It’s no secret that as a business owner you will, at some point, usually multiple points, have unhappy customers. While unhappy customers are less frequent than happy customers or customers we never hear from, either way, customer service is a daily activity in any business.
It is true that customer service exists at every turn, but the part that I’ve noticed is trickiest is at the very end of the transaction, specifically if someone is unhappy.
When customers are unhappy, or issues are presented, many small business owners struggle with how to handle it… because they struggle with enforcing their policies.
It happens most often surrounding returns, refunds, and exchanges.
We’ve all been there (and if you haven’t been there yet, it will happen eventually) where a customer comes to our inbox with an issue that needs addressing. Maybe you two didn’t see eye to eye, or something transpired that the customer didn’t like or disagrees with.
Anything from shipping delays or complaints about colors can lead customers to ask for something that is outside the realm of your policy.
There are many ways this can play out but all businesses have to provide customer service and will at times encounter customers with problems and need to make executive decisions about how to respond. It’s usually not a favored part of the job of a small business owner but it IS part of the job, unfortunately.
It’s important to remember that customer service happens all along the way, not JUST after transactions. You are providing customer service at every point between awareness and purchase, so even if someone judges you based on the one instance of customer service where the result was not what they wanted, this might not be a true reflection of your customer service.
As small business owners, we tend to be on the front lines. We are customer-facing, people see us, they hear from us directly, they interact with us directly, they share stories with us and we share stories with them and we have conversations. They might even know some about you as a person, your family, what kind of music you like *wink* etc… This is, even if unintentionally, part of our marketing.
People are getting to know us, and vice versa, in a way that is more human-to-human than business-to-consumer.
That is a good thing!! A big part of the reason people choose to shop small is because of that human element. Certainly we, as small business owners, want to stand apart from Amazon, Target, Walmart, and other big box stores, so all of this humanity is a good thing.
You already know that this humanity and differentiation from big box stores carries over to the variety of product, processing of orders, and flexibility. Particularly if you offer personalized items, it might be very common for you to have extended dialogue with customers during the order and fulfillment process. Again, all of that is ALSO customer service.
We are friendly with customers in a way they cannot find from most big retailers – at times it can feel like we are actually friends with them! But you never want to tell a friend no, or ‘disappoint a friend, which I believe is part of the reason it’s hard for small business owners to enforce their policies at times.
It can be really awkward and difficult to stick to policies when someone feels like a friend or acquaintance and where money is involved it just gets stickier.
What should you do, as a handmade business owner who wants to remain human and friendly but also not have anxiety and stress over what to do with customer service issues that might come up?
Drum roll, please… You have actually probably already done it: it’s your policy.
As long as your policy is fair and reasonable, and people were made aware of it before purchasing, enforcing it is entirely acceptable and even expected.
You will of course handle things case by case as needed, but the first line of defense should be the policy everyone agreed to. That’s why it’s there.
Knowing that you are within your rights to stand by your policy is one part of feeling less guilt when having to enforce it. Setting a policy that is reflective of your values as a business owner and brand is a bigger part of it. You won’t feel guilty falling back on a policy that reflects your values. Set a policy that you can feel good about — your policies are yours to make! Set them in such a way that you won’t feel gross implementing them.
Make it fair, make it clear, make it easily findable and do your best to avoid issues in the first place! But don’t feel bad to adhere to your policy.
We tend to think that standing by the policy in the event of a dispute means we are not providing good customer service, which we all want to do.
The customer ‘getting their way’ is not the only way to provide good customer service. In fact, standing by your policy IS good customer service. (And don’t forget, by the end of the transaction you’ve already provided lots of other customer service!)
When you set your policy, it is likely that you had yourself and your customers in mind. Your policy should protect your business, your customer in the transaction, and your other customers.
While I fully believe that small businesses should not masquerade as, or even overly utilize big business strategies and approaches, there are some things that aren’t big or small business, they just are business. Sticking to your policy as often as possible IS business. Policies are in place for a reason. We tend to forget that policies exist to protect the business, the customer in the transaction, AND all the other customers.
Think about it this way: if you make all kinds of exceptions and go back on your policies all the time, you do not set any reliable expectation of or for YOURSELF, for the people you work with or your customers. As a customer, I want to know what to expect and I willingly ACCEPT the policy when I purchase anticipating that it would be enforced — that this is what I should expect. I don’t expect that if I and three other people have the same issue that we would receive four different resolutions. I would expect we all get a resolution in accordance with the policy.
Sticking to your policy isn’t ‘mean’ – it’s good business.
Telling someone ‘no’ isn’t personal – it’s business.
While being friendly and personable might make enforcing a policy harder at times, it’s still very much worth doing. You interact with and market to customers every day, but instances of having to default to the policy come to us far less frequently.
Again, as long as your policy was reasonable and fair to begin with there is nothing wrong with standing by it., and if it was drafted with your values in mind, you shouldn’t feel gross standing by it.
We want everyone to be happy, and we want to be happy as well, but the truth is sometimes it’s not possible for every single person to be happy every single time. Sometimes the customer gets what they want or ask for and sometimes the business owner takes a hit, and other times, it’s the other way around. If you set a fair policy and stick to it, you’ll experience wins AND Losses. That’s business and it’s okay.
You can’t please everyone. Attempting to do so is a losing game. But everyone CAN be on the same page from the start! Do what you CAN do, set the policy, and default to it as the first line of defense. It serves both parties.
I hope that helps you to feel more confident in setting and enforcing your policy! If you need to revisit your policy, do so! The positives should far outweigh the negatives but set yourself up for success – or at least for less awkwardness- from the start.