’s image in the eyes of the customer.

Great customer service isn’t rocket science. All it takes is a clear vision and a deep commitment to putting the customer first. As with everything in your company, building this type of culture starts at the top. If you make customer satisfaction your priority, your staff will follow suit.

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