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Article 4 min read

When the customer is wrong, make it right

By Dayna Steele

Last updated December 11, 2020

There will always be one customer that you can’t please, no matter how hard you try. There will be a time when a customer is wrong. Instead of being angry, or frustrated, or disappointed, use the customer as a lesson in disguise. Do what you can to prevent the experience from happening again.

Enter the space store

Years ago my husband flew for NASA. This meant that everyone we knew sent me on-site to the Johnson Space Center for a kid’s flight suit or that nasty astronaut ice cream, that no astronaut has ever eaten. I became tired of going to the Space Center. So, I created a NASA and space-related e-commerce website: The Space Store.

The Space Store had a manager with seemingly unlimited patience. She was incredible with every type of customer. Almost every customer. One day she received a call from a very angry woman about a defective toy. The manager tried everything to appease her— another toy in exchange for the product in question, a refund for the shipping, and finally a refund of the entire order and an offer to have the items picked up. The customer was having none of this, demanding to speak to “a boss.”

The problem? Her $19.95 Space Shuttle Action Toy did not fly.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, (big smile in voice), this is Dayna.

Customer: Are you the manager?

Me: I am the creator and owner of the store. How can I help you?

Customer: I am extremely disappointed in your product and also with that woman I talked to before you. She could not answer my question and had no explanation for my problem.

Me: Well, let’s see if I can do any better. What seems to be the problem?

Customer: Why doesn’t the Space Shuttle I bought from your store fly? I am so disappointed. I was just so happy to find this toy and buy it for my son. Now he has a Space Shuttle that just rolls around the floor but does not fly.

Me: Hmm. As you probably already know, it takes a lot of money to create something that flies. It would be impossible for us to offer anything that flies for such a low price, though I’m sure NASA would appreciate it if they could fly a shuttle for $19.95!

Customer: (Obviously not getting my humor at all.) So, you’re telling me you do not have a Space Shuttle that flies?

Me: Yes ma’am. That is what I am saying – we do not have a Space Shuttle, for any price, that flies. I would be happy to send you something else for your son or offer you a refund. What can I do for you to make this better? We pride ourselves on happy customers.

Customer: Does anyone else have a Space Shuttle that flies? Where can I find one? Tell me another store where I can find one and I will go there instead!

Me: Ma’am, I am not being rude, but I don’t know how else to explain this—the REAL Space Shuttle does not fly. It is a hundred ton glider that drops out of the sky. Other than the billion-dollar price tag, it flies about as much as the toy your son is playing with.

With that, she hung up; never shopping with us again. Thank goodness.

The lesson in disguise

What did I learn? We added DOES NOT FLY to the product description. Solved that little problem and, from then on, we would all laugh each time we read it. I am hoping it entertained a few customers as well. Do not even get me started on the woman who was mad that we did not have pink flight suits; only blue ones for the boys. Sigh.

Here’s a checklist for when that one customer is wrong, yet can’t accept it:

  • Take a big breath

  • Smile (even if you are on the phone)

  • Explain the situation as clearly and simply as you can, in as few words as possible

  • Try to commiserate or inject clean humor, where appropriate

  • If you can’t change the problem or fix it, offer something (anything) as a concession

  • Offer a refund if it makes sense

  • When all else fails, again apologize nicely for not being able to help—then request to transfer the call to a supervisor

  • In some cases, it is fine to thank the customer and say goodbye

No matter if the customer is wrong or right, a concerned customer should motivate you to examine what happened and see if there is a process you should change. With every customer that has a problem, there are more who do not bother to call and probably go elsewhere. Even a wrong customer can help you make things right.

And no, the space shuttle was never meant to fly.

Dayna Steele is the CEO and Chief Tipster for and a popular conference speaker. Look for her next book March 1, 2016: Surviving Alzheimer’s with Friends, Facebook, and A Really Big Glass of Wine. Find her on Twitter: @daynasteele.

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