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How do you handle customers who threaten you?

1:37 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I have a customer who ordered 2 widget cases. One of them shipped immediately, the other was put on back order. UNFORTUNATELY the packing slips always say "Ship Complete" on them because i ship partial orders out of kindness so people don't have to wait on all parts unless they CHOOSE to and this customer took it as "order complete"

Well, it turns out this "customer" is a "lawyer" or so he says and is threatening me, my employees and my support staff.

We refunded the partial order and told him we would ship the 2nd item "on the house" and that i would get him tracking details as soon as it was available.

Every day i received an email from him asking for the details, asking for the tracking number, telling me i don't know how to run a business.

Yesterday i finally had it, i got this long-winded email telling me everything i did wrong - that i'm a liar, cheater, fraud and give business a bad name. (mind you after we already refunded him for the missing piece and committed to sending it on good faith once it was back in stock)

I cooled off for a bit and talked to my lawyer and basically agreed to cease all business with him and to refund his entire charge and notify him in a simple statement that his order had been canceled/refunded and no new shipments were to be made. Basically his account was closed.

I *THOUGHT* that would cease all communications but today I received yet ANOTHER email saying that *I* need business training, i shouldn't deceive customers, i shouldn't run a business and that he will CONTINUE to pursue me for what i did not deliver. He also logged into live chat and asked about his order status and left another voicemail asking about it as well.

Now before i pay another consulting fee to my lawyer, should i just ignore him and send his complaints to the bitbucket? has ANYONE else had an experience like this?

Has anyone actually had to file a police report against a customer for harassment? I mean this is the *FIRST* time i've ever had so much problems over a 14.00 order.

If i messed up someones tv i could understand.

Mind you this process went on for about 3 weeks. After the first 48 hours of backorder i refunded the partial payment since it was our systems fault it went on back order. We printed 2 po's for a single order when it should have been one po with 2 line items and I even explained it was my fault and apologized and told him we fixed the system.

*I* guess my problem was assuming that this guy was a nice guy and was actually wanting his goods that he could have taken his back-order anywhere else but i think this dude is here to pick a fight more than anything.

How do you handle crap like this? Complete waste of my time but no matter what i do he's on me like white on rice.

2:11 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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You should ignore this guy. He is like a child throwing itself down on the floor at the mall and screaming until it gets its parent to buy it a toy to shut it up. I don't know why you offered to ship him any part of the order free. When people get crappy with me, I refund them and that's it. They don't get a reward for behaving badly. I don't respond to anything else they say or do. A couple of times people have deigned to lecture me about how I run my business. Well, they can write what they want, but I don't have to read it, and I don't.

Only in one case I did respond to repeated hectoring emails. I had a customer who was refunded for his order because it was late but he still complained bitterly and went and filed a complaint to the BBB eight weeks later. They determined that he didn't have anything to complain about and closed it as resolved. He came back to me saying that I had paid off the BBB (to which I don't even belong) and demanded that I send him free widgets and also another refund, or he would go around the internet defaming my business. This was also for a small order, like your "lawyer." I did respond to this. I didn't swear or anything. I just scolded him like the ex-professor I am for being a spoiled little brat who didn't know how to act in public. He backed off and apologized but then, yes, whined that I should send him some free widgets, pleeeeeze(!). I then set my email to automatically delete all communications from him off the server so I would never be tempted to read his spit-up again.

Some people are a waste of time.

2:22 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Why not just fix your packing slip to be adjusted when something is back ordered? Or at least hand write the back order and x out "Order Complete". An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2:36 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Man,.. I have dealt with this type before. It's true an ounce of prevention and all that,.. but it won't stop these types of people. I would do like posted above. Refund money and call it a day. Don't let it bother you or waste your time.
2:37 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I think its less about the packing slip and more about a vendetta. The packing slip isn't always in our control. Some stuff is direct from manufacture, some is direct from distributor and most is shipped direct from us.

Our system notified him of the issue and sent him status of the shipped order and back order and after 48 hours i logged in and refunded the item since i didn't want a chargeback and stated "apologize for the issue, it was a problem with our PO process and i'm shipping the item free of charge"

thats when all **** broke loose.

Mind you our new system is authorize and charge when ship - and i told him this when he was questioning our business as if that really mattered anyway.

After a quick review of the customers ship to address its apparent he works for a law firm that specializes in evictions and collections and thats terribly apparent from his "tenacious" way of talking. (As described on his website)

personally, i feel better just venting out here. I just can't believe there are people like this.

3:16 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Some people just get off on complaining. I am afraid that it is part of any business. The internet and email just makes life easier for them.
4:00 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Yes, unfortunately some customers are pretty unnice, and give a lot of headaches...

Usually, they are just emotional kids, and your one is most probably one of them. As somebody can confirm, if you receive a real letter from a lawyer, it is usually less than emotional, even if they're going to scare you.

