The worst part of customer service?
Dealing with angry customers.
It’s hands-down the most stressful, uncomfortable part of the job. But it can also make the biggest difference to your business—when you do it right.
Continue reading to see how to handle angry customers.
Why respond to angry customers at all?
Many of us were taught to turn the other cheek as children. Ignore the kid throwing a fit (it’s about them, not you). And while that is sage advice for many situations, it’s not the best way to handle your angry customers.
Even a casual, “This product sucks!” or “Worst service ever!” deserves a response. It’s easy to delete the comment or ignore the message, but addressing it has some benefits.
Customers are actually pretty forgiving of companies they already frequent. Zendesk’s CX Trends Report says that 74% of customers will forgive a company for its mistake if they receive excellent customer service.
Plus, 81% of customers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer service experience, while 76% of customers will switch to a competitor after several bad experiences.
In one study published in the Harvard Business Review, customers who received responses on Twitter from airline and wireless customer service teams saw Net Promoter Score® increases of 37 and 59 points, respectively—a big jump considering NPS® only has a range from -100 to 100.
For airlines, you can see the difference in dollars. When customers complain, how quickly an agent responds correlates with how much more the customer is willing to pay in the future.
- Under 5 minutes: $19.83 more
- 6–20 minutes: $8.53 more
- 21–59 minutes: $3.19 more
- 60 minutes or more: $2.33
Note that any response at all turns the situation around and helps improve customer perception.
How to deal with angry customers.
When angry customers reach your customer service agents, there’s usually a legitimate issue. Take a look at some of the ways you can turn angry customers into happy ones.
Be proactive about known problems.
It happens. A service falls between the cracks, products get damaged, and shipments get delayed. It’s all about how you handle it.
Customers don’t want to feel like you’re trying to get one over on them. They’ll feel cheated, and you’ll lose their trust. Instead, get ahead of problems by communicating with customers as soon as your team notices an issue. Use outbound text messaging to ensure your message is received (and that it doesn’t end up in the junk mail folder).
When things go drastically wrong, send a message that hits these 5 points:
- State the issue.
- Offer a solution/discount.
- Assure them it won’t happen again (if it’s in your control).
- Thank them for their continued support.
Lean into conversational support tools.
A positive (but sometimes negative) benefit of messaging is that you’re always easily accessible to the customer. So it’s not unusual to see more complaints through messaging than you might see through traditional phone and email communication methods.
Yet messaging is a great channel to work with angry customers, especially when you have the right tools in place to help you.
While customers might be more likely to offer negative or inappropriate comments through messaging, it also gives your service agents a chance to respond calmly and succinctly. (Something that isn’t so easy to do when someone is yelling at you on the other end of a phone call.)
As we mentioned earlier in the HBR study, responding quickly to angry messages goes a long way. How do you know which customers to prioritize? Look for conversational AI platforms that use sentiment analysis to help you prioritize tickets. Bump angry or unhappy customers to the top of the list to ensure a fast response time.
Diffuse the situation with empathy.
When customers send upset or angry messages, it’s still easy to get flustered or respond with short, superficial answers. Follow these 5 steps to diffuse the situation.
- Remain calm: We know—it’s easier said than done. But if you respond aggressively or defensively, it’ll only make things worse. Remember that the customer is angry at the company, not at you. If you’re having trouble keeping your cool, bring in a manager sooner than later (that’s what they’re there for).
- Show empathy and validate their concerns: Use phrases like “I understand” and repeat back their problems to show you’re paying attention. Feeling like they aren’t being heard is often a customer’s top complaint, so show that you’re listening.
- Don’t argue: We know it’s tempting, but don’t fall into a debate on the state of the world. Instead of trying to disprove every point they’re making, stick to the facts and what you can do to solve the problem. If the customer keeps pushing, simply repeat what you can do for them and how you can make it right.
- Apologize: As long as your company policy allows it (and it should), apologize for the problem and accept responsibility. This will ensure the customer feels heard and knows you’re not just trying to push the issue under the rug.
- Offer a solution: Once you’ve figured out the problem, try to find a solution that works within the bounds of your capabilities and satisfies the customer. Sometimes that’s a full refund. Sometimes it’s just a discount on their next purchase. Identify the severity of the problem and respond accordingly.
Be kind to the customer and yourself.
Remember, a human being is behind that angry message, with their own lives, worries, and stressors. While the mistake or issue they’re coming to you with may have been the spark, their anger is fueled by other things going on in their lives. The best thing you can do for them is to remain positive (or, at the very least, neutral) and find a solution to their immediate problem.
But it’s also important to give yourself (and your team) some grace. Customer service agents face a lot of pressure on all sides, and sometimes that mean-spirited message can be the breaking point. If agents are feeling overwhelmed, do these 3 things:
- Bring in a manager: If you’re overwhelmed, or the customer is using threatening and inappropriate language, notify a manager immediately. They can help you de-escalate the situation or decide to terminate the relationship if the customer has crossed a line.
- Take a break: If possible, step away from your computer after a challenging situation. Stand up, stretch, take a quick walk, or have a bite to eat. Do what you can to shake off the conversation. (Sometimes, literally shaking your hands and limbs helps!)
- Disconnect: Make sure to use your vacation time to disconnect from your computer and truly relax. You’ll be better off for it.
Offense is the best defense.
You’ve heard that phrase, right? It means that if you get ahead and stay ahead, you won’t have to defend as often.
If you’re constantly getting bad customer feedback, there’s probably a disconnect between what you think the customers want and what they actually want.
Instead of going off assumptions, collect information from your customers.
- Figure out what type of feedback you want to collect: There are different kinds of information you can gather from your customers. Think product reviews, customer satisfaction surveys, NPS surveys, to name a few. They all have their place but start with the ones that will have the biggest impact on your current customer concerns.
- Roll feedback requests into your existing processes: Send product survey requests shortly after customers receive the product, or ask customers to fill out satisfaction surveys at the end of customer service interactions. Use the processes you already have so you don’t add too much work to your already overwhelmed team.
- Measure, evaluate, adjust, and repeat: Metrics work best when you look at your numbers over time. Continue to collect customer feedback and improve your products, services, and processes.
Rebuild customer trust.
When customer trust is so hard to earn, you want to do whatever it takes to keep from losing it. Turning an angry customer into a loyal one isn’t as much of a lost cause as you might think.
Regain customer trust by:
- Admitting fault: Yes, we mentioned this earlier, but it’s a big sticking point for many customers. Admitting that someone somewhere actually made a mistake is the first step toward repairing the relationship.
- Use sincere, positive language: If you’re unsure how to solve something, use phrases like, “Let me find out for you” or “Let’s figure this out together.” The customer is more likely to exhibit patience, and you won’t add any fuel to the fire with negative language.
- Follow up when you say you’re going to: If you can’t solve the issue immediately, schedule a time to follow up with the customer—and don’t forget. Even if you haven’t been able to solve the problem yet, reach out to keep them informed. Doing what you say you’re going to do will help build trust, but it’ll backfire if you forget.
We all have to deal with angry customers, but it’s about how you repair the relationship and move forward. These steps are just a starting point. They’ll help rebuild the bridge between your company and your customer.