Working with Angry Customers

We’ve all been on the wrong side of some misplaced aggression, but, like it or not, it’s part of the territory. As Customer Success professionals, we are the proverbial “face” of the organization and often times, the scapegoat as it relates to problems that are out of our control. We’ve all created problems of our own volition that have set fire to reason and rationale, even if we didn’t mean it to. This is key to understanding: these problems we experience aren’t intentional but can be damaging nonetheless. We will focus on the “why” and on the “how”.

How can we still deliver a world-class customer experience even if we can’t fix the problem?

I’m going to focus ever so slightly on the “why” because it frames up the “how”. Let’s dive in:

1. Over-promise, Under-deliver

I’m sure we’ve all missed a deadline or two in our professional careers. It may have gone unnoticed or it may have flat-out cost you your job. There are two key factors that contribute to a customer’s level of fury when dealing with missed deadlines:

– Severity

– Occurrence

How badly did we screw up and how often are we doing this?

A perfect storm of severity and occurrence results in angry customers. Customers are paying you (or your company) real dollars to solve a problem or provide a service and consequently hold you to a high standard. Regardless of whether the contract is for $100 or $10,000, if you don’t deliver, they have every right to be upset.

How can we fix this?

If we find ourselves in this situation, the most direct path to resolution is through communication. Communicate why this happened, what went wrong, what you’re doing to resolve it, and provide them status updates as frequently as necessary. Show that you are doing your best to resolve this issue as quickly and efficiently as possible and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to provide a solution. I’ve seen some of the most displeased customers completely change their tune when they see are willing to go to bat for them and rectify the situation.

1a. Product Failures

You can call them failures, issues, bugs, malfunctions, or a dozen other adjectives, the point is customers are paying you for a product that functions, not one that doesn’t. This relates closely with deliverables in that the contributing factors are the same: severity and occurrence.

Responsiveness and communication remain key. Ensure that your customers are receiving updates as soon as they are available and that your team commits to deliverables provided to the customer. A broken product can quickly lead to poorly communicated timelines at which point the client goes from an angry customer to a former customer.

Hold yourself as well as each and every member of your team accountable when it comes to customer satisfaction.

2. “Poor Experience”

Your product works, your service is delivered, but the interactions between your brand and your customer have been less than stellar. Lazy suggestions, wrong answers, and/or poor communication has left the customer feeling frustrated and irritated. They may be happy with the product but fed up with the support.

How can we fix this?

I will make an assumption and say that if you are reading this article and you are in the middle of a similar situation, you are likely a point of escalation or have had an angry customer transitioned to you in some capacity. I think it’s safe to say that if you are looking for a solution you are probably aware of the problem.

Listen

Let the customer vent. Let them feel heard. Empathize with them and let your actions speak louder than your words.

Apologize

We all make mistakes. It’s human nature. Instead of making excuses or trying to fabricate a story that eliminates your culpability, take responsibility and apologize – even if it’s not your problem. To be clear, here, you’re apologizing for the situation. You don’t have to shoulder the entire blame or admit fault (which can be important from a legal perspective in some cases).

People want to know that their message has not only been received but understood. An apology is not a sign of weakness, it’s an understanding followed by admission, which should ultimately be followed by a promise to do better. Your apology for the situation shows empathy and lets them know they’ve been heard clearly.

Resolve

A resolution may come in many forms. It could be an answer to a question, guidance through a problem, or setting expectations on future deliverables. In technology especially, problem causing issues like bugs and feature request – though seemingly dire to the customer – aren’t always prioritized as such. The fair way to handle this situation is to be upfront, honest, and direct in your communication. Remember: a resolution isn’t always a solution to a problem but an understanding that a problem exists and you’ve done all you can to fix it.

3. Mean People

It’s not always your fault, sometimes people are just mean! Maybe not “mean” per se, but we’ve all had bad days and at least once or twice, have taken it out on someone else. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been demeaned, insulted, yelled at, and cursed at for little to no reason. It’s rare but it happens. There are some very strong tips I have for you, especially during these times:

Be empathetic. Be respectful. Be kind.

Although these occurrences are rare, they are easy to spot. Just because somebody is having a bad day doesn’t mean you can’t do something to make it better. If you can diffuse a contentious situation, you’ve made an impact. You’ve made someone’s day better, provided a good customer experience – one that will not soon be forgotten.

When writing this article, I chose to focus on angry customers because I really wanted to make content that was relevant to people working in this field. Most of the customers we interact with won’t be “angry”, in truth, but it does come up. This article should be used as a loose guideline for working through these situations, but I’m sure you’ll also come up with your own mechanisms to work through circumstances as you live them.


Ryan Moline is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Solutions Consultant with DialogTech.

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