Dealing with Unhappy Customers

I recently got an email from a long time customer. After I answered it, I realized that many more people would have the same question so I’m answering it for everyone below:

Lately my business has really exploded. I am nearing a thousand orders this month alone. With that amount of orders being turned around in a short time, and it being just myself, and my husband when he can, processing these orders, there have been a few mistakes. We check and double check, but it does happen. There have also been a few people not happy with what they receive.

I always bend over backwards to fix the issue, but it feels sometimes like I am being taken advantage of. If I missed something in the order, I send out a replacement, if I sent the wrong product, they keep it and I send out the correct one. If they have been unhappy due to a perceived problem, I replace, exchange, or refund. I don’t accept returns in general as I don’t want products coming back when people don’t like scent, color, etc. Who knows if they are used and I don’t want to take chances returns being mixed up with new products.

How do you deal with unhappy customers? Especially when it feels like you (or your product, or your business methods, etc) are being attacked. Right now everything feels so personal, and that is hard to deal with.

So, I really could use some advice as I am felling pretty down right now.

How to deal with unhappy customers


Well, first of all, I’m not surprised you’re feeling badly because it IS personal. After all, if you’re a one or two person shop, your business is your baby. You’ve designed every aspect of it. You packed the order that’s being complained about. You took the order. You made the products. You stayed up late multiple nights in a row to try to meet everyones’ needs. And you’re probably pretty overworked and feeling the stress and strain of a growing business. Late nights, cash flow stress, and confronting new situations does not make for very rational, non-emotional thinking. Don’t worry; I’ve been there. I’m there more often than I care to admit. And, like you, I’ve been there, done that. I’ve grown a business from my kitchen, bootstrapped it on credit cards to where Bramble Berry is today with over 50 employees – and even with that growth, complaints do still feel personal. After all, you know you’re working as hard as you can to help out, do the right thing and take care of your customers.

So, why don’t your customers see that? Why do they callously say things like (just a couple of the written complaints in the last month to me) “You should take some of those profits from all that extra business and just hire more workers?” or “You don’t deserve a day off until you’re caught up with orders?”  Why don’t they thank you for working so dang hard and giving up so dang much to be self employed, trying to serve their needs? The reality is, those customers are having their own stresses and their own situations to deal with. They’re stressed about their jobs, their kids, their car, their bills and any number of things so when your order arrives and it’s wrong, it’s the last straw. They’re probably getting it at the end of their workday, they’re tired, they have to deal with dinner and on top of that, they have to deal with contacting you about a problem with their order. It’s enough to make anyone angry – or at least, certainly peeved enough to toss off a mean email or two to you before they start dinner.

How to cope:

(1) Breathe. Take a deep breath. If need be, take a short walk around the block.

(2) Look at your policies. What? You don’t have policies yet? This is precisely the reason to have them – so you can look at the situation and calmly point to the correct response (because, it’s been thought out ahead of time, without rancor, malice or emotion). But say you do have policies, did you follow them? Was there anything else you needed to do? If the customer is angry, obviously something isn’t working about the policy. Are they simply being over the top or do your policies need adjusting?

(3) Talk it out. Call your friend. Call your husband. Post to a forum (SoapDishForum or and get feedback.

(4) Write your basic response to the customer. DO NOT send it. You will be sitting on this response for a few hours. Ensure it includes the following:

(a) I’m sorry. (Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is free.)

(b) Acknowledge their pain, your mistake.

(c) Explain what you CAN do. Do not focus on what you cannot do.

(d) Use the word ‘fair.’ Example: Does this seem fair to you? What seems fair to you? What would be fair in this situation? (You will never get someone that asks for their entire order for free. Okay, that’s a lie. We do get that but it’s rare.)

(e) End with an acknowledgement (again) of their feelings, your mistake and your sincere apology.

(f) Add a PS that says something like “Even with my mistake, I hope you loved your products. Thank you so much for ordering from us. It means the world to our small company.” Or, something along those lines.

