Podcast Episode 13: How to deal with angry customers and bad reviews

etsy podcast Oct 28, 2021

Hello my friends! Welcome to the show today where we are going to talk all about how to deal with angry customers and bad reviews. If there is anything that I notice again and again in the Etsy forums--- it is sellers asking the question: “How do I respond to this?” and they post a DM from an angry customer.

This is clearly a question on so many sellers’ minds--- AND I’ve also noticed quite a variety of responses so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and give you my take on how to deal with angry customers as an experienced full time shop owner with star seller status and loads of glowing reviews. 😊

But before we dive deeper into this subject—I want to take just a minute and tell you about a new totally free resource I created for you! I’ve been thinking about you so much lately and as I’ve considered how to really serve you guys, I did some soul searching and thought back to my first several months as an Etsy seller—before I made much money, before my shop was full-time, before I really knew what I was doing. And I really thought about what I wish I’d had back then to give me a leg up. So I made a detailed list of what would have helped me most and then I put it into a masterclass for you! I packed as much as I could into 1 hour of 100% free training--- and I promise--- it is pure gold. You will walk away with the major tools you need to get your shop to the next level. I’m really excited about it and worked really hard on it for you!

The masterclass is called “How to Kick-Start Your Etsy Shop” and you can grab it right over on my website or I have it direct linked for you down in the shownotes. I can’t wait to hear your aha moments and new wins after you get a chance to go through it! I really tried to make something that can help you TODAY and I completely believe it will.

With that being said—let’s do a deep dive into today’s topic, shall we? Angry customers and bad reviews. Not a super fun topic—but an extremely important one for sure!

You know if I’m totally honest---- I get far more anxious and frustrated by the customers who are difficult up front over one who complains. Lollllll! Like—I’m pretty confident I can turn around someone who is upset, but if you just ordered or you’re getting ready to and I can already tell it’s going to be high maintenance? I just wish there was an eject button I could push right there. Lollll

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t mind A BIT if someone has a few questions or would like something customized--- I put that in every listing—PLEASE reach out! We’re super friendly! But it’s the one that comes in with 5 detailed questions or requests, I answer them, and then each of my answers gets 5 more questions. Or if someone is really trying to get me to do something that is totally out of my wheelhouse--- like--- nothing remotely like it in my shop. At this stage in my business that’s a pretty good indication that I don’t need to bend over backwards to win the sale. Lollll

Although I feel like I don’t get those too often anymore! But they’re definitely more frequent than someone who is mad.

In my sign shop, I’m most likely to have an unhappy customer because of delayed shipping----

Especially around the holidays, we’ll sometimes get upset customers about turn around time or shipping delays—and that’s one reason I put my shop on vacation mode long before Christmas so everything is shipped with enough time. (A lot of sellers have questions on vacation mode and if it can hurt your shop—so if that’s you, you might like podcast episode 3 where I talk about this in detail! I’ll link it below in the shownotes for you!)

Lots of sellers just wash their hands of it all once it ships—but if there’s a serious delay and the customer reaches out upset, I’ll usually give a bit of a refund. Or sometimes it’s so delayed, it appears lost and I’ll rush out a replacement to try and get it there by the need by date. I’ll tell you what though--- almost every single time I’ve done that, the original piece shows up within a few days. So it’s frustrating for sure—but at least the customer feels cared for and that makes it worth it. My decisions are always customer centric—and I think that’s a key take-away.

I can think of two different times when a customer was SUPER mad or gave a bad review and it was product related.

The first one was this one time when someone ordered one of my new wood shiplap style above-bed signs. So think about a pretty big painted piece. They measure 45x21” and weight 10+ pounds. Well, we offer them in reclaimed wood or new wood--- and when I paint both with several coats of chalk paint, the brown from the wood still seeps through. It always surprises me because chalk paint is so thick—but this is what happens. On a reclaimed wood piece---- this is charming and the customer loves this effect—but when someone is buying the shiplap style, they want a cleaner, crisper, more modern look—so the brown seepage does not fly.

(Since then, we’ve changed to a different type of wood board that doesn’t do this—but the way we got around it back then was we used an oil based primer on the new wood to seal it before base painting it. It worked great—no more ugly weird brown tea stains coming through.)

SO I used this process and sent her the sign and she LOVED it. She gave us the most glowing 5 star review and it was a great day.

Then all of a sudden, a few months later--- she goes in and updates her review to 1 star and then types above the original review “Update” and I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like--- the sign gave off intense paint fumes and she hated the smell so she had to remove from her bedroom and put it in the garage.

That’s totally legit to me----- I mean—I had never received that feedback before, but yeah--- I respect that. No one wants to feel like they’re inhaling toxic fumes in their bedroom while they sleep. And it ultimately played into our decision to change our process because it was that oil based primer that carried the longer lasting paint odor.

