Staying Classy Part Four: Best Practices

Welcome to 2019 and to my brand new series; Staying Classy! This series is all about the good, the bad and the ugly of handling complaints and feedback. Over the next five weeks I’ll be diving deep into how to manage complaints, all whilst staying classy. If your goal for 2019 is to dive into creating an amazing customer service experience than this is exactly what you need.


In this article, I want to share some of the “best practices” that I’ve developed over my years of customer service experience. The rest of the articles in this series are practical and designed to help you structure a feedback and complaint process from start to finish, but this is where I share my opinions, so proceed at your own risk.

Putting it in writing

The most significant indication of whether I’ve made the right decision regarding a complaint is if I think I can put it in writing to my customer. If I don’t think I can put it in writing, then I know there is something about the decision that doesn’t sit right with me. It means I’m not acting with the level of integrity I expect from myself.

If you’re not sure about the decision you’ve made, start writing your customer a letter. You’ll know very quickly if you’re making the right choice. If you get uncomfortable, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Treat everyone the same

I have been shouted at many times in my ten years in customer service. I have been bullied,  called degrading names and on one memorable occasion accused of being a Nazi. On two occasions I have been driven to tears by the awful behaviour of the person I am speaking to.

Other times I have spoken to people genuinely upset by the problem they are facing, but who understood this wasn’t my fault. These are the people who apologise for being angry (even when it is entirely justified).

Now - if I was to present these two groups of people to you - which group do you think are more likely to get special treatment? If you think the second group, you are wrong.

The first group tends to get their way more often. I’m not a psychologist, but I could propose a hypothesis of why this is. Being yelled at is intimidating, and there is always the concern that they will take this yelling straight to social media or TV. We want these people to calm down, and so we give them what they want.

I want to give you an alternative approach. Treat everyone the same. Make the same decision for the person that has been sending you all caps emails for three days as the person who politely emailed you once apologising for the inconvenience. Stand your ground on your decisions when you know they are right.

It does take resilience to not buckle under the pressure of someone shouting but it will strengthen the respect of your customers in the long run, and more importantly, it will give you the respect that you deserve. You do not deserve to be cowed by bullying.

Maybe it’s time to break up?

In June 2007 Sprint Nextel decided to break up with some of its customers. Over the previous year, they had tracked the calls these customers had made to their contact centre regarding billing issues and other account problems. Some of these customers called hundreds of times a month. Sprint determined they had resolved the issue in the best way they could, and yet they continued to call. Ultimately they decided that they didn’t suit the needs of the customer. They waived the termination fee, took any account balance to zero and offered to let them keep their phone number if they signed up with a new provider in a specific time frame.

I know this sounds extreme (and it does have its critics) but I love this idea - you may not be the best company for a customer. If you’re waiting for them to come around to your way of thinking that could be indefinite because they are waiting for you to come around to their way of thinking.

You cannot please everyone - that’s why you have a target market - and sometimes customers forget that they may not be the perfect fit for you.

Tips for breaking up with a customer

  • Be honest, transparent and concise: Don’t beat around the bush, explain what’s happening and why. This is a tough conversation to have, and nothing will make it easier, so you may as well tell the truth.

  • Be polite and professional: If you’ve gotten to the point of needing to end a relationship with a customer, there might be some intense emotions involved. It’s important not to let those emotions show through, which might mean emailing instead of calling to help you leave things on a professional note.

  • Be kind: This might mean refunding money, it might mean finishing a project, it might mean setting your client up with a colleague to help them complete the project, it might mean sending something for free.

Handling the trolls

I’ve worked in both face-to-face and phone-based customer service over the last ten years so I can legitimately say that “being a human in business” means dealing with trolls and haters.

The truth is, some people are just unpleasant, and sometimes this manifests in “troll” comments that serve no purpose, sometimes in someone screaming at you and sometimes as someone refusing to accept anything you say. Here are my tips for dealing with trolls:

  1. Don’t fear deleting inflammatory or genuinely offensive comments. You don’t have to respond; you can just remove them. It’s also helpful to have a comments policy on your website that explains what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as your policy on deleting comments.

  2. Are they an existing customer? If they are, reach out to them privately to try and resolve the issue.

  3. If they aren’t an existing customer, is it a valid comment?

  4. What happens when you respond politely? Can you take the conversation over to a private conversation? If you have done your best to respond respectfully and they continue to be rude or aggressive feel free to delete the comment and if necessary block the user.

  5. If you do delete a comment, you can load a new message explaining what you have done and why. Dealing with trolls is 50% expecting respect from people and 50% PR management to ensure that you are seen as handling things appropriately.

Handling threats

I have worked for many years in a contact centre, and one part of the job that is hard is that people have on occasion made threats. These are sometimes threats against themselves and other times it has been threats against the company I work for. I hope this does not happen to you, and it’s probably less likely in a small business that sells jewellery, but if it does make sure you have a process in place to take it seriously:

  • If they are making a threat to themselves: If you are genuinely concerned someone will hurt themselves you can call your local police service and ask them to do a welfare check on them (if you know their address). You would be surprised how many people have been amazed that we cared enough to get someone to check on them. If you don’t know where they live you can follow up and check in with them to make sure they’re still going strong.

  • If they make a threat to your company: Get as much information as possible from them. If it is severe enough, call the police. If you aren’t sure how seriously to take it, check in with a friend or mentor and see what they think about the situation.

  • Threats to your company’s livelihood: People love to make threats about going to the media, getting legal advice, or complaining to a governing body. Very rarely do people follow through on these threats, but that doesn’t mean you should take it lightly. It’s a delicate balancing act, and you may not get it right 100% of the time, but you have to be strong in your integrity and not let threats to your livelihood sway it. That will pay off for you in the long run.