ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
October 1, 2012

Question: A customer called and complained that she had been mistreated by a salesperson. Apparently her credit card had been denied, and she felt the salesperson had a “real attitude” toward her and “demanded” another form of payment. She said she was so embarrassed by the incident in front of other customers that she will never shop at our store again. When I asked the salesperson about the incident, she had a very different rendition. I’m not sure who’s right, but I tend to believe my employee. I do not enjoy being in this situation at all. How do I handle this with the customer and still honor my employee?

Answer: Begin by letting go of the idea that there has to be a right and a wrong. If you can step back and realize both your employee and your customer are telling the truth as they experienced it, you’ll find it easier to create an amicable outcome.

With your employee, make sure she knows you believe she did her best and treat this as a learning experience. You might try some role playing with other staff members and see what can be gleaned and perhaps improved.

With the customer, you can acknowledge her experience and offer an olive branch to ease the tension without blaming or saying anything negative about your employee. It sounds like the incident triggered some deep feelings of inadequacy for the customer, and when those places are touched within us, it is hard to remain impartial or respond with lightness or humor. One way to recognize whether this is the case is if the customer repeats the story over again (and sometimes again). Just listen, offer empathy, and perhaps a gift card or a free reading as a way to entice her back. If that doesn’t work, you have done your best and just need to let it go.

As for not liking to be in this situation, remember that in any business where you deal with the public, you will have occasional complaints. Perhaps you can shift your attitude from dread to excitement knowing that each time a customer complains, it is an opportunity for you to make a friend and create a loyal customer for life. If you can view it as a game, where you get to hone your listening skills and then create a win-win situation, it becomes a lot more fun.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to