No matter how perfect your product or service is, you will always encounter a disgruntled customer. Angry customers show us where we can grow as a business and can even turn into our biggest evangelists. But how do you do this?
When confronted by an angry customer, there are two opposite but equally disastrous reactions. One is to ignore his emotions completely and jump straight to a solution to the actual problem. The other is to get emotional yourself either by becoming defensive or overly apologetic and flustered.
It helps to remember that most times the anger is not directed personally at you. The customer may be angry because he is having a bad day or has had other bad customer service experiences, not necessarily with you or your company. You just happen to be the current target of his justified, although misdirected, frustration.
We aren’t saying it is fair, but it does put you in a prime position to be the hero and turn an angry customer’s day around by using your extensive skills to provide awesome service and support!
As a small business owner and customer service representative, you need to deal with the customer in an empathetic and courteous manner while, at the same time, striving to retain control of the interaction. If you fail to acknowledge the emotional element of what the customer is trying to communicate, the customer will simply escalate until they believe that they are being taken seriously and will fail to hear any solution offered.
On the other hand, if you react emotionally, the interactions will become confrontational or the customer will continue to attack and will be very difficult to guide toward a productive outcome.
The best approach is to acknowledge your angry customer’s emotions with an appropriate level of empathy. Do not under- or overstate his feelings.
It is easy to make the mistake of saying, “I apologize for the inconvenience,” regardless of the level of seriousness of the problem. This is a common cliché that frustrates many. When you think about it, labeling something as an “inconvenience” when it is actually a total disaster from the customer’s point of view is quite insulting and designed to escalate the situation rather than diffuse it.
On the other hand, if the angry customer is being overly dramatic and exaggerating a very small mishap, it can be a good strategy to acknowledge their unhappiness but use slightly less apocalyptic language to describe the scale of the disaster.
Once the acknowledgment has been given, make a clear and positive statement about what you are going to do to rectify the problem. If a further action is needed from the customer, clearly state and explain that this is something that is needed in order to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Try to get the customer on your side as an ally in solving a problem, instead of treating him as an opponent in a conflict.
Customers can be extremely sensitive when already frustrated, and when you ask them to complete standard troubleshooting steps. They often believe that this is being done as a way to evade responsibility or imply that the problem is on the their end. The best way to avoid a misunderstanding like this is to tell the customer not only what you need them to do, but also why you are asking them to do this. Let them in on your problem solving process, and help them understand that your thinking is in asking them to perform a particular task or answer further questions. Always tie your requests back to your fundamental commitment to resolving the problem, and they will be more disposed to cooperate.
You will also want to avoid using the word “issue” to describe the customer’s problem or complaint. This is a word customer service reps tend to overuse, but it can be a way of minimizing the problem or trivializing the customer’s experience of the situation. You can call something a problem, because problems are there to be solved, whereas issues are “dealt with,” “handled” or “addressed.” The faster you own up to the reality that there is in fact a problem (either real or perceived), the quicker you can move to a solution.
Take time to identify with the customer’s aims or desires, before trying to suggest a specific solution. Here at Yola, we once had a customer who was building a site for a charity organization and was experiencing a software bug that prevented her from completing her site. We needed a screenshot of in order to troubleshoot the bug. However, the customer got increasingly angry each time a screenshot was requested and kept stressing that charity was suffering, because she was unable to publish her site.
I asked someone on our team who was sympathetic to the charity’s cause to call her and begin the conversation by engaging the customer in a conversation about the mutual passion for the charity’s cause and undying respect for anyone involved in similar charities. The customer service rep on our team also expressed his determination to provide the best possible support for people doing such important work. The customer immediately became friendly and cooperative and the problem was quickly resolved.
Customer service reps often automatically jump to the technical solution to the problem at hand. However, if you remember that you are not dealing with a problem (or worse “a ticket”) but a person, and that you are cultivating a relationship as well as a solution, then most support interactions will have a happy outcome regardless of how they start out.
The best way to avoid having a customer leave a negative review is to use these strategies so that the relationship never gets off track, and the customer does not feel the need to escalate. Even with the best will in the world, there are misunderstandings, and the customer may post a negative review. This should be regarded as valuable feedback and a further opportunity to recover the relationship.
For example one of our customers posted a negative review after one of our reps politely informed him that we did not support a feature he had requested. The customer concluded that the support rep did not appreciate how much money he had spent with us and could help if he wanted to but simply wasn’t trying. We sent a follow up email, thanking him for his feedback, expressing appreciation for his business and providing a thorough explanation of why the desired feature was not currently available. The news was still the same, but his experience of our company changed. He then sent the following survey feedback:
“Thank you very much for your email. I value your answer a lot. In the past, we established with Yola for our customers in their name over 20 websites, as well as recommending your services to other little businesses as we do believe that the service you are providing is great… The negative experience we had in the past was not from your back end but rather from the typical Australian service “Which is far beyond help.”
Having empathy with your angry customers is by far the single best way to turn the situation around positively. If you’ve had trouble with customers or questions on how to handle services for your business, please ask in the comments below.