What not to do: 7 lessons from retailers that unsuccessfully dealt with disgruntled customers

Care to share?

Regardless of how extraordinary your customer service may be, you’re bound to cross paths with disgruntled customers. How you deal with these unhappy customers says a lot about your brand and company culture. Plus, it’s a must-know skill for customer satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat business. 

From brick-and-mortar to eCommerce and hybrid stores, there are tons of examples of how NOT to deal with unsatisfied customers. So, let’s look at some instances where retailers didn’t handle the situation well and the lessons we can learn and improve from. 

Here are the biggest NOs for dealing with retail customers who are unhappy:

1. Don’t ignore or dismiss the problem even if you can’t offer an immediate solution

Acknowledging customers’ problems is the first lesson we want to cover here. Contact center agents and support agents tend to ignore or dismiss an issue, especially if they can’t solve it right away. 

However, this way of sweeping things under the rug is a temporary solution. It won’t solve your customer’s issues, and it definitely won’t keep them loyal to your brand. 

According to the 2020 CCMC National Customer Rage Study, 55% of respondents said they expected a company response to a complaint posted on social media. Almost half of them didn’t get a response. 

Don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own or gets forgotten in time. Try to respond by acknowledging the issue with understanding and empathy and redirect the customer to a contact or a solution. 

2. Don’t forget to be an active listener

Being a good customer support agent is more than knowing how to talk. Quite the contrary:  it’s knowing how to listen actively. Here are some great practices to help you become a better active listener:

  • Don’t interrupt when your customer is speaking, even if you’ve already heard the same before.
  • Ask the customer all the necessary questions that would help solve the problem more efficiently.
  • Take notes during the conversation, especially when it comes to complex problems.
  • Always summarize and repeat the problem or question back to the customer. This will help you determine if you completely understood the issue.

Active listening doesn’t apply just to customer complaints. It also applies to customer feedback as well. 

A perfect example of a company that knows how to reap the rewards of feedback is Target. They used customer and guest feedback to design and perfect their All in Motion private label activewear brand. By listening to constructive criticism and making the proper adjustments where necessary, the brand reached $1 billion in its first year. 

So, using feedback from customer complaints to improve your business processes and prevent similar issues from happening in the future can be a really powerful practice for any retail store.

3. Don’t get defensive and emotional, stay factual

Remaining calm and professional is the third important practice when dealing with disgruntled or angry customers. Of course, we’re all only human. But, you have to remember that your role at this moment is a professional representing a company. 

The best ways to avoid getting too personal with the problem are:

  • Stay factual and outline the entirety of the issue as a third-party summary to avoid negative feelings or reactive responses.
  • Always remain neutral, and remind the customer that your job is to help and assist them the best you can.
  • Remember that you’re the middleman, and any customer frustration isn’t aimed at you personally.
  • Show empathy, such as “I understand your problem” or “I get why this would be frustrating,” before moving on to the possible solutions.

4. Don’t overpromise or make false promises

When a customer is noticeably upset, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and promise them the world. This is another common mistake we see in customer support. Remember this: underpromising and over-delivering is better than the other way around. If you don’t have a solution right away or you aren’t sure about a company policy, it’s better to stay on the safe side instead of making a promise you can’t keep. 

Here are some examples:

  • Don’t: I’ll fix the problem right away and get back to you shortly. 
  • Do: I’ll look into several possible solutions and inform you about the best options. 
  • Don’t: Of course, I can issue a refund right away. 
  • Do: Let me look into ways we can compensate you for your troubles. 

Depending on the issue at hand, the solution might not always be what the customer expects. However, the job of the support agent is to dig deep and find alternative ways of compensating the customer for their troubles. 

5. Don’t use negative, generic, or robotic language

Sounding like a human and offering personalized solutions are key to satisfactory customer support. Using generic phrases, such as "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do," not only fails to address the customer's specific issue but also implies a lack of willingness to help. Unfortunately, there are many examples where customers experienced live chat reps that were just as unhelpful as bots. 

To solve this issue, you can go two different routes:

  • Hire empathetic support representatives that are good at their job and able to coherently resolve a problem when it arises.
  • Use a well-trained artificial intelligence (AI) chat, FAQs, and other self-service tools to help your customers quickly with little to no human involvement.

Another helpful solution is implementing good customer relationship management software that will show a map of the customer journey to all of your support agents. Having this close insight into each customer’s profile helps a customer support agent continue to help and solve the issue from the point where the previous agent left off. By doing so, there will be no gaps in your customer interactions, and you’ll significantly boost customer satisfaction and the overall level of support your retail store provides. 

In any customer service scenario, it's crucial to find a balance between professionalism and empathy. Retail employees should aim to use language that is friendly, personalized, and focused on a solution to build rapport with customers and resolve any issues to the best of their ability.

6. Don’t be difficult to reach or let customers wait forever

Forecasting coverage to meet demand in retail isn’t always flawless, and it’s a fact that once in a while, a customer will be left waiting due to understaffing or bad schedules. The same problem applies to both eCommerce stores with remote staff and brick-and-mortar retail stores with multiple points of sale. 

While customers might expect queuing in a store or waiting for chat support for half an hour during busy holiday seasons, they certainly won’t stay loyal if this is your norm. 

Fortunately, there are many great ways to reduce customer waiting times and provide more prompt support:

  • Implement a retail employee scheduling app to optimize schedule coverage, swap shifts on the go, and ensure there’s always a support agent available.
  • Train and use AI chatbots to reduce waiting times by enabling them to answer simple and factual questions. This is one of the best ways to improve customer experience in eCommerce stores.
  • Provide multiple channels for customers to reach out to you, like phone, email, and social media.
  • Make sure your contact information is easy to find on your website, social media accounts, and other marketing materials.
  • Set clear expectations for response times, and let customers know when they can expect to hear back from you.
  • If you can't resolve an issue immediately, provide a temporary solution, or at the very minimum, offer a timeline for when the issue will be resolved.

7. Don’t forget to follow up to ensure the issue is resolved

Last but not least, always follow up with your customers to ensure the problem has been resolved and they’re satisfied with the outcome. If you weren’t able to solve their problem on the spot, always make a fixed follow-up appointment. Nobody wants to hear that they’ll get a solution “soon.” They want to know how soon is soon and what to expect next. 

Here are some positive examples:

  • Let me talk to the [specialty] department today, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow afternoon. Will that work for you?
  • I’ve submitted your problem to our [specialty] expert. I expect to get a reply within one or two business days. As soon as I have a solution, I’ll reach out to you. Is that OK?
  • I’m reaching out to follow up on [issue]. Have you had any problems with it since then, or is everything going well? 

Wrapping up

Handling customer complaints and dissatisfaction is a crucial aspect for any retail business, whether it’s brick-and-mortar or eCommerce. From poor communication and inadequate compensation to a lack of empathy and listening skills, these critical mistakes can ultimately harm a retailer’s reputation and customer loyalty.

What can retailers do to avoid these mistakes? Start by listening to your customers, empathizing with their situation, and providing timely and appropriate solutions. By investing in training programs for employees and customer service technology, you can stay equipped to handle any complaint and maintain your customers' satisfaction and loyalty.

In the end, the success of a retail business depends on customer satisfaction. So, take these lessons and put them into practice. 

Rob Press is a content marketing manager at Deputy, a robust scheduling software that can be used to manage your workforce in a wide variety of different industries. Aside from helping businesses reach operational efficiency, he keeps up to date with the latest trends in SaaS, B2B, and technology in general. Here is his LinkedIn.

Published March 8, 2023