Your Friend, The Angry Customer

Fear not the angry customer. He is not the enemy! Quite to the contrary, he is possibly
one of the best friends your business has!

Certainly, every business has had to deal with an angry customer or two, some more
than others. But if we can get past the anger, the tone of voice, the occasional insult or
invective, we realize that the customer is speaking to us because, although he feels that
he has been wronged, he also feels that we can help correct the situation. And this,
friends, is a golden opportunity to win and solidify your customer’s loyalty.

Studies have repeatedly shown that a customer who has had a problem successfully
and amicably resolved tends to be more loyal to that business than a customer who has
never experienced a problem with said business. Now, we are by no means advocating
that your business should intentionally mess up, so that they can then cheerfully fix the
problem and gain their customer’s undying admiration. However, when that situation
arises (and it will) where things do not go the way the customer had hoped, smart
businesses use that opportunity to fix the error quickly and happily. They also learn
from the error to ensure that it does not occur again. And this is where the angry
customer helps you.

As all customer-focused businesses know, the world revolves around the customer, not
the business. So when the angry customer calls, it is imperative to let him say his
piece. Do not try to resolve his issue before he’s had a chance to explain not only the
nature of his problem, but also the ramifications this problem has had on his life. This
is often where service calls quickly go awry.

Many businesses place a high value on resolving calls quickly, so that the customer
service rep can get on with the next call. Many call centers and service centers measure
average length of call or interaction, and reward their reps for lowering the amount of
time spent per incident. While this particular metric seems important to the internal
operations of many businesses, I have rarely, if ever, heard a customer say that the most
important aspect of their call was to get off the phone quickly as possible. Frankly, if a
customer is concerned enough about an issue to call or visit a business, then he wants
that business to know the exact nature of that problem, and why that problem is
bothering him.

While it may not always be a pleasant experience, this is just the kind of information
that businesses need to hear in order to hone their operations. Working under the
premise that businesses want to provide the best products and services possible to their
customers, it stands to reason that these businesses would want to hear what has gone
wrong, and the ramifications of that mishap. Unfortunately, if service reps are
rewarded for quickly ending calls, or worse yet, if the reps simply don’t want to be
barked at by customers, then an opportunity to collect valuable knowledge on serving
your company’s audience is lost. Also lost is any hope of a repeat sale, because that
customer’s next purchase is going from your competitor.

When your organization makes an error, or offends a customer in some way, an
apology to the customer is in order. There are right ways and wrong ways of handling
this. If we want to successfully recover from this mishap, it behooves us to know the
best way to apologize. First thing is to shut up and listen – do not try addressing the
problem or the solution until the customer is done saying what he wants to say. Other
than asking questions to clarify the problem, your initial response should be
empathetic: “Oh that is not good! I can understand why that would be upsetting to

Then, it is imperative that the next words out of your mouth are, “Thank you for telling
me about this issue.” Thanking a customer for complaining not only disarms some of
the customer’s anger, but it also sets the expectation for the resolution of the issue. This
should be followed immediately by sincerely saying, “I apologize for the inconvenience
you have experienced.” Then, and only then, should you start to discuss the resolution,
or explanation, of the problem.

This is not the time for a sarcastic or humorous response, even if the customer begins
the call in a decent mood. Nothing will pour fuel on the fire more than giving the
customer the feeling that you think his problem is a joke. Nor should you ever make
lame excuses. The customer does not care (nor should he care) that you have a pile of
work on your desk, or that two co-workers have called in sick. That is your problem,
not his. He called to talk about his problem! And never place the blame for his problem
on another employee / department / vendor, or heaven forbid, on the customer
himself! Even if it’s true, that is not what your customer wants or needs to hear at this
point of the conversation. The goal here is to resolve the issue to the customer’s
satisfaction, not to get the heat off of you!

Most importantly, do not EVER use the dreaded phrase “Company Policy.” Let me
repeat that for effect. Never, ever use the phrase “Company Policy” as an excuse or
explanation for a customer problem. Why? First of all, company policies are written
with the company in mind, not the customers. Oftentimes, they are created with the
intent of blocking any underhanded schemes your customers may have in mind to get
over on your business. The problem there is that just a tiny fraction of your customers
are even thinking about getting over on your business. Thus, the majority of your
customers are bearing the brunt of your paranoia because of a devious few. Not a good
strategy. You will alienate more good customers than you will foil conniving ones.
But even when your policies are in place for a good reason, still do not use the phrase
“Company Policy.” It is fraught with negativity. Instead of saying, “It’s our policy to
do this…,” simply explain WHY the policy is in place. “In order to reduce fraud, we
collect name and phone number information for every call we take.” Invoking the
“Pword” is very similar to what your mom used to say when you questioned why you
had to do something: “Because I’m your mother and I said so!” Trust me, your
customers are not going to fall in line just because your policy tells them this is the way
it is. If there is a good reason for your policy, then share that reason with your
customer. If there is no real good reason for the policy, then re-examine that policy – it
may be causing customer unrest!

One of the most important aspects of providing world-class service is having thick
enough skin so that you can hear beyond the customer’s anger, and understand the
cause of that anger. Then, and only then, can you go about resolving that problem and
gaining a loyal customer.

— Charles Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2004 / All Rights Reserved

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