Set up a good customer-service philosophy

The customer may not always be right, but you should still make sure you’ve got your head on correctly when you approach buyer disagreements and issues.

Here’s what to do:

Write down a customer service philosophy for your company. You may already have some policies in place, and now’s a good time to articulate them in black and white for later reference. This doesn’t need to be complicated. I’ve often found that keeping in mind the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated can help you craft a fantastic philosophy in a few minutes. When in doubt, ask yourself, “What would I like the seller to do in this situation if I were the buyer?” and act accordingly. Even if something like a refund doesn’t seem like what’s good for your bottom line at the moment, keep your eye on the bigger picture and understand that a refund now can pay back in other, often bigger, ways later.

Why am I calling it a “philosophy” and not a policy? Because good customer service isn’t a list of specific rules; it’s a mindset you apply to issues as they come up. You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but a philosophy for how you approach customer issues will help you adapt to any situation, no matter how unusual.

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, here are a few simple ideas to get you started.

  • We will fulfill our promises or revise those promises accordingly. Whether it’s your shipment time, the condition you list in the description or the quality of manufactured items, your customers should be able to trust you to sell them exactly the experience you guaranteed in your listing.
  • We will return emails and other communication promptly. Reply to any queries immediately, be they from buyers or browsers, even if it’s just to acknowledge that you got their message and will get back to them later with a resolution or lengthier reply. Buyers worry, particularly when something has gone wrong, and just a quick note so they know you’re aware of the situation and are working on it can diffuse a potential nightmare quickly.
  • We will never forget that both we and our buyers are human. Writing a friendly note, admitting your mistakes quickly and honestly, and practicing empathy can have an immediate effect on your customer interaction. Never fall into the trap of thinking your customer is your enemy. Cut them slack and they’ll almost always do the same for you.
  • We will never underestimate the value of an apology. For the inconvenience, their time, for things completely out of your control and that you’re 100% positive were not your fault, give a genuine apology anyway. You’d be amazed the value a simple heartfelt “sorry” can have on almost any situation. It immediately reframes the issue around you and the buyer working together to resolve the issues instead of you being the bad guy.
  • We won’t take refunds, exchanges or other customer issues personally. Detach from the outcome and stay objective. Don’t ever react with anger and always keep your eye on the big picture. No matter how annoying this one transaction is, what does a $10 refund to make the customer go away matter in the great scheme of things?

Once you’ve written out your customer service philosophy, a copy of it should go to everyone in your company that interacts with buyers in any capacity, and it should inform everything you do related to your selling from how you ship to how you write up your listing text. Keep it printed above your screen and make sure you’re living up to it as you interact with your buyers in both good and bad situations.

Why are we doing this?

You can probably think of several businesses off the top of your head that continue to thrive despite terrible customer service, which demonstrates that good customer service isn’t technically required to run a business. That said, while you may not immediately think about customer service as a promotional tool, it’s actually incredibly important for increasing sales. Unhappy customers won’t just not return, they’ll also discourage other potential customers from buying from you at all. Customers can and will return to the sellers they can trust to do the right thing and that treat them right, often even if it means paying more than elsewhere. Being good to your buyers can win you loyalty, repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth referrals, all of which add up to more sales. Many of my most loyal customers over the years were buyers that had an issue I resolved to their satisfaction, making them fans for life.