So, my internal policy to deal with troublesome customers:

- stay calm, answer nice; you're have to behave businesslike -- that's the rules of game. It this really goes to court, you niceness will play for you, end their troublesome behaviour against the opponent

- there hardly to expect a court case over $14 order -- I do not know how this is handed by courts in your country, but in the parts of EU I live courts generally refuse even to accept such minimal deals for consideration

- if they call you, tell you have to look it up in the system, what's currently is busy, and demand them to write order number per e-mail (even if you perfectly know the number -- show him you have thousands of similar cases on you hands; let them feel a small mouse agains a un-emotional business machine :-)

- do not answer troublesome customers too fast; if you generally answer e-mails within 24 hourse, answer not earlier than next day; that calms you down (answering too fast, you might end up answering endless unnice e-mails, when long-answering policy you have time not to think about them). This also cools off troublesome kids -- they do not have patience to play boring life games :-)

Troublesome customers will come and go (and even your current one), but your business will stay.

P.S. Almost forgotten -- use e-mail templates, with lots of "we are sorry" and "thank you for raising this important issue" :-)

[edited by: Morgenhund at 4:03 pm (utc) on Jan. 16, 2008]

4:27 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Add his email to your spam folder and forget him what good can come from worring and wasting another dime on this guy.

You did all you could and more so add him to spam folder forget him if he calls tell him you will begin recording all calls from him and use it against him in court.

Tell him end of story don't reorder period ,don't call don't contact, us nothing cease all communications......

4:34 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'd send Guido to see him and break his legs. Or at least his fingers so he can't write any more letters for a while.

Of course, *I* would never do this, despite having had several customers to whom I really wanted to... :)

4:42 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)


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In my years in direct marketing, I had to deal with any number of these people. There's plenty of good advice here already, but here are my thoughts:

- Provide an escalation path. If whoever gets the problem customer first can't resolve it, hand the call off to the supervisor. My experienced CSRs would "play supervisor" for each other when needed. They had the authority to solve problems, and it calmed the customer down to talk to someone new. I was the escalation of last resort.

- Stay calm, never argue. Agree with the customer when possible. "I understand. I'd be upset too," works wonders, and beats trying to convince the customer you did no wrong. I'm not saying you should admit liability or cave in on an expensive loss for the company. Putting yourself on the side of the customer in finding a solution, though, is far more productive than justifying past actions.

- Solve the problem. If the problem is fixable at reasonable cost, just do it. You'll waste more time fighting than a quick refund or replacement would cost in many cases.

- If what the customer wants is out of the question, and you are clearly right, stick to your published terms and conditions. Offer a freebie of some kind, perhaps. Keep the discussion rational and reasonable.

- Sometimes, you can't satisfy a customer even when you do everything right. If you have made every effort possible to resolve the situation, and are square from a financial standpoint (you don't owe the customer product or money), try to cut off contact. Refer them to your attorney if necessary.

- Be sure to flag their account for no more orders. Amazingly, I've had people scream at me for half an hour about how we are incompetent idiots, and then try to place a new order a few days later. If they ask why you won't take the order, my favorite line is, "Sir, I know from our past conversations that you have very high expectations for service. I believe we do a great job for our customers, but in your case I don't think we can meet your extremely high standards. Rather than disappoint you again, I suggest you call <insert hated competitor name>." :)

6:44 pm on Jan 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Thanks all for the feedback. Good tips. I'll let it die a quiet death and not dwell on it anymore. Just makes for a tough day and tries your soul.

Can't make everyone happy!

I've certainly learned my limits and will make sure to not let a customer crawl under my skin like that again. Love the idea about templates - we're implementing those responses in our CRM system but on a whole, we like the personable touch and try to avoid canned responses (i don't like 'em) but in this case thats the cheapest action you can afford!

4:06 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I had a customer call about a widget on my site. He was inquiring if we had a product to fit his year of vehicle, and whether or not it had some holes drilled in it to mount an accessory. When informed that we did not have the correct part for his vehicle, he got very angry. He insisted that we go to the warehouse (which is in another state) and take the packaging apart to find these oh-so-important holes. I told him that we would not, and besides the widget would not fit his year of vehicle anyway.

He then told me that he was a machinist and could make anything fit - I asked him why he couldn't just drill any holes he liked then. This made him really angry. He then confirmed the address of the office (it is listed on the website) and told me that he would be there in 45 minutes to break my legs. If I wasn't there, he would shoot up the office and light it on fire. I told him to do whatever he thought was neccessary and hung up the phone. I had to call the police, have them stake out the office for a few hours and file a police report. I traced his phone number, and it indicated a house address 1000 miles away, but I felt that it was better to be safe than sorry. The police said they couldn't charge him since the call was not recorded.

What fun people are.

7:18 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Everything going through our PBX is recorded so we have documentation. Especially supporting details for chargebacks and whatnot.
11:56 pm on Jan 17, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hope your customers are notified that they are being recorded.. yikes!

You need to file a police report if you want the phone company to block this number. They typically won't act unless you reference a police report.

Re: the daily calls, tell him that you are out of stock, with no known date that you can fill the rest of his order. You are under no obligation (in the US) to do business with anyone. Yes, I'm suggesting you lie to this customer to make them go away.

12:27 am on Jan 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I will just give you a quick summary of what happened to me two months ago.