But she never reached out to me or anything--- it was just this jarring review update that showed up one day.

So of course I reached out to her right away and gave her a full refund. I explained exactly what I thought the problem was and apologized profusely for her experience. Thank goodness----- she was super gracious. She actually was very surprised that I was willing to refund it after a few months and so she updated her review again lollllll to 5 stars and added a second “update.”

But that to me was a happy ending because my review average isn’t pulled down by the one star and her story there on her review will show other customers that I’ll take care of them!

I am way more bothered by the 3 or 4 star reviews that I can’t get in touch with because they won’t respond than one like this that has a lot of drama but we can work it out!

The other story I was going to share was about a customer who was actually another Etsy shop owner. And she didn’t leave a bad review, but once she received her product, she sent me a DM (which I’ll take any day over a bad review) with a long list of detailed issues she had with her piece. I’d never experienced anything like it!

But I responded to her note with a sincere apology and told her this wasn’t the level of craftsmanship that our shop was known for and I would make it right for her right away. She was blown away by my response—and there’s such a lesson here! We’re about to talk about a list of tips I have for you when dealing with upset customers, but right here--- people are SO touched just by some empathy. Some compassion. Some accountability. It will do wonders for you! She loved the replacement sign I sent her--- but what she really valued was how I cared for the situation.

So next, let’s spend some time going over my top 7 tips for responding to an angry customer or bad review:

1) If you’re feeling super emotional—- WAIT before responding.

Obviously when an upset customer reaches out via DM with an issue, this is not the time to wait a super long time. I just mean don’t respond impulsively. You’ll want to respond to them sooner rather than later. But the bottom line is—- you don’t want to respond emotionally and come out swinging. Take the time you need to collect yourself, write out a professional response, and when needed get some feedback from someone you trust about your response.

2) When possible, use pre-written responses.

The hardest thing about these situations is usually coming up with the right thing to say when emotions are running high.

It helps if you already have your policies and the basic phrases you know you’ll use in response ready ahead of time.

I already know that my policy is to take care of the customer. So I’m going to offer a replacement, discount, or refund. If the issue is a mistake we made— I don’t ask them to ship it back because that’s a hassle. If they just don’t like something or picked a color they don’t like in person— I’ll ask them to ship it back but I’ll pay the shipping.

Knowing these things take out the guesswork when an issue comes up.

3) And this is the biggest one----- ALWAYS use Empathy

Even if the customer is wrong and you didn’t make a mistake--- you can still respond with empathy.

Now I don’t suggest that you tolerate verbal abuse if they are cussing you out or demeaning you. (This has NEVER happened to me, by the way, so I hope it won’t happen to you either.)

At the end of the day—we all just want to be heard. And as the business owner, you should be the leader of the transaction and that means you should do more of the listening. Use empathetic phrases like “I’m so sorry this happened” and “I can totally understand why you’re upset” and “Gosh, I’m so sorry this was your experience. This is never how I want a customer to feel when doing business with my shop.”

If you did make a mistake, use phrases that will de-escalate the situation like:
“I am so sorry that this has happened”
“It must have felt so disappointing to open your package and find it this way”
“I absolutely want to make this right for you!”

Again--- if a customer is angry—more than likely they’re afraid you might not take care of them and they’ll lose something and/or they have other really difficult situations happening in their life.

You’ll be amazed at the progress you can make with a little empathy.


4) Avoid using “I” statements (unless they are to apologize) or emotional words and phrases

I know can be tempting to try to defend yourself or call the customer out on their mistakes—I’ve absolutely wanted to do this plenty of times! But as the business owner--- I don’t recommend this approach. Remember you’re the leader.

So I recommend against saying things like:

 “I feel…” or “It’s not my fault” or “I’ve been overwhelmed”

When we’re paying a business, no matter what the size, we expect to be taken care of and to get what we paid for. When the company’s representative seems more focused on themselves—even accidentally—it can really hurt your brand credibility. You need to focus on the customer experience when communicating with them—not yours.

The great reviews come when customers feel like you care about them and want to serve them.

I would also avoid emotionally charged phrases like:

“To be honest” or “With all due respect” or “That’s not what happened”

Even if they’re true—they never make a person feel good. And if you think about the best-case scenario for you and your customer--- you ultimately want them to walk away feeling great about you, your shop, your product, and the Etsy platform.

5) About Negative Reviews…
The first rule of thumb here is don’t respond right away on the review itself. Once you respond, the customer can’t change the review and you can’t edit your response.

The very first thing you should do is reach out to the customer via DM and see if you can resolve the issue there. I’ve done this and had the review changed more than once because I gave great service!

If the review will not be changed, then you should definitely reply on the review itself.

And remember— your public response is just as much for future customers who are reading your reviews as it is for the unhappy customer.

