Despite your best efforts, you’re going to get some negative feedback. It’s essential that you deal with customers in a professional manner at all times. No matter what, keep 100% of your communication focused exclusively on resolving the problem.
I want to take a moment to mention something that I find surprising about negative feedback. When I’m unhappy with the services a retailer provided to me, I contact the retailer to see if they’ll make the situation right. They may or may not, but I let them know what I’m unhappy about and give them the opportunity to make it right. I only leave negative feedback if I’ve told them what happened, they had the opportunity to make it right, and they decided not to. Almost exclusively, when I’ve received negative feedback from a customer it’s the first thing I’ve heard from them at all. That’s surprising to me. I would expect their first priority to be having whatever was wrong corrected, but if they don’t contact me at all except when they leave feedback it seems that isn’t the case.
Back to how to deal with negative feedback as a retailer. The first thing I do when I receive negative feedback is determine what I can do to make the situation right for the customer. I don’t want customers to feel I’ve short changed them in any way. They may still not buy from me again even after I’ve corrected whatever problem arose, but you can’t be an honest retailer some of the time – it’s all of the time or not at all. That doesn’t mean I’ll do anything to make them happy. Eg., my biggest source of complaints is customers who feel a particular product should cost less than it does. But they knew the price before they bought it, were able to directly compare my price to other merchants before buying it, and they decided to buy it from me – very likely because my price was the lowest. If they decide to buy it despite believing it’s too expensive, that’s their decision.
The second thing I do when I receive negative feedback is decide if the complaint is about some aspect of my business that can be improved – if there’s a way I can use the feedback to make my business better I take it. As I mentioned above, my biggest source of complaints is customers who feel a particular product should cost less than it does, regardless of its cost to me. At first this seems like something I have little control over. It costs me a certain amount to buy the product and provide it to the customer. I have to make some amount of profit or I’m not going to continue selling the product. So there’s some minimum amount I have to charge, if the customer feels that’s too much my only alternative is to not sell the product any longer. I want customers to feel the products I sell are a good value so they’ll keep coming back. If it seems to me (or to a large number of customers) that a particular product isn’t a good value, I’ll stop selling it. But I’ve only stopped selling products for this reason infrequently. I try to only select products that I feel are a good value, and most of the complaints I get about price are for products that other customers overwhelming feel are a good value (based on their feedback). But on occasion I’ve changed my mind about a particular product and stopped carrying it.
When I started selling online I only offered a few items, and even though I wasn’t efficient yet at running the business my sales volumes were low enough that I had no trouble making customers happy. As my offerings and sales volumes increased my inefficiencies started to catch up with me, resulting directly in my first negative feedback.
I remember this first negative feedback quite well because it was such a shock. When I log onto my seller’s account a summary of customer feedback is on the first page, and I was used to seeing 100% satisfied, in green. Negative feedback is displayed in red, so it jumped out at me right away that something was wrong. Since no customers had emailed me about a problem I thought there must surely be some mistake.
Unfortunately there was no mistake. I was selling products on multiple channels (Amazon, eBay, my own online store), and I had to manually update the number of products I had available on each of these sites every day based on sales I had received on the other sites. Obviously this leaves open the possibility of selling something that has become out of stock earlier in the day, and whenever this happened I cancelled the order I couldn’t fulfill.
Customers don’t like having their orders cancelled (or delayed by an arbitrary amount of time on back order). The customer who left me negative feedback was someone whose order I had cancelled. I was prompt about cancelling the order within a few hours, but it still made the customer unhappy. In summary, their feedback was that if I didn’t have the product in stock I shouldn’t list it as available and waste their time.
Of course, it was available earlier in the day. Someone else had just beaten them to it on another site, and I couldn’t at the time manually update the other two sales channels I was using as soon as each order came in. But that isn’t the customer’s problem, it’s my problem, and they were quite correct that I needed to prevent this from happening.