(5) Go do something else, preferably working out, or packing boxes with a great book on tape from on there, or your favorite upbeat music. Anything that keeps your hands busy and your subconscious processing your feelings.

(6) After an hour or two, re-read your note. Is it genuine? Is it sincere? It is? Good! Hit ‘Send.’ Try not to hit ‘Send/Receive’ compulsively until the response comes back.

The reality is that you will not please 100% of the people you ship to 100% of the time. You are human. I am human. We make mistakes. The key is in the recovery. Can you salvage the situation with the customer without losing your soul and your sanity? And keeping your sanity involves letting go of always being perfect, remembering the ‘why’ you’re in business for yourself and moving on. It’s a hard pill to swallow – recognizing that some people will not be happy with you no matter what – and it’s necessary for you to do to maintain your equilibrium.

Now, go pour yourself a bath, grab a great book and relax for 30 minutes. You deserve it.

Like it? Share it!

Become an email subscriber

Enter your email address below and you will receive all our new posts directly in your email inbox.


  1. says

    I just had this happen. This lady spoke to me for around a month going over each and every one of my “lotions”. After she orders, in which I tell her to order a small 1oz just as a trial which is just $10 she writes back a horrible email explaining how “pungent” it it wasn’t even a “lotion” or a cream”. It was quite nasty. She couldn’t even try it because of the pungent odor. Although we had already discussed the smells and so on. I had made one especially for her with only 1% unrefined cocoa, but I then explained that I do not add water to mine because I do not want to use preservatives, nor do I use refined oils. All of mine are top of the line unrefined. I added 3 drops of lemongrass. I had even let over a dozen other people smell it and they couldn’t even detect anything and said it was non-odorous. I have a feeling she wants a free product and expects a refund. It’s after my refund policy so I apologized, empathized, and told her that there are many companies out there that make unscented lotions such as Dove that have the consistency of lotion, but require preservatives. I then told her that my lotions were probably not a good match for her, but I would be willing to investigate any company she wanted to buy from. If she writes back then I will ask her what she deems fair, but explain it’s past my refund time policy. I think that some people just aren’t ever satisfied. However, as much as I want her to like my products a clean break may be the best alternative. AS hard as that is, her daughter loved my products and finding the positive in all of this is the hardest part. It’s so completely personal. Especially when the customer makes it personal, but I believe that every situation can at least be smoothed over! I hope to learn from this and maybe I need to add more to my policies, but sometimes brevity is the best policy too.

    • says

      Hi Alena!

      Oh man, I’m sorry that happened to you, but we have all been there (unfortunately). I think you did the right thing to stand by your return policies, but offer additional services (trying to find another company for her) to try and smooth out the situation. You’re right, it can feel deeply personal when you take so much time to create a product and have it bashed. It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t make everybody 100% happy, 100% of the time and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. I hope all ends well Alena! Your lotion sounds great by the way :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  2. Lisa says

    Hi Becky,
    No matter how hard you try or bend over backwards for someone, they will never be appreciative, no matter what you do. Of all the customers you have dealt with and the pleasant experience they have had (and will be back to order again), you have to look at the positive in all of this and that is you have MORE positive feedback than negative feedback. As the saying goes “you will never please everyone all the time” and that holds true being in business, especially a small one at that. My husband and I sell modular homes and it’s just us two and no matter how much you do or bend over backwards they will never be happy no matter how hard we try. I have to look at all the customers that are pleased as punch and the (less) than a handful that have not, well, no matter what I do they won’t be happy and the fact of the matter is they are miserable in their own lives and whatever I do won’t make a dent in them being happy, not matter what!!!!!
    You just keep doing what you are doing and do the best you can (that’s all anyone can ask for in the real world) and you will succeed no matter who tries to push buttons…..
    You are doing a WONDERFUL job and keep up the GREAT work…..don’t let the negativity get you down….stick to the positive!!!!!

    • says

      Good morning, Lisa!

