Angry customers

You’ve got yourself in a bit of a pickle…

You’ve got a flaming hot angry customer on your hands.

The type that actually yells at you on the phone…

And threatens with lawyers and other scary things in their emails…

And all you can do when the bombardment of their arguments slows down is say something like: “Euh…well…that’s not supposed to happen…and I’ve never heard this before so I’ll have to get back to you. Is that okay?”

And that’s very likely not okay on the other side of the phone…

What can also happen is that you get equally angry (which typically happens when you get complaints per email…): “This is complete and utter BS! We worked hard on customizing this just the way ‘her Ladyship’ wanted it to and now she’s threatening us? Grrr…. We should get our legal person in to retaliate with an equally threatening email!”

And this will drag out for months and months…

(btw, men can be angry customers too of course)

So…that obviously doesn’t work for either party involved.

But what does?

Before we get to solutions it’s good to know what the consequences are of not being able to deal with angry customers properly.

1. It Will Drain You, And Your Team, Of Energy And Time

There’s really nothing as depressing as having to deal with an unhappy customer. Weirdly enough, the issues of these ‘difficult’ customers are never easy to fix and therefor take not only a lot of time and effort but also the emotional drain of having to talk about it again and again.

2. There’s No Way You’ll Get Paid Until The Customer Is Happy Again

If the health of your cash flow is dependent on this particular customer than you can get yourself in big trouble if you’re not able to turn this frown upside down (sorry…lame joke!).

3. You’ll Lose A Lot Of Money

If you don’t deal with your angry customers properly than for sure these people will not come back to you. Which could be fine as perhaps these customers were simply not a good fit with your business anyway but…these people have friends and family and twitterfollowers and forumbuddies too.

If the word spreads that your product and/or service is bad, that’ll cost you a lot in future revenue!

There is a positive point to be mentioned too: though it’s a tough lesson, it’s definitely a valuable one. It will teach you exactly what NOT to do in the future.

But overall we can be sure to say that NOT dealing with angry customers properly is terribly bad for business (and not very nice too).

But why do customers get angry anyway?

Btw, I’m writing under the assumption that you’re a good person who wants to make a positive difference with your product or service on the lives of your customers. Whatever it is that you do, you do your utmost best to deliver the highest quality.

Given that assumption, there are still a several reasons why customers do get angry:

1. Your Product Is Not Up To Scratch

Let’s not beat around the bush; no matter how hard you try and how good your intentions are, it’s still very possible that your product is faulty. It sucks to hear it, but it’s the truth! And that gives your customers all the reason in the world to not be entirely happy with you.

2. You Oversold Your Product

This is really all about expectations. Quite tricky in the startup scene too as it’s pretty hard not to oversell if you’re still developing your product. But…it’s your responsibility to manage expectations and either meet them or lower them before you deliver.

3. Your Customer Service Was Rubbish

You could have build the best product in the world but if your actual delivery, billing and servicing around it is crappy, than it’s absolutely worthless.

4. You’re Just Not A Good Match

You know how you sometimes meet people that you know are perfectly nice but somehow they just set your teeth on edge? That happens with businesses and customers too. Perhaps your business model is just a bit too non-traditional, or your tone of voice too familiar for some people.

What works really well for some, can be the reason for displeasure for others.

5. You Were At The Wrong Place In The Wrong Time

Perhaps someone had a really bad day and you call them to say that the product delivery has been delayed for a few days. No biggie on 99% of the days but on this one it is the final straw. Tough luck, but it happens.

6. Trolls Do Exist

Though everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt all the time, it is a fact that some people simply enjoy trolling. Especially when you’re in the app or online business you’ll come across this regularly without any wrongdoing of your own.

If all’s well you’ve figured out that your product, your customer service and your sales pitch need to be in optimal shape to prevent as much negative feedback as possible.

But sometimes…things slip through the cracks and mistakes do happen. You’re still only human after all and quite likely also still learning the ropes of some of your business processes.

The question then remains what you actually should do when you do get an angry customer on the phone or email.

