asking for trouble

Ask Me Anything: Complaints and how to fix them

ask me anything

If there’s one thing an indie business owner dreads, it’s customer complaints. I’m sure that’s partly true for all businesses but when you and your business are one and the same, and you’ve put your heart into every aspect, complaints can be especially upsetting.

Read on for some thoughts on how to deal with complaints and also how to resolve problems with sellers and suppliers.


How to complain

When you have a problem with something you ordered, what’s your response?

a) Feel like it’s probably your fault somehow and you don’t really want to bother the seller and even though it doesn’t work, it still looks nice, sort of?

b) Become enraged and fire off an angry, personally insulting, 5 paragraph tirade.

c) Don’t bother contacting anyone – just leave negative feedback.

d) Send a quick message to the seller telling them your problem and asking for a solution.

You’d think d) would be the obvious answer, but sadly not! I’m always amazed by people who go by the first three. Small business owners want you to be happy and will probably go out of their way to fix any issues, plus you have legal rights to return items for a refund for any reason whatsoever.

So don’t be shy and don’t be unnecessarily rude (extra bonus tip – don’t proudly tell me you’ve thrown the offending item in the bin or there’s really nothing I can do to help you. Yes, that actually happened). Just send a quick message, be polite and stick to facts. If there’s a solution you’d prefer – eg. a replacement rather than a refund, mention that too. I guarantee that most times you’ll get a quick response and a solution from an apologetic seller. The other times, you might then be justified in turning on your rage button.


Receiving complaints and bad feedback

Thankfully I don’t get too many complaints, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Give yourself time to cool down
It’s easy to feel upset and respond in kind, especially when the complaints are exaggerated or unfair (or personally insulting). I find if I leave it overnight, I’m able to come back to it less emotionally. Talking to a friend can also be really helpful in relieving your feelings if it’s a really outrageous complaint.

Respond politely
While I would disagree that the customer is always right, there’s little to be won by getting in an argument with them so swallow your pride and try to see things from their point of view. Find a solution to any clear problems (eg. a replacement or refund) and promise to further consider any points they’ve raised – for instance, if something was damaged in transit, you would take another look at your packaging, or if the item wasn’t what they expected, you could look into improving your product description. And thank them for their feedback, even if you don’t feel it’s been very helpful. It’s better to know these things, in case it starts happening regularly.

Monitor your feedback
Even on Etsy, where the majority of my buyers are awesome enough to leave enthusiastic feedback, or send a message, some people just leave a bad review without checking if you can fix the problem. I make sure to check for new feedback every day so if someone mentions a problem, however minor, I can get in touch to help. Some sites let you respond publicly to negative feedback and you should definitely do this, so that future buyers can see you’ve fixed any issues.

Pre-empt complaints
You can head off quite a lot of complaints, by making sure customers don’t have unrealistic expectations. Before they order, it should be clear what the dimensions are, what materials are used and – a major source of irritation – that any photo props aren’t included. People still make assumptions about size (I know I still do) so try to include a photo of your product with something that will make the size clear and think about any other potential issues you can clear up with a photo. Shipping times can also be a source of complaints if you don’t state timescales. Airmail mostly does arrive in 5 days in the US, but I always say it will be 5-14 days and up to 21 days. It’s the difference between a customer being annoyed that their order took an extra day or two, or got stuck in customs, and being delighted because their order arrived earlier than expected.

Let customers know you’re a real person
This isn’t usually an issue for me as I make a point of never referring to my business as a ‘we’, when it’s just me. Instead I actively promote (a version of) myself and my business as being and one and the same. However, I’ve had a few issues on Not on the High Street recently where it’s clear the buyer has no concept that the product they bought is from an actual person who designs, makes and packages everything because all they see is the NOTHS branding. I recently designed little flyers to put in my orders that basically say LOOK I’m a real person! If you need help here I am! I’m even on social media, say hi! I’m really hoping this adds a little bit of a connection between me and my buyers so any problems can be dealt with in a friendly manner, rather than them imagining they’re contacting some faceless corporation.


Complaining to suppliers

I also had an unfortunate run of bad luck recently, with 4 of my printing companies messing up my orders! They all fixed the issue immediately, but here’s a few things I learned.

It’s always worth asking if something looks wrong
Most companies want you to be happy and order more things. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure if a product I receive has been misprinted, or if I’m just being picky, but usually they are happy to take a look and reprint it to match your expectations. At worst, it will turn out to be something you did wrong, but they might still help you out, or at least explain what you need to fix next time.

Don’t over-explain
Be clear about what the issue is and don’t go into too much detail. I’ve sometimes got a bit worked up when there are multiple issues with an order, which just leads to confusion. State the main problem/s and you can always go into more detail later if you don’t get a good response.

Triple-check your files and their guidelines
It hasn’t happened recently, but I have had printing disasters where it was my fault, for not reading through all the design guidelines. Making a mistake with margins, sizes, colour space etc. can be a costly mistake so if you’re planning a big order, read everything carefully and consider paying for file checks or test prints, or hiring an experienced designer. It’s cheaper than a reprint!

Find a use for the duds
Misprints can also have a silver lining. The company that prints my notepads quite often includes a bunch of extra ones that didn’t come out right so I keep those for my own use. Whenever I get a flawed piece of laser cutting (or make a mistake in the assembling) I offer it on Instagram at a discount or free to good home. My Clumsy Little Ghost and Pirate Jammie Dodger both have happy new owners now.

pirate jammie dodger

Arrr! This Jammie Dodger brooch seems to have been in a battle.


Hello! I’m Marceline Smith, the designer and owner of Asking For Trouble. I create illustrated stationery, accessories and gifts using my cute characters inspired by Japanese kawaii. This is my business and personal blog where I write about my creative doings, inspirations, travels, Japan trips and daily life. Read more »

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