Lessons learned from customer complaints related to manufacturer

By Tony Lam

I received one of the most serious customer complaints around Christmas time in 2012. An eBay buyer complained that the snake skin in the cultural musical instrument she bought was fake. The bow was completely falling apart and it felt like plastic, not wood. This was the first time I was complained to be selling fake products with such a bad quality. Although I was pretty sure the snake skin is real, I didn’t want to argue with the customer.  I thought it might be misunderstanding or unmatched expectation, like the other customer complaints. My passion of selling is not to let myself disappoint any customer I met. In this case, frankly speaking, I had no clue that I could able to resolve the issue nicely. I prayed for God to give me wisdom, and made my best effort to satisfy the buyer.  After lots of eBay’s messages to and fro with the buyer, I got the item returned back ultimately, hoping it was the end of the nightmare. I learned something new through the process and want to share with you.

serious complaint

Step 1: Show empathy and resolve any misunderstanding

I said sorry about the complaint and asked what made her think that the snake skin was fake even though an official snake skin export certificate was attached, and requested the buyer to send me pictures showing defect for further investigation.

Response  from buyer :  “i will be opening a dispute about this so i hope that you are going to work this out, i am really unhappy”

Step 2: Make every effort to make the buyer happy again

I forwarded the complaint to the supplier and the manufacturer for investigation and requested a proof for genuine snake skin and solid wood. In the meantime, I put an end to all the listings related to this product and offered full refund to buyer.

Response  from buyer :  “ i am thankful that you have responded and am hopeful that your manufacturer will disclose the truth to you as this is quite a joke!!”

After that, the buyer sent me pictures and reaffirmed that material is fake and said “it is so shocking that i want to write to eBay to tell on all of them, for poor people like me end up very disappointed or ignorant. i will get to the post office when i can an tell you how much it will cost to send back to you and then you can send me that money and cover the cost of my efforts and packaging to return it.”

Step 3 : Keep the promises that I made to follow up with the vendor

Receiving no reply from the manufacturer about the buyer’s allegations, I requested the vendor to get hold of the manufacturer’s contact. Finally, I got the email from the manufacturer via the supplier saying that they admitted to produce synthetic boa skin for lower models only, but they seem not to be purchased from my supplier.

Step 4 : Take accountability and report politely the findings to the buyer

Noted that the buyer didn’t want to pay for the return shipping, I sent a return label at my cost. Although the manufacturer didn’t confirm if my model fell into the list of “lower models”, I reported politely what I found to the buyer.

Lesson learned in this customer complaint related to manufacturer

Always treat feedback and customer complaints with respect. Customer’s interest should be the first priority. Sometimes, our judgment is not always right and the truth may never be found when involving a third party such as the manufacturer. If risk or loss is inevitable, the business owner should hold the accountability. In the long run, reputation will be earned. This is a painful and costly lesson I learned. You may not agree with my points but I love to hear yours.


More reading…

The 4 Step Method to Handle Customer Complaints

When a customer feels they have been treated unfairly or that they did not receive what they expected, they will complain…. and more

Passion of a seller

By Tony Lam

Do you think of what drive you to continue to work in your current job ? For me, other than the money I got, I feel really rewarding when my buyers are very happy with what they received from me. I feel like I am sharing hope and joys to them. This is my motive to ride through difficult time when the business is low. Here are three occasions that I won’t forget for the rest of my life.

passion of a seller

Music boy in a bike

I remember I sold a violin to a teenager who rode almost an hour to my place from his home to buy a violin. He played guitar before but wanted to challenge himself by playing violin. The boy took out all he had in the pocket  (lot of dimes, quarters and dollar notes) to me just enough to buy the violin.  He said he earned the money himself by working in a construction site. His face showed complete contentment when he put up the shoulder strap of the violin case on his back.  My little daughter was moved by the boy too. After the boy left, she quietly told me that she would volunteer to teach the boy violin for free !!!

Man jumped happily like a kid

Another scene I won’t forget is from a buyer who drove all the way from San Francisco (about 50 miles away) to me to buy a Chinese Erhu. He is a musician and played different stringed instruments before. The sound of  this two-stringed Chinese Erhu intrigued him.  . He looked at the snake skinned sound box and said, “It’s so beautiful !!!”. He bought it right away,  walked away, jumped and shouted,” YEA !!!!’  like a kid.

Little voice from inside

Back to two years ago, I received a phone call from a senior (from Florida) who told me that he wanted to buy my violin. I was surprised because my ad is for local only. I didn’t think of shipping a tuned violin to other cities for fear that the set up will be disturbed during transportation. I asked the old man how he found me. He said he didn’t know how to play violin and also never played before. Little voice from inside pushed him to do so. My ad. came up when he searched a violin nearby. He said he was seventy now and he might not have second chance to hear the little voice again. He really wanted my violin and would pay the shipping charge. I didn’t want to fail the senior, so I tuned up and packed the violin with extra care before shipping.

