Angry Customer to Evangelist in Six Steps

February 13 Tim Sanchez


Just one angry customer can flat-out ruin my entire day. I know they shouldn't, but listening to their complaints sucks the life right out of me. It means we failed, not in the big picture sense, but we failed at something and a customer was affected...big time

Benjamin Franklin once said,"...but in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes." 

Mr. Franklin was certainly right, but I think we can add one more: the angry customer

It doesn't matter how good your products and services are, there will always be someone who needs a little extra care. Someone that was overlooked, forgotten, mistreated, or maybe worse. 

  Please understand the reason they're angry doesn't matter. Not one stinking iota. 

Your immediate responsibility is NOT to figure out if their anger is warranted. I've seen that too many times; everyone gets into a blame game about whose fault it is, or that the customer is being unreasonable, yada yada yada. It doesn't matter! You have a paying customer that is pissed. 

  They don't want a full-on investigation as to why they're pissed; they just want you to make it right. 

The good news is that every one of these problems is an opportunity for you to be remarkable; to surprise and astound, to regain a customer's confidence and leave them feeling better about your company than before there was a problem. I have started using the following six steps in resolving these issues. The process has worked well for me, but every company and issue is unique, so let's hear your critique and other suggestions in the comments. Also, by no means do these steps need to be done in this specific order. You'll have to figure that out on a case-by-case basis.

#1 - Thank them for their feedback

Yes that's right, you should thank your customer for berating you. This is especially true for written communication (email, letters, etc). Your customer has taken time out of their day to express their dissatisfaction with your company. They didn't do it for their health, they expect you to do something about it. Your really good customers do it solely with the intent that you'll learn from it and get better. 

Every experience has momentum. You must start off on the right foot and switch the momentum back to your side. When a customer is unhappy, the momentum of the experience is solely on their side. They are controlling the experience with their anger and it is your job to change that. Thanking them is the quickest and easiest way to do it. Nobody likes yelling at someone who is thanking them. 

 It doesn't need to be long and drawn out, just say:
Thanks for giving us your feedback on this issue.
That's it. Let them know their time was not wasted. This gives them the immediate perception that you are going to act on their feedback and it starts you down the path of turning a loss into a win.

#2 - Acknowledge Your Ignorance

The chances are you don't know what the customer knows (if you did they wouldn't be cursing at you like a sailor), and you certainly won't have the customer's perception of the issue. 

Because you are ignorant. Not in the sense that you're an idiot, but in the sense that you probably don't have all the details. This is very typical for front line CSR's and for issues that have been quickly escalated to a higher level of support. 

Again, you don't need to go into detail about why you're ignorant on their issue, simply say:
I feel like I don't have all the details on this issue. Could you please explain yada-yada-yada to me again?
If you're writing an email response and you feel you can get all the details you need without talking to the customer, then you can say something like:
I'm out of the loop on this issue right now, but I've already started looking into the details and I'm going to get back with you right away.
Not only does this bide you some extra time, it allows you to get more information (from the customer and/or your coworkers) and should act to calm the customer down some.

#3 - Empathize with Their Situation

Now that you have all the details, you can show your customer some heartfelt empathy. Personally, this has been tough for me. You need to be really genuine, otherwise it can come off as judgmental and patronizing. 

People like to be understood and they want you to relate to them. They want you to feel their pain so you'll act on their issue right away. "If they only knew how much trouble this was causing me..." I know you've thought that before...I definitely have. 

You don't need to be specific on how you can relate to your customer's problem. Trust me, they don't want to hear all about your problems when you should be fixing theirs. Say something like this:
This kind of thing has happened to me before and I can completely understand why you're upset. I felt the same way.
This shows them, without agonizing detail, that you understand their plight and can relate to their feelings.

#4 - Apologize (don't just say you're sorry)

Feel free to sprinkle this one around everywhere; I certainly do. All of these steps are important, but this is the most effective way to diffuse a hot-headed customer. Oh, and in case you didn't know, there's a difference between sincerely apologizing and merely saying, "I'm sorry." 

WHY YOU DO IT It shows the customer that you care about their business and that you feel genuinely sorry for letting them down. Angry customers often feel like you don't give a flip about them; reversing those feelings isn't easy, but giving them a sincere apology is a great way to right the ship. 

HOW YOU DO IT Sincerity is key here, but there's something even more important. You must ask for forgiveness. It never ceases to amaze me how a sincere apology and a plea for forgiveness can turn the conversation right on its head. Say something like:
I'm very sorry this happened. Will you please accept our sincere apology?
And then stop talking. Let that question settle in for a couple seconds. Your customer will lead you right into step number five.

#5 - Take Action

"Ok...that's fine...what are you going to do about it?" (This is how they accept your apology). Well, Mr. Customer that I love so dearly, let me tell you... This is where you make the magic happen. I can't comment in depth about what you should do or how you should do it, you will have to figure that out depending on your company and the situation. I will tell you one thing that's crucial.  After taking whatever action was necessary to completely rectify the situation, I ask myself a question: "What else can I do?" It's a simple question and the answer has never been "nothing." There's always something else you can do to go the extra mile, to wow them, to deliver bliss. It will make the next step much easier and pleasant.

#6 - Follow Up

After you have your once-angry customer all blissed out again, you must follow up with them. A day, a week, a month; whatever time frame is appropriate. Maybe all of them. Again, this will be dependent upon your company and your relationship with the customer. You may even need to get the customer's permission for this. 

It solidifies the relationship and it reminds them that you went out of your way to turn a bad situation into a remarkable experience. Oh, and you may get a sale or some extra work out of it (which would be pretty awesome, right?). 

Whenever possible, you should always do this by phone. I tell them I'm calling about the prior situation and that I wanted to make sure everything was going well since our last conversation. You may say something similar to:
Hi Mr. Customer, this is Tim Sanchez with Widgets-r-Us. How are you doing today? Great, I just wanted to check in and see if there was anything else we could do for you.
With a little luck, you just might get an extra sale or some work that you didn't expect. You may also be surprised to get an apology from your customer for calling you a babbling never know what will happen when you transform a customer from angry to evangelist. 

 Question: Is this similar to how you are currently handling angry customers? How can we make this better?