Guy signs up to my premium service, pays through Paypal. Two days later, opens a dispute on PP asking for his money back: "wasn't what I was expecting, etc, etc."

I check through my log files (aha! didn't know I had those, did you Mr. Customer?) and see that he ripped through my whole site in 14 hours and downloaded every premium material on the site.

I communicate this both through the PP dispute thread and to PP directly. They side with me (miraculously!) and close the dispute and release funds to me.

At this point, all hell broke loose and I had a similar experience to the OP....daily and twice daily mails threatening everything under the sun.

He started to mention complaining to Google, getting me "thrown out of the search engines" and then, finally, he mentions the word "adsense" and that really got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

It just wasn't worth it for fifty bucks. I ended up giving him a full refund. I fear he actually would have gone to my site and started clicking AS ads, just for the hell of it. Is it worth me losing $1000's a month just because some jerk got caught with his hand in the cookie jar?

When customers turn nasty like that, you sometimes have to just take a deep breath, hold your nose and do the decent thing and not look back. A lot of pain...big gain.

1:02 pm on Jan 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Every so often I find I have to deal with the type of client that just will not acceapt an apology, and thinks that an error (fully refunded) gives them full rights to use you as a verbal punching bag. (i sell stuff in the 10-30 euros range)

I have found that a clear email indicating that I will be adding there email address to my spam filter does the trick. They just stop it. And I never have to bar there email address from my inbox.

99.9% of the times that I need to smooth a clients temper, an immediate apology and transmitting a clear desire to make amends has an immediate balming effect.

1:53 pm on Jan 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Hope your customers are notified that they are being recorded.. yikes!

Yup, it says "Your call may be recorded" when transfering calls to the queues.

BTW, we also save every email, every IM, every live support request for a period of days. Usually the statute of limitations on charge backs, sales and warranty policies to cover our buts.

Some customers try and fraud you every way they can looking for loopholes that may not be covered. Order online and ship to a work address but call in and update there address a day before delivery and then do a chargeback because they never received the item meanwhile a shipper at work signed & received it and they just let it sit at the office until the chargeback is refunded and voila they get a free item. Having that call recorded and doing the voice validation of "Your order has already been shipped to your confirmed address off xyz and we cannot forward this item" and that verbal "ok" from the customer who calls from the home address, home phone as identified by callerid and tracked in our CRM and PBX system saves our skin.

99 out of 100 customers are great, but some of them get so sneaky to try and get something for nothing. Documenting our PBX calls not only helps us manage our costs but protect our interests in providing the best service/value. If we didn't do it our prices would go up due to the fraud it invites.

Social Engineering fraud such as above is the fastest growing fraud segment in the world. If we see a social engineering leak we can usually go back through our logs and try and isolate the leak and know what our exposure is.

ANYONE who takes and handles personal information such as customer address, credit card info or account info should have these measures in place.

[edited by: ByronM at 1:54 pm (utc) on Jan. 18, 2008]

7:39 am on Jan 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Your lucky this all occurred through email.

When someone like this decides to call in daily with this sort of thing and you cant screen it for some reason it is much much worse, doubly so if you cannot just hang up or need to explain and engage in conversation where they always find many other faults. Email complaints are not squat compared to having to biker over the phone and actually hear their voice.

When customers turn nasty like that, you sometimes have to just take a deep breath, hold your nose and do the decent thing

Your assuming this nut is not clicking on your ads because you agreed to a refund. Paying a nut does not make them go away, it makes them stick around longer!

9:27 pm on Jan 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

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ok, so I don't know anything about AdSense, don't use it, but, if someone's going through clicking on all your adds, and you have a good stats program running on your server, couldn't you ban his ip from your site? Most people's computer access is "home" and "work" so, if you get those ips, you could just get rid of him forever (assuming he's not sharp enough to use an ip proxy)
6:15 am on Jan 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

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If I receive threatening or harassing communications, one of the first things I do is check to see their IP address looks to be one which I can easily block. I usually redirect them to a "site under maintenance" page.
12:58 pm on Jan 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

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i used to work in a customer service department, with a proper legal team attached, and the way they used to handle it was to sort the problem out as best they could, with compensation or whatever, and if they still carried on complaining after that then they'd send them a final letter explaining that it was not possible for them to take their complaint any further... if they sent any more missives then they would go unanswered... and if they wanted to take it further then they should contact their own solicitor or whatever.
5:09 pm on Jan 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Keep a diary sheet and log all comms from this customer, then go to teh police with it after 4 weeks (if yuo have that much detail) and make a complaint.

Dont sink to their level, if they are swearing at you on the phone warn them not or you will hangup.

I had some freak repeatedly phone me at home and complain!

10:22 am on Jan 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Some people just like to fight and argue,(why do you think he became a lawyer!)

I was in B&M for years and had several such instances. After I tried to satisfy them and they persisted I sent them my lawyers name and told them to contact him as I was no longer going to read their mail or answer their phone calls. Nothing ever went past that point!...KF

10:34 am on Jan 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Good point KF, it was actually worth saying it 3 times :)

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