Dear Crabby, 

I am the credit manager at a small digital design graphic arts company (where we all were several hats) and have been in this position for about 10 years. It’s a great field to work in as it’s constantly evolving with many interesting technological developments. However, one constant that doesn’t seem to be getting any better has to do with how our customer complaints are handled. 

What sometimes happens is that even after receiving the client’s approval and handing them the finished product, they may still change their mind about the design appearance or the content.

I get it. It’s kind of like trying on a very expensive outfit at the store. You love how you look in the mirror in the dressing room, but when you get home and try it on, it doesn’t have quite the same appeal or attractiveness. But the difference between an outfit and our design work is that it can’t be exchanged, and it can’t be returned. However, there might be a few tweaks that we can make to adjust on-line designs, but when it comes to hard print, what the client approved is what the client will need to pay for.  

The problem is that our very accomplished salesperson, who is the key contact for our clients, becomes weak-kneed when he hears any kind of complaints. Just last week when one of our long-term clients lightly complained about a perceived slight color difference between the design proof and the actual hard print item, he immediately offered an excessive discount on the balance of the order, basically wiping away any potential profit. In other words, instead reacting so quickly he should have evaluated:

(1) if a discount on the balance was even warranted

(2) if a discount was appropriate, then how much should have been offered

(3) if there were some other alternatives to accommodate the client on future business

On one hand our salesperson is great at getting the business in the door, but that same personality is not good at grappling with client complaints. As a result, these excessive discounts are adding up and as a small company, it’s really hurting our bottom line. 

I’ve spoken to our salesperson and suggested that I or someone else handle the complaints, but he is very guarded about his relationships with the clients. 

How can I get past this situation. 

Signed: Every Penny Counts

Dear Every Penny,

You’ve got a situation that is very common among many small businesses in every field and industry. The salesperson is absolutely wonderful in bringing in the business but just lacks the skills to effectively handle client complaints. I see three areas that need fixing. 

As you clearly indicated, it appears that the salesperson is just not the right person to be discussing these things, especially if the work was performed and delivered according to the client’s approval and other terms and conditions. Some clients may know that if they say the slightest complaint towards the product or service, an accommodation will be easily forthcoming. Perhaps this is the case with your sales professional. Maybe they know his pattern and they figure they can always try to whittle down the remaining balance. 

Either way, it’s paramount that your salesperson no longer handle client complaints by himself, or even at all. Instead, perhaps you or someone else at the company will be a better fit for this situation. Since you have already offered, and customer service often comes under the credit manager job description at small businesses, there’s no reason why you can’t give it a try and see what happens. 

The next item you mentioned has to do with options on how to accommodate clients that have legitimate complaints. If a complaint is valid, can it be rectified without a discount? If nothing can be done on the current order, can a discount be applied to repeat business? This is where some creativity on how to deal with a valid complaint needs to be considered. In fact, a customer complaint resolution manual should be drawn up. If you record the different complaints and resolutions in the manual, gradually a resolution road map will begin to appear, which will make it easier to manage similar client complaints in the future. 

Finally, there are training programs available to teach you how to minimize issues that cause complaints, and how to effectively communicate and manage complaints that arise in order to ultimately provide Total Client Satisfaction. 

Hope this helps. Please let me know how things turn out. 


Dear Crabby is a credit, collection, and human resources advice column by Nancy Seiverd President CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts and comments ( are most welcome!

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