You can learn how to deal with complaints easily, effectively and without feeling personally harmed. Making memorial or breastmilk jewellery or DNA keepsakes is quite a unique area, somewhere in between breastfeeding counsillor, funeral director and wedding supplier. The wedding and funeral industries receive the most complaints of all industries because tensions are running high, and I believe that passes over to keepsake jewellery. Customers in this industry can be more hurtful than in any other area I’ve worked (from mobile phones to advertising to coffee shop and retail management) and it’s a combination of it being such an emotive thing we’re working with and the fact I feel closer to it because it’s my own business.
How to Deal With Complaints – The Paths
Whether you’re in the right or they are, or both of you, there are several paths you can take together. Please don’t forget that you have the power to guide a customer down a different path no matter how the conversation starts out. I’ll try to give as many examples below from working in this industry over six years.
The Full Refund and Keep The Jewellery
This is the path the most difficult customers often want to go down. It can be incredibly painful to get this kind of message. They’ve received their item and have found something to complain about. They want you to refund them completely but they will almost always refuse to return the jewellery because “it contains something so irreplaceable”.
“I received a ring from you today after waiting absolutely ages and I’m very angry. It looks unprofessional and the colour is all wrong, it’s too dark! It doesn’t even fit me; I want a full refund but I’m not sending it back because it’s my gran’s ashes”
This is one of the worst case scenario complaints. They’re complaining about quality of the setting, the competence of the artist, the fact that it doesn’t fit and the time it took to arrive. You can apologise and do what they want by refunding without return, but then you’ll be out the cost of the setting and all of your work, plus shipping and overheads. I almost always* try to steer them away from this because I DON’T DESERVE TO WORK FOR FREE and neither do you!
What to do – start off with an acknowledgement of their complaint and a genuine apology. Look back through any old messages and find some empathy for a client. They’re probably grieving their breastfeeding journey or their loved one. I would say, for example,
Hi Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to come to me with this. I know it must be difficult to have received something you’re looking forward to for a long time and it’s not what you were hoping for. After your gran passed in March the crematorium have looked after her really well and the ashes were a lovely naturally dark colour. We usually try to let the natural colour of the ashes come through in the jewellery, which can hide some of the pigment we added in the green you chose. I definitely checked the ring size before setting the ashes, but if you feel like it’s not the right size you can take it to a local jeweller (please send me a photo of it on the sizer) or you can buy one here on Amazon. Please forward me your Amazon receipt and a photo of the ring on the sizing stick and I’ll refund the sizer.
Here’s a resolution I would like to offer. I will remake the ring for you in the size you like, please use a sizer exactly like this one to find your correct size. Please post me back the ashes and this ring, we will remove and return the stone, so the ring can be recycled, and make a new one. We can hide the ashes behind the pigment so you can’t see so much (or any) of your gran’s ashes if you’re not keen on their colour. We’ll send you a photo of the cabochons/stones we make to check you’re happy before setting one in the new ring setting. As a goodwill gesture we’ll even ship the remake to you free of charge by Special Delivery. Please let me know if you’re happy to go ahead
Owner and Artist
Tree of Opals
The Partial Refund and Replacement
If your customer starts off with asking for a partial refund then don’t feel like you necessarily have to give them money back. When I first started out making memorial and breastmilk jewellery I was in need of every penny to pay for childcare, let alone contribute to bills. If I had an order it would either be spent on stock and consumables like moulds and settings or it would go to my girls’ nursery. I didn’t have business savings and I couldn’t afford to refund, so if it was necessary it would have to come out of our personal account.
This isn’t a situation I’d recommend you be in, with good profit margins you should easily be able to cover your overheads, childcare and some put aside. I lost £100 in my first year in business (I started off with £350 of my own money from a child tax credit) then I made a profit after about six months. If you can, put aside 10% to cover any refunds.
Still, you can avoid a refund at all by offering something of equal value. For example, if they want £50 back why not offer a £50 necklace, that may only cost you £10 to make?
How to Prevent Complaints To Begin With
The best way to prvent complaints in the first place is to try to do everything you can to get them to understand the important points about buying jewellery from you. That could be in the form of a phone call or email before you take payment, or an extra box on your checkout to ask them if they definitely read the product description and the FAQ’s. I make my customers write “I promise” in the box on the checkout on Tree of Opals and it does help cut down on complaints in the first place. Customers often won’t read them anyway, but at least you have them there to back you up in case you do get a complaint.
Always let customers know, regarding lead times 1. your maximum lead time (orders can take up to four months from receipt of payment and the milk/ashes etc) and 2. an estimated lead time (most orders take about a month right now but this will be longer during the school holidays). Also let them know if any of your settings are handmade, such as rings from us which are soldered or cast by hand in small batches and look handmade. I like to include a sizing disclaimer in my terms and conditions, along the lines of, “due to different tolerances in ring sizers the ring provided may be up to one whole UK (one half US) ring size larger or smaller than requested”.
I avoid most complaints in the first place with two important tools:
- Proof Photos – Prevent them saying they don’t like the colour by sending a proof photo – just make at least two cabochons (stones), on the back, email the client a photo and ask which they prefer. Let them know that you’ll always return the unused ones free of charge but you can make extra profit here by offering to set the extra in silver for another £20/$30 (over half will say yes). They feel more involved in the process, fewer complaints about time too
- Free Ring Sizers – At Tree of Opals our way to remove ring sizing complaints is letting customers know we prefer to send them a free ring sizer with their kit to borrow. You can find kit supplies here in our country specific buying guides, here’s one from Amazon that’s ideal, we just ask for the letter that fits best so they don’t get confused about which number we need. The letter is the UK ring size and they’re a little more accurate than US sizes
How to Deal With Complaints When You’re In The Right
This one’s carefully phrased, the flip side of “you’re in the right” is “you’re not in the wrong”. Or even the possibility that your customer’s in the wrong. Whether that’s true or not, it’s always best to treat the situation like you’re both in the right. Don’t accuse the customer of being wrong, having misread something, having demanded too much, too soon or being cheap. It’s not going to make you or them happy and it’s going to lead to hurt feelings and bad reviews.
Then again, you don’t have to give in to a customer’s unreasonable demands just because you’re scared of a bad review. I like to try to find a middle ground for each situation so I’ve given as examples above. If you have lots of good reviews then don’t give in to demands of a refund if you’re in the right just because you’re afraid – real customers will see through a bad review if the rest are great!
Do you have any tips for dealing with complaints?
*The only situation where I’d give a full refund and allow them to keep the piece is where it’s not too expensive in the first place (perhaps £50 and under) and/or the client has my home address and has threatened me. If I’m worried about the safety of my family, I’ll do anything to get rid of them as fast as possible. I had a situation once where a client I think was mentally ill turned up at my home at 9pm and I honestly wish that I had given her a full refund. Preferably before I’d made the piece, when I knew she was a problem. You do need to put your family first and if a customer gives you any sign of being dangerous then please refund in full and block all contact. If they leave you a 1* review anywhere then you can fight it with any evidence of threats you’ve received from them.