The Angry Customer: What Happens Next?

Okay, so you’ve messed up an interaction with a customer. Your work came in
late. Your product was damaged. Your service didn’t fix the problem. Your rep was
pretty rude. Nowadays, with all the options available to customers for any product or
service imaginable, any one of these faux pas is enough to send a customer heading for
the door. If you’ve combined two or more of these bad moves, you can definitely kiss
that customer good-bye.

Do you ever wonder what happens when the angry customer storms out that door, or
slams down that phone? Or are you simply relieved that this growling windbag is no
longer raising a ruckus? Well, depending on your stake in the business, or your
aspirations for a career in the service industry, it would behoove you to consider the
angry customer’s next moves.

Hello, Mister Competitor

The customer may have angrily left you, but chances are, he still has a need for the
product or service that he was trying to get from you – if not immediately, then at some
point in the future. Since we can pretty much assume he’s not coming back to you, it’s a
good bet that he is going to do business with one of your competitors. If that
competitor treats the customer fairly well, you can wave bye-bye to that revenue. And
not just that single transaction’s worth of revenue, but probably a lifetime’s worth. So,
in the ledger sheet in your mind, let’s slide a hefty chunk of income from your side over
to your competitor’s side.

How much income are we talking here? You do the math. What’s the average
transaction in your business worth? How many of them do you do per year?
Multiply. How many customers do you have? Divide. How many years do
your average customers do business with you? Multiply again. That’s how much
money walked out the door with your average angry customer. Now, what if you ticked
off one of the 20% of your customers who account for 80% of your revenue? Ouch. It
might be time to start thinking about a new line of work.

Just remember, every revenue dollar you lose is a dollar that your competitor is
earning. Customers like to align themselves with winners, so the more money your
competitor makes, the more customers are going to want to work with them.

People Do Talk

Angry customers do not suffer in silence. Ever. Various studies, depending on the
industry, claim that the average dissatisfied customer will tell anywhere from 6 to 20
others about their negative experience with your company. No such thing as bad
publicity? Don’t bet on it! People put a lot more credence into what their friends and
colleagues say about a business, than what the company’s marketing and advertising

Most likely the first person your angry customer is going to tell about his experience
with you is your competitor who he is now purchasing from. Now, your competitor
wouldn’t stoop so low as to tell others about the bad experience your angry customer
had with you, would he? Is there no honor among businesspeople? That’s a rhetorical
question, folks. Let’s assume that, at the very least, your competitor is happily retelling,
and perhaps even embellishing the story of how you angered your
customer. But quite possibly, he is building a major marketing campaign around
it. Try doing the math on that!

And what’s a math equation without a variable? In this case, the variable is the number
of angry or dissatisfied customers you’ve had who never took the time to express their
anger to you, except with their feet. They’ve decided that doing business with you is
just not worth it, and have moved on to one of your competitors. But they are still
telling other people about the bad experience they had with you. Fortune Magazine
estimates that up to 98% of all dissatisfied customers leave without saying why. That’s
a variable worth paying attention to! And it also underscores the real value of those
customers who do take the time to complain to you, even if they are angry.

What Do You Do Now?

If an angry customer leaves your business while still angry, is recovery even
possible? Well, anything is possible, but it won’t be easy. You’ve got some work to do.

First, you need to reach out to that customer, and with sincerity, ask about the matter
that caused the anger. You need to listen carefully while the customer, should he
decide to even speak with you, tells you exactly what is on his mind. You don’t have to
agree with it, but you do have to listen to it, and don’t interrupt.

Once the customer has said his piece, you need to thank him for making things clear to
you, and then apologize for the inconvenience this matter has caused. Again, you don’t
necessarily have to agree with him, but this is business we’re talking about here, not a
math test. Right and wrong is often very subjective in customer interactions, and while
the customer may not always be right, he should never be wrong.

Next, you need to decide what you are willing to do for the customer to try to set things
right. You may find that what the customer wants is very easily done, and in that case,
you should do it immediately and then give something of value to them on top of
that. A discount is nice. The t-shirt or pen with your logo on it? Not so great, in this
instance. Save them for when your relationship with the customer has healed.

Finally, you must figure out a remedy to this situation so that it does not occur
again. This may not be something you can do immediately, but when you do figure it
out, be sure to share that remedy with the customer, and be sure to say that this
improvement was implemented because they spoke up. And then thank them
again. And mean it, because the angry customer has given you some valuable
information that allowed you to improve your business.

Now you see that your angry customer is not going to simply vanish into the dark
night. He is going to take his business, and the money he had been giving to you, and
he is going to give it to your competitor, for the rest of his life. And he’s going to tell
everyone he knows about how your business made him angry. If you’re going to
salvage this relationship, it will take a thick skin, attentive listening, and the ability to
spring into positive action. Do these things, and you might be able to prevent your
angry customer from spreading bad news about you all over town. Do them quickly
and with grace, and the customer just might start singing your praises. Then, the math
you’ll be doing is adding up to additional revenue!

— Charles Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2002 / All Rights Reserved

Download PDF of this Article