The quick answer is: 

Here’s the long answer:

1. Listen Carefully (And Don’t Start Defending Yourself)

Usually the first thing we do when we hear someone is unhappy with something we did or delivered is defend ourselves. There are always a million and one reasons why something went the way it went but that doesn’t change the fact that the customer is dissatisfied RIGHT NOW.

So don’t get stuck in defense mode because that will not ease the customer’s mind at all and will therefor not help you rectify the situation.

Simply listen carefully and take the customer and her complaint seriously.

2. Understand Why They’re Angry And Empathize With Them

Empathy is really one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself and the customer. It’s really all about putting yourself in her shoes and really understanding why this emotion has come up.

If you’d not only say you agree with someone for being angry but really almost be angry with them, communication will flow much easier; the customer will feel heard and understood and that there’s space to both ventilate (which is what she first needs) and to create a solution (the second thing she needs).

Whatever you say, make sure it’s authentic and because you actually care. If you’ll just agree with the customer or try to be understanding you’ll just sound patronizing (which will make thing even worse).

3. Apologize!!!

So simple, yet, so easily forgotten.

Even if the mistake is not yours and even when the customer is truly irrational you can apologize. Simply say: “I’m sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you”.

This way you’re NOT groveling but you ARE saying what the person on the other end of the line wants to hear.

4. Take Immediate Responsibility

If the customer hasn’t read the instruction properly say something like: “ah, that sounds like we need to clarify our instructions a whole lot more”.

Or when the product is delivered in the wrong color: “apparently we’ve made a mistake internally”.

What you shouldn’t do is blame the customers: “we’ve spend 100 hours on perfecting those instructions and everybody else is able to read them…” or the delivery service for that matter.

If you’re able to pull it off in a casual way (and the customer sounds like she’s open to it), you could try a joke and lighten things ups: “whoops, orange is MY favorite color and I keep forgetting it isn’t for most others”.

Either way, if you’ve got angry customers on your hands, own up to the fact that you’re responsible.

5. Just Do It

If you get a customer complaint then you should of course do more than say the right things to that particular customer; you need to do the work!

And even though you’ve got a million other things to do and even though this is the last thing you want to be working on, this does have priority.

Because the thing is, angry customers are the ones climbing in their pens (or smartphones) and send out nasty tweets or write about their negative experience in forums. And once you’re on the forums…you’re there forever!

So make it happen!

6. Actually Get Back To Them (Even When It’s Just A Progress Update)

Sometimes you get lucky and you’re able to deal with the issue within minutes and get an instantly happy customer. Other times, you’ll have to dig a little deeper for the problem or resend the order or do whatever it takes to get it sorted and this simply takes time.

If you’re doing all you can, you know that this time is perfectly valid. The customer on the other hand, has no clue what hoops you need to jump through to fix her problem, and no clue about how much time this costs.

So though you can’t always speed up the process, you can proactively give the customer feedback on the progress.

So even if solving the problem takes some time, keep customers in the loop so they know that you’re on top of it.

7. Do Something Extra

Whether this is offering a compensation, sending them a balloon or a simple apology letter, doing something extra could mean that you can turn an highly angry customer around into a highly involved fan.

8. Make Sure This Can’t Happen Again

Your business should always be improving and it’s feedback such as this that is invaluable for it. Make sure these issues do not get overlooked or forgotten by making sure you’ve got a KPI especially for ‘quality’ or ‘customer satisfaction’ and use the input to continuously improve your processes.

People understand that mistakes are made; they do it themselves all the time.

Customers will therefor hardly ever stay angry because of a simple mistake.

They will however stay angry, and even make sure that anger gets known, when you don’t deal with it properly.

And the other way around, if you do deal with it in an effective and respectful way they might even turn their emotions around and become big raving fans. Or tweet about your great customer service after something went wrong.

And that’s GOOD PR!

So don’t beat yourself up over a mistake you made or a process that is not yet running properly; you’re not perfect and you probably never will be (just a fact of life).

But know that your customers are your bread and butter.

And that they’ve been generous and trusting enough to buy your product in the first place!

Also understand that your customers are actually people too, who, just like you, want to be treated with respect and empathy.

So if those facts are part of your business values and if that is engrained in the people you’ve hired into your team…

Then all there’s left to do is your best.


Got some crazy angry customer stories? We would LOVE to hear them!