Reading time: 6 minutes

One of the most inconvenient parts of running a business is having to deal with customer complaints. Most customers that complain only do so because they have a legitimate concern, and you can deal with them without issue. However, some customers may continue to harass your staff, leading to stress in the workplace. Notably, when operating online, there is a lack of face-to-face communication. This can make the complaints process easier, but it can also increase the chances of miscommunication. Therefore, it is crucial that you understand your legal obligations towards your customers to know where to draw the line when managing difficult customers. This article will explain how you can legally manage difficult customers in New Zealand e-commerce.

Managing Customer Complaints

Dealing with customer complaints is a natural part of business, especially in the e-commerce industry. However, customers may be more inclined to complain over email or other online means rather than face-to-face, as it requires less effort. Therefore, you must have a prompt and effective process for managing these complaints.

Legally, you must have some way for customers to complain or leave their feedback about your business. You cannot:

  • refuse to investigate and manage a complaint;
  • unnecessarily delay in handling a complaint; or
  • fail to deal with a complaint entirely.

However, you do not have to provide a remedy or solution for every complaint, so how you deal with difficult customers will depend on the nature of their issue and how serious it is. 

In some cases, the law requires that you provide certain kinds of solutions for your customers and that you owe them various obligations. Knowing what these cases look like can help immensely, especially when formulating a response to an angry customer. 

Your Obligations Under Consumer Law

In addition, you should have a working knowledge of what the law requires when you sell goods or services to your customers. Once you do, you know what the legal minimum is, and it is up to you whether you go above and beyond that. In particular, when you sell to consumers, you legally have to provide goods and services that are:

  • fit for purpose;
  • delivered/completed on time;
  • of acceptable quality or carried out with a reasonable level of skill and care;
  • sold legally;
  • the same as any descriptions or demonstrations you give; and
  • priced fairly where there is no predetermined price.

If you fail to meet these consumer guarantees, then you need to provide a remedy, which is either a:

  • refund;
  • repair; or 
  • replacement.

However, you do not need to provide a remedy outside of these situations, such as if a customer changes their mind or damages the product themselves.

Take Care Not to Mislead Your Customers

Another aspect of consumer law regulates what you can say to your customers and how you advertise your goods or services. Among other things, the Fair Trading Act prohibits:

  • misleading or deceptive action;
  • false statements or representations;
  • unsubstantiated representations; and
  • engaging in unfair sales tactics.

Therefore, if a difficult customer comes to you complaining of misleading conduct on your part, you need to be careful about your response and investigate the matter thoroughly. This fact is especially crucial because you may communicate with your customers primarily through online means, so it can be easier to establish written evidence of any misleading conduct.

Protecting Customers’ Privacy

When you sell to customers online, you will be dealing with their personal information, such as their names and shipping addresses. Therefore, you need to comply with New Zealand privacy law when you handle this personal information, complying with the principles of the Privacy Act in particular. If not, customers can complain to the Privacy Commission if they think you have breached their privacy, and you can face both fines and legal action.

Dealing With Difficult Customers Online

When customers have a legitimate complaint, especially when one of the laws above applies, you need to deal with that complaint according to how the law dictates. Therefore, understanding what you legally do and do not have to provide when dealing with demanding customers is useful. Remain professional and courteous, and do not delay dealing with complaints. Try to use active listening in every customer interaction to make sure you are upholding your customer service standards even in a bad situation. In particular, some of the following tips can help with managing difficult customers online:

  • send difficult customers through to senior management, who are more likely to understand both the law and your business’ policies;
  • monitor your social media profiles to catch any defamatory or abusive content;
  • have customer service training programs that show staff how to deal with difficult customers; or
  • include manuals/policies detailing your employees’ legal obligations towards customers.

There are some cases where you legally have to provide a solution for difficult customers. However, you should always make sure to support your employees, and make it clear that you do not tolerate harassment or abuse.

Key Takeaways

Dealing with difficult customers is an unfortunate reality for many businesses, but operating online can give you the space to deal with these situations professionally and calmly. Ensure that you know what situations you legally have to remedy a customer’s complaint so that you know where you can draw the line if a situation becomes heated. If you would like more information or help with dealing with difficult customers online, get in touch with LegalVision’s experienced e-commerce lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I delete customer comments on my social media pages?

Typically, it is not a good idea to delete customer comments on your social media pages without good reason. If they raise legitimate complaints about your business and you hide these complaints, you could be misleading your customers.

Do I have to listen to customer complaints?

Legally, you cannot refuse to hear customers’ complaints or fail to deal with them. However, you do not need to provide a remedy in cases where you legally do not have to.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a commercial law firm that provides businesses with affordable and ongoing legal assistance through our industry-first membership.

By becoming a member, you'll have an experienced legal team ready to answer your questions, draft and review your contracts, and resolve your disputes. All the legal assistance your business needs, for a low monthly fee.

Learn more about our membership

Need Legal Help? Submit an Enquiry

If you would like to get in touch with our team and learn more about how our membership can help your business, fill out the form below.

Our Awards

  • 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn
  • 2020 Innovation Award 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation Finalist – Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Employer of Choice Award 2020 Employer of Choice Winner – Australasian Lawyer
  • 2020 Financial Times Award 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2021 Law Firm of the Year Award 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards
  • 2022 Law Firm of the Year Winner 2022 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards