How to Deal with an Angry Customer
When you’re running a business that offers a product or service, soon or late you will have to deal with customer complaints, or even with angry customers.
We’ve been running ArchiSnapper for almost 7 years now, so just like any other business, we had to deal with frustrated customers a couple of times.
Luckily, my co-founder is a quality-focused person, and unlike many other software businesses, we never had big issues or bugs, because we built a high-quality tool from the getgo. We have automated tests; we double-check everything before releasing; we have post-release checks …
I mention this, so you don’t think we have a crappy piece of software with lots of complaints and angry customers. The opposite is true, and we have many positive reviews to back this statement ;)
But still, there are many reasons why a customer could be not satisfied, or could be frustrated, or even angry.
Let me give an example:
Our app is used by architects, engineers and contractors for site inspections. They document items on-site, with pictures, text and annotations on floor plans.
Some of our users document A LOT of items, with hundreds of pictures and annotations a day.
If a customer is using old and lightweight Huawei with limited RAM, it should come to no surprise that the app crashes every so often. These are constraints we cannot work around. It would be like trying to do the Indy 500 in a Renault Twingo, then getting angry at the race organizers when you didn’t win.
We get it. Doing a punch list inspection with 5 other people around you, waiting for you until you are ready punching an item with our app, and then having an app crash is frustrating.
In the heat of the moment, sometimes customers send emails with lots of capitals, exclamation marks, and so on :)
I’ve noticed that when dealing with frustrated customers, many businesses start to act in an unnatural manner: they become defensive and start explaining why it isn’t their mistake.
They use sentences like:
“I’m sorry for any inconvenience this might have caused you, but …”.
After the “but…” comes the reason why it is not their fault.
They position themselves against the customer. This makes the situation worse: the customer doesn’t feel understood and gets even more frustrated.
I’ve learned to embrace these situations by doing the exact opposite:
Call, listen, and tell them you understand
Instead of immediately thinking about the reasons why this isn’t our mistake, I started doing this:
- I call instead of sending an email: Always give a call, don’t get into an email war. This makes a huge difference. I find that people are much more friendly on the phone compared to written communication, where it’s easier to be harsher and more unfriendly.
- I listen to their problem. Don’t talk, just listen. Actively listen and try to imagine the situation from their perspective, and try and understand why they are frustrated. People notice when you listen and empathize.
- I tell them I understand how annoying this problem must be. Whether the cause for the issue is our fault or not does not really matter for the customer, the tool isn’t working for them, and they are frustrated. Whatever the cause is, its important to tell them you understand. This will help to diffuse the situation. The customer will feel like you care about their problem, and this will make them feel like you are on the same level. They typically become more friendly, and we’re able to have a reasonable and constructive conversation.
- I share my insights. I explain what I think happened, how the issue could be prevented, and what could be done to improve the situation in the future.
I’m telling you, this works wonders. I have never had a customer who was still angry at the end of a call.
I’m not saying the problem was always solved immediately during the call. But the customer feels understood and appreciated, which is sooo super important and impactful.
By calling a customer and helping them when they have a stressful problem, you’re building a relationship with them. The customer will remember this, and it will positively change the way they perceive your business.
Compare this to the alternative approach of getting in a written-communication war, making bold statements, saying “it’s not our fault,” etc.
If you don’t manage your customers with the respect they deserve, in the long run, it will hurt your business. For example, your company could get a negative review, or bad word-of-mouth.
On the contrary, if you embrace these situations and do the right thing, you can really make a difference and make a lasting positive impression on your customers. Payback will come in the form of good reviews and positive word-of-mouth advertising.
Say sorry when you have to
Imagine you’re having a discussion with your husband, wife, or a friend about something they shouldn’t have said or did.
If that other person looks at you and says:
“You are completely right. I should’t have done that. I’m really sorry.”
Unless we’re talking about something really drastic (e.g. murder), we would likely forgive them within seconds, right?
Well, customers are just people, and the same tactics apply :)
When we do something wrong, don’t say “Sorry for any inconvenience this MIGHT have cause you, BUT blah, blah, blah ...”
Cover-your-ass sentences like this do not help the customer. You might as well write: “I don’t really care.”
When we make a mistake which causes problems or inconveniences, we just say it like it is: “I’m very sorry for this, I understand this is really frustrating, and I will do everything I can to help you“.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “Never ruin an apology with an excuse”.
Next time you’re dealing with a frustrated or angry customer, take a deep breath, and give them a call, listen to their needs, say you understand, say sorry if needed, and help them find a solution.
It takes courage, but it’s definitely the best thing you can do.