Look, customers are going to be mad sometimes. It’s not necessarily your fault either and that’s what really sucks. As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to set the tone for customer responses – even with angry customers. If you have employees who handle the majority of customer complaints, amazing – but you are still responsible for guiding your team on how to respond.
In either case – having a team or doing it yourself – you need something scalable. You don’t have time (or money to pay for others’ time) to respond to everything super uniquely. However, customers need, want, and deserve some level of customization. That produces a conundrum for you.
In my time as an entrepreneur and employee, I’ve always worked in some form of customer service role. Over that time, and thousands of customer emails later, I’ve developed this framework for crafting responses to angry customers that are:
- Non-fault producing
I’ve even had angry customers apologize to me for their outbursts. Not my goal, but I can’t lie when I say it felt good to read those emails.
The basic sequence is to move from acknowledgment to action.
Acknowledgment to action
Anger festers when it has nowhere to go. When faced with anger, there are more or less three ways to deal with it.
You can refuse to deal with it and shove the emotion back to the person. This usually multiplies the anger felt by the individual. In the business world, this leads to aggressive – and even unfair – reviews online. Depending on other things going on in that person’s life at the time, you may have just developed a lifelong crusader against your company.
You can absorb all the emotion and take it on yourself. This is plain unfair to your company and to you (or to whoever is answering emails). Absorbing the emotion and taking it on yourself will not only put you in a nasty mood but it could also be tantamount to accepting full fault for the problem. When that happens, angry customers will, and should, expect a lot of restitution. Often this restitution is well beyond what is fair. And you are almost forced to do this because if you stop after this point, all you did was delay shoving the emotion back to them.
You can acknowledge the emotion then take action to remove the root cause. Everyone can be hot-tempered every now and again, even nice people. So when someone expresses emotion absorb it and throw it away by acknowledging the pain they are in then moving to action to solve the root cause of the emotion.
The original brainstorming for responding to angry customers, used in a team training I conducted
The communication template you can use right now with angry customers
Whether written or in person, use this template to plan your responses to angry customers to turn them into mollified customers – with the opportunity to delight them.
- Acknowledge the reach out
- Acknowledge the reason for the reach out
- Give the next step for them to take
- Offer a personal finish
Let’s say you get an email something along the lines of this.
Subject: You suck!
Message: WOWW you are the worst. I lost my password and you are not helpful at all. Why would I keep using your service? I’m going to tear you apart in reviews.
How would you respond? I know when I got an email like this I wanted to tell the customer exactly where they could stick their reviews. But, alas, I couldn’t do that. And neither can you.
Instead, I used the framework I shared above.
My response was this.
Subject: re: You suck!
Thanks for reaching out – I’m sorry for any frustration here.
If you lost your password and need to reset it, you can do so by clicking on the “Forgot Password” link on the login page. When you do that, the system should automatically generate a new password, which will be emailed to you.
If you did that and didn’t receive an email, check your spam filter. The email would come from [email protected].
If you tried that and it still didn’t work, submit a support ticket by emailing [email protected]. Unfortunately, I can’t dig into account details for security reasons, but our support team can definitely help you out.
A few points:
- I thanked them for reaching out. Even if they wrote some nasty angry message, they took time to write in. It cost me nothing to thank them for reaching out
- I acknowledged that there was likely frustration due to the emotion but I didn’t assume their emotions nor did I acknowledge the emotion they threw at me in the first email
- Then I gave them the obvious solution but also offered the benefit of the doubt that they’d tried it already and I anticipated a known problem (emails going to spam)
- I offered two escalation pathways (check spam filter and submit a ticket), so they don’t feel like I gave them a short answer to get them out of my queue
- Through my answers, I made it clear that they had to take action to solve their own problem by not offering an “I’ll solve this problem for you” response. Doing so would have trained the customer to expect me to solve all their problems – you don’t have time for that
- I removed myself from the solution process. By saying that I couldn’t look into their account for security reasons, I showed them that I’m not being rude – I actually can’t be the one to solve their problem. This may not be relevant if you can actually solve the problem at hand, but it’s worth trying to remove yourself from the action pathway as you want the customer to learn to solve their own problems – or at least know they don’t have to be rude to get results
- If you are part of the solution process, you can offer a different personal finish, for instance, a promise of best-effort. It’s important to be clear about effort… sometimes you really can’t solve their problem and need to get creative about mollifying them in other ways
Remember we’re all human – even angry customers
There have been days when the tweets, emails, and other reach outs really got to me. Those days suck. But remember we’re all human. Just as there are times when you may lose your temper, your angry customers might as well.
Remind yourself that it’s not about you (even if they start making personal accusations or insults). It’s always about how they are feeling due to misaligned expectations.
This is also a good time to take the reach out as feedback (if they complain about not being able to reset their password, maybe the “Forgot Password” button isn’t prominent enough or the link is broken).
Either way, respond to their emotion with care and you’ll find angry customers turn into the best champions. Throw emotions back at them and you’ll spend your time wondering why you keep getting trolls and negative reviews.