If the review is just stars without text to respond to, this is my response (and I only do this if I haven’t heard back via DM for a few weeks):

“Hi (name)-- I am SO sorry to hear that you were not pleased with your experience with my shop. :( I take your feedback extremely seriously and I would love to make this right for you. I've reached out to you via DM and email to find out more about what happened and work with you on a resolution. We do business the old-fashioned-way and I promise to take care of you. Warmly, Lizzie Smiley”


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6) Did the customer give you any helpful feedback?

I’ve learned that A LOT of people actually won’t tell you when they’re unhappy with something—so sometimes it’s a blessing to get the negative feedback. It’s possible that you can tweak something that other people didn’t love also!

This was exactly what happened with that story I told you earlier about our large signs and the woman who complained about the fumes! That feedback became part of a review process that totally changed how we made those pieces going forward.

So take emotion out of it—was anything they said helpful feedback?

For example, if the item was damaged in the mail--- was this a fluke or could you legitimately benefit from evaluating your shipping process? Early one when we started shipping large reclaimed wood signs—we had a bunch of breakages in the mail. We took this feedback and really worked on our shipping process by having custom boxes built and we bought cardboard corner protectors.

If you received a product complaint—was it just a matter of taste? Or is there an opportunity to level up your product?

If it was a turn-around time issue--- is the person nit-picking? Was it out of your control? Or is there a take-away about how to communicate differently with customers about when they can expect their product?

All of this evaluation of feedback will help your shop long term.

Once the dust settles around an upset customer, it’s a great idea to chew on what they said constructively and see what you can learn from it.


7) In the immortal words of Elsa— let it go!

When a customer is unhappy or a mistake needs to be fixed in my shop--- I like to just take care of it as fast as possible. I do that for the customer’s sake—and for my own! For my own inner peace, I need to move on from the drama and adrenaline! Hahaha! I’ve really noticed that for me--- if I can get something behind me quickly, I don’t dwell on it or allow it to pull me down.

Do what you need to in order to take care of your customer quickly, and then move on.

If you’re really bothered by it--- which can sometimes happen--- here are a few things you can do:

-Listen to an encouraging podcast! (This always helps me!)

-Go back and read all of your 5 star reviews for a pick me up

-Create a funnies folder on your computer desktop or in your email inbox! A number of years ago, a business coach taught me this practice and I’ve used it again and again. Laughing is SO good for you! Anytime I get an email or something that’s legitimately funny, I save it to this folder—so when I need to change my mood, move on from something hard, or refocus--- I just read through a few funnies and it helps tremendously!

-Another great tool is a gold book. If you are a journaler--- you might really like this one! You get a special journal where you write down every blessing that comes your way, every win, or in my case—I write down every time God comes through for me or does something special in my life. Reviewing your gold moments on a bad day or season can do wonders for your faith and your morale.

I will throw in one more thought here because this would definitely describe me several years ago. If you find yourself taking something super personally, this could be a helpful clue that there’s a mindset tweak that could help you.

Sometimes when something that someone does (especially a stranger) that REALLY pushes a button, it’s just our brain showing us that there’s an area that needs our attention. Sort of like when we burn ourselves on the stove. The pain is just a warning—a heads up that we need to care for ourselves.

When this happens, I’ll usually dig in for some personal growth, do some journaling, or call my personal coach. I’ll often find that there’s a pattern in my life of that particular thing getting to me--- and it lets me know that there’s a past hurt that’s unresolved and unhealed.

There’s zero shame in this! It’s literally courageous to do this kind of work! You’re welcome to sign up for some coaching with me or work with a great counselor. Just listen to the cues that your brain is throwing out! You deserve it—it’s the most valuable self-care there is!


Well THAT is all I have for you today! I hope you found some helpful tools in this episode------ and if my podcasts having been valuable to you, it would mean the WORLD to me if you took a moment to rate and review it on your platform of choice. It’s the highest compliment you can pay me and it will help so many other people find this information in a season where families desperately need the help creating an additional or at-home stream of income!

Don’t forget—I always link the shownotes below where you can get links to various resources and a detailed outline or transcript of the podcast. So that should be an easy reference if you want to grab some of the customer service phrases I shared today.

I hope to see lots of you in the free Masterclass “How to Kickstart your Etsy Shop” this week! It’s going to help you so much—I promise!

And with that--- have an AWESOME day! I’ll talk to you soon!




The worst thing you can do when presented with a heated situation in your Etsy shop is respond emotionally or without a plan. In today’s episode I’ll walk you through my suggestions for handling upset customers and bad reviews. I’m sharing a few of my most intense customer service stories along with a list of tips to help you navigate your own difficult conversations.

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Podcast Episode 3: Will Using Etsy’s Vacation Mode Hurt My Shop?

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