      I think Anne-Marie does a great job in dealing with unhappy customers and is a great example to our office of how to do it. I’ll definitely pass on your kind words to her and let her know how your feel. =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  3. Jennifer says

    Hello there! It is a bit frightening to read this post considering that I am a small business owner (I haven’t gone “live” yet!) so I haven’t sold a darn tootin’ thing. One tip I would like to share is as mentioned above, have a fair but staunch policy. My policy states that my store reserves the right to do a temporary shut down due to heavy backlog. Peruse this time to catch up with crafting, orders, or breathe/relax (aaaahhhhhh… remember this?). Contact your hosting site to understand how to leave a “maintenance” or “vacation” message (possibly making your IP the only one allowed to login to do work), so that your buyers know that you are human too :-). I also state tentative email response times, offer tracking numbers for shipments, order processing times, and a store schedule. You want to put your customer at ease knowing that everything is going to be okay! Friendliness is a must Must MUST! But also as a future seller, don’t let people take advantage. Make it clear as to how you handle your refunds, shipments, and what credits they can receive. And final sales? Imagine selling underwear only to be demanded a refund. Nobody wants to wear used knickers my dear! I also offer a free gift with every order, so just in case you do meet a potentially unsatisfied customer– they at least got something out of the deal along with your sincerest apologies and hopefully a smile knowing that someone took the time to take care of them. Just make it clear as to how you operate your business in terms of refunds. Do you do full refunds or do you have shipping and handling costs that you must minus from the refund? Make it clear with your policies page!

    But wait one minute there little buddy. There is still some food left on this plate! I find that what is most important is also having a lawyer! If you can’t afford one, at least let them write up a professional “disclaimer” for you, outlining what a customer can expect from the sale and what your rights are. Think like a written “terms of service” or a “customer agreement” page. Obtain trademarks, copyrights, and patents to protect your product as well. Let them know in a “firm but fair” manner that if they try any funny business with your business, it’s time to get down to business! No one has the right to intimidate, defame, or discredit you if you are well-intended, thorough, and professional. You worked hard to get where you are today. If someone files with let’s say the Better Business Bureau– remain proactive and transparent. Respond and be diligent to maintain your reputation and set the balance right. And KEEP RECORDS if it does get a bit… grotty. You have the right to defend your way of living, this is YOUR sweet, precious baby!

    If I was a bit wonky in all of this, I apologize ;-D. Here’s a link that is “en pointe” on outlining. I absolutely LOOOVE this company– you’ll be happy to know the owner goes by the “Root Queen”!

    Happy selling darlings!

    • says

      Hi Jennifer!

      That is such good advice and I definitely agree with you about keeping records. It is always important to have a paper trail of who said what and when it was said. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to let us know what has worked for you! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  4. blaireborthayre says

    Seven years ago I placed a large order for craft supplies with a company that had always delivered promptly in the past. So I went ahead and took orders from customers figuring that the supplies would arrive in time. Weeks later I was dealing with quite a few angry and disappointed people who had been promised their items prior to a holiday. I received unpleasant calls and emails. Orders were cancelled. I anticipated the humiliation of bad reviews on Etsy. I didn’t handle it well. I was defensive. I apologized but in the same breath blamed the supplier. I pointed out that this had never happened before. I talked about the stress I was under…
    By the time I got the supplier on the phone, I was very upset. I didn’t want a discount,I didn’t want excuses, I wanted to be HEARD. The woman who answered the phone listened patiently to my ranting story of victim hood. She was empathetic, took responsibility,apologized and corrected the issue immediately. At the end of the call, I was so impressed by the way she handled things that I asked her name. I wanted to pass along a compliment to her supervisor. She responded “Anne-Marie.”….Yes, the supplier was Brambleberry.

