Dealing With Difficult Customers

Tactics to help make transactions run smoothly

by Dennis L. Prince
- Jul 14, 2009

Sure, most online sellers work hard to satisfy their online customers, but there are times when a buyer turns out to be… well, difficult. While most buyers will work with you without much complication, some have more peculiar and sometimes problematic styles—and will unflaggingly cling to the century-old maxim that "the customer is always right." Here is some insight into the different personalities you're likely to encounter online, along with some methods to smooth the transaction before, during and after the sale.

Who are the people you'll meet?

Buyers come in all shapes, sizes and personal styles. While nothing here is intended to deride anybody, don't be surprised if you recognize a personality or two in the list that follows. Most important, look at the ways you can effectively respond to keep the transactional road ahead from becoming bumpy.

  • The Antsy Buyer: Clearly, this is the one who wants it fast, fast, fast! You might receive pestering e-mails that continually ask, "When will it arrive?!" Offer extra patience and provide ample communication with this buyer. Let them know when you've received their payment and when you've shipped their item. Also, encourage these anxious patrons to pay for a shipping method that provides online tracking so they can monitor their package's progress while you move on to other customers.

  • The Paranoid Buyer: Trust is the key for these individuals—and they probably don't trust you (don't be offended; they simply don't know you). Regardless of your professional style or glowing customer testimony, paranoid buyers just can't get comfortable with online purchases. Quickly and completely lay out how the deal will take place and offer additional services—insurance, tracking, escrow, etc.—to help the buyer feel more secure. Keep the communication open and flowing.

  • The Post-Purchase Haggler: Believe it or not, some buyers think there's still opportunity to negotiate a better deal after they've agreed to a purchase. "How 'bout if you throw that in with this and I'll send such-and-such dollars for the whole lot?" Be open to striking deals if they suit you, but don't fall prey to the perpetual bargain hunter. If your price and terms are firm, then stick to your guns. This could be a test of your resolve.

  • Remember, it takes two to transact: A deal can only be successful when both parties are committed

  • Unhappy Harvey: Well, some people can't be pleased. Whether it's beefing about your sales policy, scoffing at postage costs or whining about the item they ultimately receive, it seems some folks were just born to be dissatisfied. If you sense this early in the transaction, you might consider avoiding the whole deal at the outset. If a tirade ensues after the fact, consider agreeing to a full return and refund. A customer who can't be satisfied is usually a waste of your time and effort.

  • The Deadbeat: In a nutshell, it's best to establish a time frame for payment receipt up front, communicating your option to negate the sale if it takes too long for the buyer to get in gear. You've got no time for knuckleheads who just won't pay.

The prenuptials of the purchase

Clear and concise communication is the best tool for establishing the mood, methods and motivation for the transaction ahead of you. To avoid buyer troubles, get a jump-start on setting expectations by clearly stating your sales policies where you list items, then follow those policies to a "T." Though not 100 percent fail-safe, clear sales policies can help screen out some bothersome buyers you'd likely rather not deal with.

Follow up with quick communication and make it clear that you're committed to getting the deal done fast, and "as advertised."

Share the ownership

Remember, it takes two to transact: A deal can only be successful when both parties are committed. As a seller, you state your policies and methods up front—no surprises. If there is concern or disagreement on the buyer's part, the two of you have the option to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution if you choose (there is benefit in being flexible to reasonable requests, though you should equally feel justified in sticking to your stated policies if a buyer's requests for your "flexibility" seem particularly unreasonable).

Whatever you two agree on, though, is ultimately a deal that's owned by both parties. If you set your policies clearly up front, then the buyer agreed to those when he or she bid or bought your item. But if you agreed to modify a particular condition after the purchase agreement, you, the seller, are now beholden to follow through with your amendment. So long as you, the seller, hold up your end of the bargain, there's no room for the buyer to contest the agreement. Oh, be sure to get any changes and agreements in writing—a simple e-mail that details the situation is fine.

Though sometimes we'd like to lash out at that hard-to-please so-and-so, a professional manner always leaves you standing in the best light

Diffuse the bomb

This goes back to one of the basic tenets of customer service: Kill 'em with kindness. While you should never be a doormat to anyone, you can head off explosive situations by showing understanding and a willingness to make the deal work. If a buyer becomes irritated, quickly ask what the problem is. Often, it's nothing but a simple misunderstanding.

If the buyer won't settle down and seems bent on arguing with you, it might be best to respond with, "Perhaps it would be better if we cancelled this deal." Whether the buyer seemingly doesn't like you, or is trying a harsh tactic to weasel out of a commitment, you're probably better off to cut this fish loose and recast your hook elsewhere.

All's well that ends well

Finally, if you've been through a somewhat bumpy experience with a buyer but the deal comes off smoothly in the end, recognize that fact and thank the buyer for working with you. Though sometimes we'd like to lash out at that hard-to-please so-and-so, a professional manner always leaves you standing in the best light. Chalk it up to the further development of your customer management skills. And who knows, you might have taught the buyer a lesson or two in the process.


About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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