Striking a Balance in Your Customer Service (and Not Getting Scammed)

While the common trope tells us that “the customer is always right,” in the real world that isn’t always the case. At the same time, with the advent of public forums like Yelp and Facebook, anyone who is unhappy with your service can instantly share their opinion with a wide audience. For these reasons and more it’s important for small business owners to find a balance in their customer service; making an effort to take care of guests, while also knowing when someone is trying to take advantage of them.

With that in mind here are a few tips to help ensure that you’re providing the best customer service possible, while also being on the lookout for scammers and other unreasonable “customers.”

Have an escalation policy in place

When you’ve been in business long enough — whether for yourself or working other jobs in your time — there comes a time when you’ve seen how a variety of scenarios play out. This experience allows you to spot some patterns, which might also mean the ability to know when someone is likely lying. However the people you employ that act as your front lines for customer service may not be as well-versed as you are and, when left to make their own decisions, might end up falling for a trick you would have been wise to. To combat this you’ll want to have policies in place to give your staff guidelines for how to handle certain situations as well as know when it’s time to ask for help. 

Admittedly there are a few problems with such plans. For one, if a supervisor or manager is unavailable at the time, it could mean that you’ve exacerbated a situation where you may already have upset a customer. Additionally your employees may grow annoyed that they are forced to tell a guest one thing only to have a manager override them. These are both issues to consider but the former can be fixed by ensuring there is always someone who can authorize compensation available. As for your employees make sure that, instead of them flat out saying “no,” they say something to the effect of “I’m not authorized to do that but let me get someone who is.” That way they won’t be directly contradicted, which may help alleviate stress and embarrassment on their end.

Give guests the benefit of the doubt… until there’s good reason not to

They say there are exceptions to every rule and that’s definitely true when it comes to customer interactions. Because of this it is imperative that you take the guest at their word until you have proof that they are lying. This mean you’ll want to hear the customer out entirely, apologize, be sympathetic, take notes about the details of their complaint, and then inform them that you’ll investigate. While you may have doubts about their story and want to prove them wrong, simply saying that you’ll investigate will sound as though you’re going to get the bottom of who is to blame (which in a way you are). Of course, in the event that the customer’s claim is legitimate, you’ll be very glad that you didn’t make things worse by antagonizing them from the outset. 

One recent example of this process in practice involved Whole Foods Market. When a customer in Austin, Texas claimed that a custom cake he ordered from the store contained a written slur, the company first said it was investigating. Later security camera footage debunked the guest’s claim and Whole Foods wasn’t shy about sharing, even threatening to countersue for a time until the customer dropped his lawsuit. Hopefully any guest issues you come across will be free of legal action but this still sets a good template for how to deal with potential scammers.

Listen carefully to what the customer wants

Not every customer that complains is out to scam you nor do they all want compensation — some just want to be heard out. In these cases you may even insult customers by immediately offering them freebies, as it may come across as though you’re simply trying to get rid of them as quickly as possible. This can actually take a situation that should have been easy to resolve and makes it far worse.

Instead of jumping to the end of your customer service script that may include refunds or discounts, be sure to listen carefully and understand exactly what the guest is asking for. They may be offering honest and helpful feedback for the future or perhaps just want an apology for whatever mistake or accident took place. That said, while the apology may have been all it took to save their experience, it might then be appropriate to really win them over by offering compensation or other services — but only after you’ve addressed their real concern.

Although most of the customers you encounter on a daily a basis will have no issues and the majority of those who do have complaints will be sincere, it’s those visitors who exaggerate or just plain lie that stick out to many small business owners. There may be times when you do get scammed but that shouldn’t distract you from taking care of your honest customers who you may have harmed by mistake. By following these tips you’ll have a better idea of how to strike that balance and ultimately give your customers the level of service that they deserve. 


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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