Communicating with Angry Customers
Although it may be tempting, never dismiss an angry or upset customer—no matter how inconsequential their issue may sound. Unhappy customers are the much more vocal than happy ones, and with social media, one problem customer can turn into a firestorm of criticism and backlash. Just as important, one customer complaint may be the tip of the iceberg of a larger issue. Listening to your customer’s complaint will allow you to uncover the truth, which could be a systemic issue that needs your attention and resolution.
To help you approach the complaint with a good attitude, consider that your angry or upset customer could be giving you a gift of awareness. One thing that can seem intimidating about upset customers is that the situation feels tricky and unpredictable. Fortunately this six-step customer turnaround strategy provides a tool to manage the situation and bring it to a positive resolution:
Step 1: Make the correct assumptions.
After years in the trenches working with employees at all levels, I have learned that certain assumptions can empower lives and, in particular, our relationships. One such assumption is this: Assume good intent. People who handle customers, especially difficult ones, often assume that the customer does not know what they are talking about, just wants to get more for less, or will be unhappy no matter what they do to resolve the situation. Assuming good intent helps us use a different tone, and tone has five times the impact of the words we say. Assuming good intent is powerful.
Step 2: Probe and deeply listen.
When people are upset they may say things they don’t mean or things that are not the real issues. If you get defensive or become combative, things may spiral into a negative debate and, worse, you may shut the person down. If that happens, you’ll never uncover the real issue. Don’t argue. Ask questions and listen.
Step 3: Acknowledge their emotions.
Don’t get caught up in the words people say. Listen for the true emotions behind them. Emotions are one of the driving forces of human beings. When we acknowledge and reflect back someone’s emotions, we validate their feelings. This can be a calming influence with an angry or upset customer. Remember what Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Step 4: Apologize.
Apologies go a long way toward easing tension, even if you are apologizing on behalf of another individual or area. When you apologize, do not say, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry that happened, but…” That is not an apology. An apology takes full ownership, which can lead to forgiveness and enable others to let go of their bad feelings.
Step 5: Facilitate an agreeable solution and manage expectations accordingly.
You can do this by asking solution-oriented questions. For example, you can ask the customer: “Given what has happened how can we best help you now? What can be done to improve the situation?” If they ask for something you cannot deliver, say so and offer a different suggestion or compromise. If you are not sure you can deliver what they’re asking for, say so and give them a specific time frame by when you will get back to them. Be clear and manage expectations.
Step 6: Close the loop.
Make sure the solution is satisfying to the customer before you take action and move forward. Be bold and ask the customer: “If we are able to do the following steps, will this resolve the situation for you?” People often shy away from asking a question of this nature because they are afraid the customer or client will say the solution is not good enough. If they do, go back to step one and start again. Be thankful that you found out now rather than later after wasting your time and company resources without ultimately satisfying the customer.
With this six-step customer turnaround strategy you can turn any upset customer into your best customer. Sound unlikely? It’s not. When you go above and beyond and resolve your customer’s issue, it is a chance to shine. Many companies report that their toughest customers end up being their happiest and most vocal customers. Use this six-step strategy and watch your business grow.