The customer is always right. Many people believe that’s the secret to good customer service. As a philosophy, it’s a great way to make sure that your business stays customer oriented. But as any of us that run a business know, the customer is not always right.

As a seller, can be difficult trying to decide what to do in those instances when the customer is clearly wrong. On one hand, you don’t want to make the situation worse by arguing with the customer. But, on the other hand, the reputation of your company may be at stake based on a simple misunderstanding.

Several months ago, I found myself one of these situations. The buyer purchased a teacup from me. And, once the teacup arrived, was very upset with me for misleading her as to its color. The customer had believed that the teacup would be white when in fact it was blue and found me negligent in failing to point this out to her ahead of time. I was accused of scamming, deceit, and lying to the buyer.

Before responding, I took a look at the listing. The very first sentence of the listing read “this is a powder blue teacup.” The photographs also showed both the outside of the teacup and the inside in the same shot and, since the inside was white, the blue color of the outside was all the more obvious.

I had the same reaction that you probably do when something like this happens to you. Was the buyer an idiot? It was obvious from both the description and the photograph that the teacup was blue! Can’t you read?

If I had actually told buyer that she was wrong, she would’ve reacted in anger and embarrassment. When challenged, people always try to defend themselves and their opinions, often long after they’ve realized they are wrong because of pride. Starting a battle of wills wasn’t going to do anybody any good. I fought my knee-jerk reaction and I decided to use some of the principles I learned in How to Win Friends and Influence People to craft an e-mail to handle the situation in a more delicate way. Instead of telling the buyer that she was wrong, I decided to try a different tactic. Here’s the e-mail I sent:

I’m very sorry to hear you are not pleased with your purchase. We accept returns for any reason, so please do not hesitate to return the item. We’d be more than happy to give you a full refund plus the return shipping.

But if you don’t mind taking a moment, I would be greatly appreciative if you could help me out with something. Would you be so kind as to take a look at the listing and let me know what changes you would recommend to avoid instances such as this in the future? I concede that the listing is obviously not clear enough if you felt misled about the color and I’d really appreciate any suggestions you can make on how I could correct this. I’d really like to avoid misunderstandings like this in the future, so any insight you can give me would be extremely useful.

Firstly, I apologized. Secondly, I offered the refund, no questions asked. But the meat of this the third part of the e-mail. In a way, the third part of the e-mail is flattery. I’m asking the buyer for her advice on how I can avoid this misunderstanding in the future. This accomplishes three things. Firstly, it allows her to discover that she’s incorrect, without my having to tell her that she’s wrong. Secondly, it makes her feel important because I’m asking her for help. Thirdly, and this is the most important, it lets the buyer save face.

When the buyer replied, her tone was totally different:

You know, I’m really sorry, I have no idea what’s wrong with me. I think the listing makes it perfectly clear that the teacup was blue, it even says it right there in the first sentence. I think I was just going by the picture but even that doesn’t make sense because you can see that it’s blue there too. The only thing I’d recommend is maybe that you just make it bigger for idiots like me who can’t read. LOL

I appreciate your offer for the refund but I actually think I’m going to keep it. It really is a lovely cup, I was just disappointed because I thought it was going to be white. Thank you for your patience and I’ll be adding your store to my favorites!

A total 180 turnaround. She didn’t just apologize, she also left positive feedback and promised to buy from us in the future. Not bad considering how much she hated us at the start.

I’ve actually used this technique on several other transactions, and this was the first time that the buyer ever actually admitted that he/she was wrong. Usually, the buyers just make some small suggestion, such as, “maybe if the text was red” or “I guess if you said it twice.” (And I do incorporate these suggestions after the fact.) All of these transactions ended amiably, because I gave the buyer the opportunity to save face while still preserving the reputation of my company when we were in the right. I let them realize they were wrong without ever forcing them to admit they were wrong.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where the buyer is clearly wrong, consider crafting a response that lets the buyer save face. Sometimes letting the buyer save face can save you a customer.