    This call made me realize that I had expected to be heard when I was the “wronged” party but I didn’t give my customers the same courtesy. Instead, I had made it all about me. So I contacted each person(even the ones who had cancelled their orders.) This time instead of passing the buck and blaming the supplier, I took responsibility for my mistake. I should have never accepted orders without the supplies on hand. I sincerely apologized and asked what I could do to make it right. And then I listened…sometimes biting my tongue until it bled.
    Thanks for this article…consider me a witness to the fact that you really do practice what you preach.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by, Blaire! We appreciate your comment and understand how hard it can be when you are a small business owner and something doesn’t turn out how you were expecting. I really glad to hear that you liked the blog post so much. Happy Soaping! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

    • Anne-Marie says

      You just made my day! I was holding my breath reading your note, thinking, “Please don’t be BB, please don’t be BB” and then phew! I’m so glad that we practiced what we preach now, even 7 years ago. =)

      Thank you for remaining a customer – and remaining a reader – for all these years. I appreciate it.

      • blaireborthayre says

        I’m SO glad to read your comment Anne Marie..when I saw Becky’s response I was really worried that I hadn’t explained myself very well..I most definitely was trying to thank and compliment you for teaching me how to handle an unhappy customer. It really did have a big impact on me as learning by example often does. Thanks again, you’re a role model in many ways. Blaire

  5. says

    This helpful advice means a lot since Bramble Berry backs up wonderful products with stellar customer service. I’m going to do as others have said above, and keep this info readily available.

    • says

      Thanks Jean – and thanks for being a customer. I hope you don’t ever have to use the advice, of course! =) May you only have happy, wonderful and loving customers … and if you don’t, take a deep breath, follow the steps in the blog post and they’ll get you a long ways towards a calm and positive resolution.

  6. says

    Thank you so much for this post. I am a very small business, just putting my toes in the water and have not had to deal with this as of yet. So glad you wrote this post! xoxoxoxoxoxo

    • says

      I do hope that it is quite some time before you have to deal with it – but it is probably inevitable as you grow your business. Just know that a deep breath, and a great support network, go a long ways to calming the soul after your first stressful customer situation. Best of luck as you grow your business!

  7. Pooja says

    So well written & true,Do you come across snobbish customers? It’s Ok you don’t have to buy handmade soap,but making comments like I use only dove/Special kind of soap/I buy only at Wholefoods[ I have also seen non organic & melt & pour soap not labeled as melt & pour]/Is your soap Organic? I buy only organic but the same lady buys stuff brom a booth selling scarves made in China ;).Does anyone comes across such customers?how do you deal with them?

  8. Mei says

    I placed 2 orders within 2 days, and been adding items to my already paid orders. I would like to thank you BB (especially Carla, who has been taking good care of my order) for providing such great service.

    I own small business, and sometimes we can’t pleased everyone and we got to learn how to take it easy.

    =) keep up the good work lady’s out there who own small business~

    • says

      Aw, thanks for the love! I’m so happy to have you as a customer and delighted to read that you’re really appreciating how great Carla is. We like her too! =) Thank you for being a customer.

  9. Elizabeth says

    Very good advice. Well said. I do not have any kind of busness so I do not know what its like from that end. As a custmer though I just want to know that my problem has been heard and if needed fixed and that the small busness cares about me. I chose small busness for a reason , I choose to spend usually more then what I would at a large company becuase the product and helping small busnesses out is more important to me then saveing a buck. I try to remmber always to give positive feed back when things go well. Its to easy to simply complain , some one might make a mistake once but how often have they done it right or even amazeingly.

    • says

      Good morning, Elizabeth!

      I think that is wonderful that you choose small businesses for your purchases and that you do give that much needed feedback. Thanks for stopping by! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

    • says

      Good morning, Anna!

      We are so happy to hear that you liked this blog post. We’ve found it to be super helpful advice when dealing with any sort of customers. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Soaping! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  10. cindy says

    Excellent advice! I don’t currently have my own biz but back when I did, I would take each problem/complaint personally, too. How can you not!

