How to Diffuse an Irate Buyer

It’s inevitable.  A buyer will, at some point in your selling career, message you about how disappointed they are, how it was surely a purposeful attempt on your part to swindle them, and how you are a lousy seller and a lousy person.  It usually degrades quickly into personal attacks that are baseless.  Your mission, and you have no choice but to accept it, is to go into diffusion mode.  The situation can, in most instances, get better very quickly with the right intervention.  Certainly I am not advocating becoming a pushover and letting buyers have their way as soon as the slightest bit of malcontent arises, but you’ll know the irate buyers when they surface. Sometimes they are genuinely justified and their problem is legitimate (which does make working with them immensely easier) but even if they are not justified, how you interact with them is crucial. It’s time for intervention. 

Intervention phase 1: Remind yourself of the golden rule: do to others as you’d have done to yourself.  I don’t care if it sounds cliche, if you actually ruminate on that phrase versus just quickly quipping it, it starts to sink in and move mental mountains.  Remember, your customer would (hopefully) not say the things they angrily typed if they were face to face with you; the internet-provided anonymity leads to more aggression and less compassion, but you don’t have to join in.  Once you’ve committed to hold your ground and be professional, you’re ready for the second phase of intervention. 

Intervention phase 2: Treat the buyer with dignity and respect even when it isn’t warranted. The buyer has sliced through your pride and hard work with sharp words and it hurts. At this point you have to be very intentional and change the tone in your response. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a biting, angry response and then quickly deleted it before sending. The initial (wrong) response comes out so readily because there is a huge temptation to defend ourselves, but it would be a horrible mistake. Trust me, it will escalate the problem and that helps no one, so the goal is to diffuse the buyer’s frustration with kindness. For example, “I’m so sorry you aren’t happy with your purchase, I’m here to do whatever I can to make it right.” That goes a long way towards showing goodwill and building trust.

Intervention phase 3: Get Creative. This has merit, hang on for a minute and I’ll explain. It’s very easy to think these situations are all or nothing, and sometimes they are. More often, however, I have found there is a middle ground if you can turn on the creative part of your brain – and because you’ve started the conversation properly, with thoughtful and respectful words, you are now in a good position to negotiate to that middle ground solution. As an example, the buyer wants you to give a full refund including round trip shipping costs for an item they say runs smaller than the tagged size (a very common issue, by the way). The first thing I usually do in this instance is refer them back to the measurements I had included in the listing. I ask if they will double check whether I had correctly measured the item. They may or may not choose to be honest here, but you have a better chance of getting their cooperation if you have first sought to build trust. If you can come to agree the problem is the item just doesn’t fit, but that you did your part as a seller to give accurate information, you may be able to agree the buyer pays all shipping expenses but is approved to return the item for a refund on the purchase price.

You will feel more satisfied with yourself if you don’t allow yourself to be sucked into bitterness and anger. People tend to bristle up when they feel monetarily disappointed (Buyer: “I wasted $$$ on this piece of junk?!” Seller: “I did all the work of selling this perfect item and now I have to refund all of it and get paid nothing for my time and effort?!”) You’re actually both wrestling with the same kind of disappointment, loss of time and money. If you feel the need to put a vice grip on the money from each sale to the detriment of building necessary buyer trust, it’s because you are NOT operating from a position of strength (read my post SELLING FROM STRENGTH if you haven’t yet). You can change this and create a healthy distance between your financial needs and your incoming sales so that your buyers can receive the treatment you yourself would want. Let the golden rule save the day. It’s often possible to diffuse even your most irate buyer when you approach the problem with less anger, less monetary desperation, and more empathetic kindness.


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