My passion of being a seller

These vivid memories always reverberate in my mind. I feel blessed that I can bring joys and happiness to them. Each buyer may have a story and expectation behind. I have a strong passion that I will not let myself disappoint every buyer I meet.

How to respond quickly to buyer’s questions or complaints.

By Tony Lam


There are a lot of benefit of  respond quickly to buyer ‘s questions.

1)      Get an order early :

Sometimes the buyer may send the same question to various sellers. Whoever gives satisfaction answer early will buy from him/her.

2)      Prevent negative feedback :

Negative feedback is sometimes because of slow response to explain or take necessary actions when the item received is not up to buyer’s expectation.

3)      Higher chance to become Top Rate Seller :

One yardstick of top rate seller is the respond time.  There will be no excuse for buyers to give you low score on DSR.


react fast

First of all, you should have a system or database  to store your buyer’s information such as Paypal invoice, shipping  receipt from USPS/UPS,  item information. The data should be readily retrievable within short period of time.  I tried many ways but found that internet email system (such as Yahoo or Google mail) is the most  simple, effective and reliable way of storing buyer’s information. I don’t need to spend time to transfer  or maintain a database or spreadsheet. I just type in the buyer’s ID or buyer’s name at email search box to find out all the related emails, transactions, shipping info. in the sort list. I can quickly know what is the previous  questions and how I respond to the buyer.

Secondly, you should have mobile device that can access your email account easily. You may use smart phone with data plan so that you can access internet email anywhere you go.  Whenever buyer send you emails, you can immediate understand their concern and give them a quick (if you need time to investigate) or complete solution in a short period of time. Also, you can check the item information via the browser at the mobile phone .

Finally, in my experience, never procrastinate the reply. If you don’t have an answer, say so. If you needs time to check. Just acknowledge buyer’s inquiry with a promised time to give full details.  

Regarding to unsatisfied customer’s comment or feedback, immediate reply is very critical to prevent the fire from spreading out.  I will share more about my experience in handling  customer complaints  in another guide.


I received a negative feedback !!!! What can I do ???

By Tony Lam


Although you have tried your best and done everything you can to avoid it, a negative feedback can be inevitable. Here’s what I would do when receiving a negative feedback   :

Negative Feedback

1)      Contact buyer to try to understand the reasons for the negative feedback

First of all, don’t argue with the buyer, even if you think you are 100% right. Most of the cases I have encountered  are due to miscommunications or the service (response/shipping time) is not up to the buyer’ s expectation.

2)      Ask if there’s anything you can do that resolve this issue.

If the fault is on our side, apologize and ask for any suggested resolution method.  If refund can solve the problem, do a full refund. If buyer has unreasonable request (for example, lost compensation, etc) , politely say that you can’t afford to give more than total refund and seek the buyer’s understanding.  All the cases I’ve dealt with, the buyers were satisfied with a refund.

3)      After resolution, leave a comment below the negative feedback and kindly request buyer to change the feedback from negative to positive


Leaving the comment below is to let other potential buyers know that even though negative feedback, you have resolved it quickly.  If you are eligible to send revision request, ask the buyer if he or she is willing to change the feedback from negative to positive to you. 

Below is the real case with a buyer who had given me a negative feedback on 4/10/12 and this is how I resolved it.

Dear victoxxxxx0,

Noted that you didn’t receive the parcel. I have sent you email on 3/28 to see if you need any help after knowing that you are looking for me. I can give you a full refund if you didn’t receive the strings set. Please correct the negative feedback if possible. It is very important for me. Please confirm if you accept the refund.

Without waiting for the reply from the buyer, I gave a full refund to the buyer and follow up with message :

Dear victoxxxxx0

I have issued a full refund to you via Paypal with Unique Transaction ID # 13U76496XM904942J). Please consider to revise the negative feedback to positive for me. Your satisfaction is my priority.
Thanks for your business,

Then, I add comment below the negative feedback telling that I sent email on 3/28 and have issued full refund to the buyer.

On 4/17/12, the buyer replied that he didn’t received the refund. Then, I asked him to check the Paypal account again providing with the unique transaction number.

On 4/21/12, I received the following message from the buyer. After a while, the negative feedback was changed to positive feedback.

Dear nic..,

Thanks I received it. Positive feed back guaranteed :)

– victoxxxxx0


Tips : Check if you are eligible for feedback revisions

Sellers can submit a limited number of requests to buyers to revise neutral or negative Feedback. The number of requests is determined by the number of Feedback comments received in the previous year. Five revision requests are allowed for every 1000 Feedback ratings given.


Shipping Large Items