    But after I cooled off and tried to placate the customer, I also addressed those policies or the photos on my site or whatever had somehow led to the problem in the first place. Sometimes I would show or play back the complaint for my son or husband then show him the specific place on the website (shipping or description, etc) and ask if the customer had a valid complaint. If he thought so then that meant the policy, descriptions, whatever got an overhaul to make sure that didn’t happen again, if possible. Orders got printed out on neon colored paper so I never misplace them. Inventory systems were changed. Etc.

    Long-winded way of saying that these can all be really helpful learning experiences. They just sting at first — trying to stay positive can be hard!

    • says

      Good morning, Cindy!

      I love your idea of neon colored paper to keep track of your orders. Here at Bramble Berry, we have a similar system with colored paper that we’ve found works really well for us! Thanks for stopping by and Happy Soaping! =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  11. says

    We ALL have had one of those customers at one point or another – For newbies unfortunately they’ll run into one of those customers eventually but if they read this it will help them a bunch…It’s Great advice! and well written:)

    • says

      Hi Pam!

      Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree, that no matter where you are in your business, that eventually everyone will have customers that are harder to deal with. I think that A-M gives some great advice on stepping back and cooling down before before you send the e-mail. Good luck with your business and Happy Soaping!

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  12. says

    I feel your(unknown small business owner) pain as I am sure so many others do as well. We have all had to deal with unhappy customers. some of them make a habit of being difficult. I am in a situation now where i have just had to sit on a mail I wrote to a client. I deleted most of it once I had had a chance to cool down.
    Great advice as always AM. You rock. Hope all is going well with little one not born and little one who just had a b/day

    • says

      Hi Odette!

      I think anyone who has either been in customer service or who have had their own business have definitely been in these kind of situations. I am happy to here that you were able to deal with your client and get it all sorted out. =) Good luck with your business and Happy Soaping!

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  13. Amy Dwyer says

    This is wonderfully written!!! I LOVE your business and the excellent products and customer service you provide!!!! :) You all ROCK!!!

  14. Judy says

    I have taught classes on customer service / customer care and you’ve hit on all the topics I usually teach to: Apologize, show empathy, explain what you CAN / WILL do, and then bookend the closing with (as you pointed out) showing empathy and truly thanking them for their business.

    Now I’ll put on my own “customer” hat here and tell you that in my opinion, rarely is it about the money (i.e., “I DEMAND a FULL refund!!”). :-) I’ve had instances when something has gone wrong and sometimes a simple apology and a show of sincere (the key here is the sincerity) empathy is all it takes. (That’s why it’s smart to ask them what they feel is fair / how they want the situation handled before you offer them the shop!!).

    I remember one time when I ordered a purse from Etsy, and in a few months the sewing started to come out. I took a picture of it and sent it to the shop owner – never asking for a refund or anything because I simply wanted to alert her to what happened. She, in turn (without asking) gave me a full refund. While that was great for me, I wasn’t asking for that and she probably could have gotten away with providing me with something like a $5 store credit. Again, had she asked what I wanted, she may not have felt she had to refund 100% of my purchase.

    There are other times, unfortunately, that the business owner shows NO empathy, NO sincerity, or anything. It is from those interactions when I usually jump on a site such as Yelp and offer my own feedback, since they showed they didn’t even care about me.

    I hope this helps — seeing this through the eyes of the customer. Your selling your soaps and I’m sure they’re wonderful!! I make soaps from time to time and know just how much work goes into one little batch! Keep up the great work, and try not to focus on those outliers – the onsie/twosie customers who are having a bad day and take it out on you.

    • says

      Hi Judy!

      I didn’t know there were classes on customer service? How cool is that! We are super happy to hear that you have been teaching these same sort of principles when dealing with customers, and I love your take on it. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us. =)

      -Becky with Bramble Berry

  15. says

    Wonderful advice! (I especially love part about taking a bath and relaxing- sounds amazing!) Thank you for sharing this post. It’s comforting to know this happens to business owners at all stages of growth!