Why Biting your Tongue is Good for your Business

By Brittni • Updated on 07/07/2021

I know most of the things we read about bringing success to our business includes being forthcoming with ideas, thoughts, etc. And then implementing said ideas, thoughts, etc whenever possible. And that is true. BUT that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Today, I want to talk about how to handle those less-than-satisfied customers that you may have from time to time. While they may be rare (hopefully they are), they can also be a deciding factor in making or breaking your business. How is that possible? People who are unsatisfied with a product or service spread the information like wildfire. Why? Because they are mad, and they want other people to know about it. Simple as that.

So, how can you turn a negative customer experience in to a good one? With excellent customer service of course. But remember I said you should bite your tongue, right? What I mean by that is, think before you speak. Often times, if you receive an email from a dissatisfied customer, chances are your initial reaction is a bit defensive. “But I spent three hours making _________. How could they say it is of poor quality? They don’t know what they are talking about.” Or however else you may rationalize these things when they come up. You don’t want to say that to your customer, no matter how irrelevant you feel their claim may be.

This is what I would recommend. Take some time to compose yourself. Its hard not to take things personal when something goes wrong. That’s why our natural reaction is to get defensive. Don’t. Take a few minutes before writing a response. And once a draft has been written, press SAVE not SEND. Walk away and come back to it later. Make any necessary changes and remove anything that could be labeled as snarky.

Basically, you want your response to be as short and as pleasant as possible, while addressing all of the customer’s concerns. Remember, you don’t want people blabbing to their friends about how much you and your products suck. And if you say something rude, in writing no less, it will come back to bite you in the ass. Guaranteed. So, if you are at fault say so. If a customer wants to return an item, refer them to your shop policies, and give them an answer as to whether or not the return will be allowed. Same goes for a refund.

And lastly, make a kind gesture. Some people will agree with me on this one and some won’t. But I personally believe its important to extend a hand to anyone who is unhappy with your products or services (within reason). Try offering a discount off their next purchase; a partial refund; or even free additional merchandise if you feel inclined.

Bottom line. Make your customers happy, even after they have had a “bad experience”, and they will always come back. And that means success for your business.

Have you ever had to bite your tongue around a customer?

*image c/o TaraLynn

13 comments | Click here to reply

Yes, really good points here. Three years ago I had an upset customer because her son threw one of my wooden toys at his younger brother and he got a bruise on his forehead from it. My toys are wood. Wood is hard. I was furious that this crazy woman blamed me somehow. However, I responded with humor and offered to let her return the offending toy so she could replace it with a soft one. She then apologized extensively thanking me for being so positive and explained that really, she was just venting and wanted to be heard. She went on to be one of my repeat customers and one of my biggest supporters.

Amber (woodmouse)

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Spot on advice! It can definitely be a bummer when things don’t always go as planned… I try to look at the situation as an opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into an evangelist for my business. I don’t just fix the mistake, but try to go above and beyond to make things right. I think as independent sellers, this is one area of commerce where we can really shine & blow our bigger business buddies out of the water. (Anyone ever return something to Walmart and have such an amazing experience they told a friend to go shop there? I haven’t. 😉


Thanks so much Vanessa. Glad you like the blog. And you are right, even with all your ducks lined up in a row, there is a bound to be unexpected gripe here and there. You just have to kind of go with the flow and do your best.


I just discovered Papernsnitch but I really like the concise, helpful and practical articles that have to do with real life situations and real ways to improve your business!
Sometimes people have bad days and need to take it out on something they can “control” and sometimes people are just bees.
Even if you take preventative measures such as implementing specific shop policies crap happens and I think how one responds is what defines their success. At the end of the day you would want to be proud of yourself and satisfied.
Great article and great comments!


Mai and Alexandra- I whole heartedly agree with you.

Stephanie- Absolutely, putting yourself in the customers shoes is a great way to think of things when running a business. Thanks for stopping by.

Down and Out Chic- Yes! Sucking it up some times is difficult but it must be done.

And Natalie-I agree. It is difficult to distance yourself from your own business and nearly impossible to separate your business from your personal feelings sometimes because of all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes in to it. But I really like your tip about trying to detatch.


This is especially tough as independent sellers I think because so much of ourselves is poured into our products, it’s impossible not to take complaints personally.

Something that helps me is to think back to my customer service days and pretend Olive Manna is just the company I work for. Detaching myself from it a bit gives me the illusion I’m just helping my boss’ customer feel better about his or her experience. It’s easier to say “I’m sorry you’re unhappy, let me see what I can do to make it better”.

But yes, your walk away for awhile rule is the best thing anyone can do. Never immediately respond to something negative!

Thanks for writing this! 🙂

Natalie Jost | Olive Manna

i definitely agree with what you’re saying here. it’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction to negativity but words are hard to take back (especially if their written in an e-mail!) i definitely think that something as a small business owner you have to cut your losses and suck up the occasional refund/return/exchange what have you, to make a situation better. hopefully the person you’re dealing is level headed and will think twice about saying something bad about your work if you’ve gone the extra mile to make it better.

Down and Out Chic

You are so right! I did an Etsy Virtual Lab talk on customer service last holiday season and this was one of my big points as well when dealing with unhappy or tricky customers. It is so easy to end up escalating a simple situation by sending off a snarky email to a customer. Once you click send, you can’t take it back!

Thank goodness, I don’t run into unhappy customers very often but on the occasions when it does happen, I find that it is always helpful to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine how they are feeling before you respond to their problem.

Stephanie Fizer

Oooh. This is a super topic!! I can tell you, I have experienced this first hand, more times than I care to admit. I’ve also responded before I had researched postal service dilemmas or had clearly defined shop policies. That said–you MUST have clearly defined store policies to refer customers to. And stick to them! Try to cover all sorts of situations, questions, and circumstances that could concern your customer. Everyone wants you to make an exception for them and to change the rules, but only you know your boundaries. Now, I definitely follow the advice to just wait before you respond to a snarky individual. Go take a break, sleep on it, get a snack, whatever–then when you come back to the dilemma, you can respond with self-control instead of wrath.


fantastic post! it makes complete sense to make your customer happy – even if it means you may take a little bit of a loss on that particular sale. you need to look at your business as a whole.
it also makes sense to bite your tongue in many other instances – we are living in a fishbowl!

alexandra keller

kill ’em with kindness is always a good way to go casey.


very insightful. thanks. i always use the, kill them with kindness rule.

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