What to Do if a Client Accuses a Company of Stealing

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If an employee is stealing, the blame could come down on your company.
If an employee is stealing, the blame could come down on your company. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When a client accuses your company of stealing, you might be tempted to circle the wagons and defend your company to the death. But every customer complaint needs to be taken seriously, and an allegation of theft could actually be a helpful piece of information that protects you from a thieving employee. Even if the allegation turns out to be false, though, you'll need to take action to protect your company.

The First Customer Interaction

If a customer comes to you with an allegation that your company or an employee within it has stolen, don't immediately react with defensiveness. Instead, remain warm and cordial, and tell the customer you'll investigate the complaint and get back to her. Get as much information as possible from the customer, including what the customer suspects has been stolen and who the customer believes committed the theft.

Avoid Entrenchment

Rather than doing everything you can to defend against the allegation, treat it as useful information and begin to investigate. You might find that an employee is keeping fraudulent records, taking kickbacks from customers or stealing company supplies. Even worse, you could uncover a systemic pattern of theft within the company that you didn't know about until the customer tipped you off. If your investigation uncovers stealing, you'll need to fire the employees involved. If you fail to investigate or fix the problem, you could be legally liable for your employees' malfeasance.

Examine Customer Service

A customer might accuse the company of theft because she's angry about a customer service issue. For example, if she was overcharged on a purchase and didn't get a refund, it's a short leap to call this theft. Legally speaking, it could even be considered theft if you don't fix the problem. Carefully examine your customer service practices to ensure that employees promptly fix customer complaints. If a customer runs into a situation for which there is no solution, teach your employees to remain courteous and apologetic, even if they're frustrated by the customer's behavior.

Protect Your Business

If there hasn't been any stealing but the customer continues to make threats, you could become embroiled in a long investigation if the customer files a complaint with the police, the Federal Trade Commission or a similar organization. Gather records that back up your claim that there wasn't a theft and retain any records of communications or problems with the customer. You'll need to be able to explain the problem without dismissing the customer as crazy, and you might even need to consult a legal adviser.

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