The Grapevine

Handling Customer Complaints in Your Wine Shop

October 8th, 2013

Is the customer always right? You bet she is! Here’s why. [level-members]

Unless you are absolutely, positively, 100% dead certain that a customer’s complaint is bogus, you win by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s look at the upside and downside of each possible choice for handling customer complaints. But first, a few stats and examples:

  • Is Zappos successful enough for you? A big part of their success is their incredible customer service. (They sell shoes and apparel. A customer once called and asked for a pizza. The Zappos employee arranged for delivery from a local shop.)
  • How about Nordstrom’s, the department store? A customer once came in to return a set of snow tires. Nordstrom’s doesn’t sell snow tires, or any tires for that matter. “But this is where I bought them,” the customer said. And he had. In the store that had previously occupied the current Nordstrom’s space. Nordstrom’s took the tires back.
  • British Airways doubled their retention rate for customers who complained AND increased its return on investment (the value of business saved plus increased loyalty and new business from referrals relative to the department’s total costs) by 200%.

Hope you’re convinced in theory. Let’s look at practice:

  • If the client has a legitimate complaint and you refuse their request for help, you’ve created an enemy. They will never shop with you again, they will tell all of their friends, and you may even lose the original sale retroactively. (Ah, the joys of accepting credit cards …) You lose, you lose, and you lose again. 
  • If the client is full of crap and you call their bluff, they still have every reason to badmouth you, even if they know they’re full of crap. You don’t lose a customer – they weren’t really looking to do legitimately business with you anyway – but you do potentially lose their circle of friends as customers. Not as big as loss as above, but being “right” still ain’t worth the hassle for you.
  • If the client is full of crap and you still handle their complaint in their favor (professionally and happily), they may or may not do business with you again, but they aren’t likely to badmouth you. Again, you win. (The cost of a bottle of wine is usually minimal compared to the value of avoiding bad word of mouth.)
  • Finally, if the client has a legitimate complaint and you handle it (again, you have to be professional and positive interacting with them) in their favor, they will almost always come back to do business with you again. Even better, they’ll almost certainly tell their friends how you’ve treated them. You win once, you win again. You’ve created a fan for life. 

Now, none of this is to say that you should be a dupe. Someone you’ve never seen before walks in with a very expensive, very empty bottle and says it was corked? I wouldn’t be so fast to offer a refund. Replacement bottle or store credit? Absolutely. Offer whichever is less painful for you.

The important thing, no matter how you handle customer complaints is to do whatever you’re willing to do happily and professionally, and explain why you are offering what you’re offering. Do not, under any circumstances, cite “store policy.” That’s BS and every customer knows it.