Unconventional Ways to Deal With a Difficult Customer

Are you dealing with an unhappy customer? Use these unconventional solutions to turn that frown upside down. 

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You’ve tried everything and your customer is still unhappy. What do you do?

When a problem arises with a customer, many decorators immediately pull back to a defensive position. They become stiff and arm themselves with a justification for why the problem couldn’t be their fault. In running to the defensive position, they don’t realize that they are not only not listening to the customer, but they are actively putting the customer on the defensive. Deflecting the blame accuses the customer of wrongdoing, and they’ll react in a similar defensive and sometimes legalistic way. 

Though it is important to find out where the process went wrong, the point of processes like art approval isn’t to have a ‘gotcha’ to punish the customer when things go wrong, it’s to try to avoid problems from the start through active feedback at different stages in the job. 

In my mind, before we get to the unconventional solutions or any active ‘fix’ for an unhappy customer, we have to make sure we’ve heard the customer out completely and empathized with their position. Many customers are only looking to be heard and to have their feelings validated. Without necessarily taking on the blame for the perceived problem, we can listen, empathize, and validate a customer’s feelings, all the while learning about the customer and drive behind their upset. This will go beyond whose fault the problem is and get to the actual cause of the emotional reaction-why they feel it happened and why it’s causing the level of upset that it is. If we can reasonably say we’ve understood the customer’s position, we can start from that place of understanding to repair the relationship with the customer. Remember, the relationship with a customer is sometimes more valuable than being right. We can choose to fix a problem even if we don’t share the blame, provided we do so in a way that doesn’t hurt our business.

With all that in mind, here are my somewhat unconventional ways to deal with this difficult customer:

1. Fix the order, even if the flaw in the order isn’t your fault.

If the long-term relationship is likely to be more profitable than the money you’ll lose fixing an order, do it. Rather than shut down when the customer asks to have an order remade, listen to their problem, come up with a solution, then pitch it to them with a compromise that reduces the price but doesn’t hurt your bottom line. If they have managed to miss something critical and approve flawed art, don’t just leave them with no recourse. Find a way for them to get what they need. It’s fine to refuse to buy a customer all-new garments and decorating a second time, but it’s not fine to leave a customer with nothing useful for what they’ve spent, even if they are technically at fault. Offer to create the new set of garments at cost; rather than refunding the original job; or allow the customer to supply the garments and give them the decoration at a reduced rate.

2. Offer them a different decoration method. 

If the customer doesn’t like the look of the embroidery or feels it didn’t capture their logo well enough, offer to recreate their order in heat-printed transfers at cost and labor with no profit. The process will be faster and the customer can have details and full-color rendering, to boot. 

3. Help your customer find another decorator. 

It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you are about to lose their business anyway or they are a bad fit for your company’s culture, it can sometimes be better for both of you to part ways. If you are a fair dealer and find them a trustworthy decorator, they are less likely to rate you poorly or feel the need to badmouth your company. Help them make the transition with a smile. There’s even a possibility that this act of goodwill can bring them back to you if the other decorator can’t fulfill their needs.

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Alexandria Bruce

Alexandria Bruce is the Digital Content Editor for Printwear magazine covering news in the apparel and textile industries. 

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