How to Respond to Angry Customers
Have you ever opened an email with a subject line written in all caps, and the first sentence sounded something like “I have never been so frustrated in my life as I am with [your product here]!!!”? If you have, you aren’t alone—many of us every day respond to angry customers and do our best to de-escalate the situation, gain back their trust, and help them use our products. That being said, even if you’ve worked with an angry customer before, there are always opportunities for growth in everything that we do.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to responding to angry customers while working in customer support.
Let’s start with the things that you can do yourself to de-escalate the situation (and then move on to what you can do if that doesn’t work). First up:
– Take a breath
Take a Breath
Before you even start to think about typing a response to the customer, read through the whole thing, pull your fingers away from the keyboard, and take a breath. You may not have even noticed it, but as you were reading, your shoulders probably started to creep up towards your ears, your body started to tense up, and even subconsciously, you might have started getting frustrated with your customer. All that occurred without you even knowing it, before you even had a chance to talk to the customer or understand their side. Take a breath to center yourself and gain some steady ground1, even if you don’t realize you need it before you get started.
Apple employees that work at the Genius Bar are taught the “3 As” when dealing with angry customers2: acknowledge, align, assure. The first thing that you should do when speaking with a customer who is frustrated with your product or service is to acknowledge what they have said, and that it is valid. For example, if someone is angry about not being able to have a certain feature, you could say “I’m sorry to hear that you are having trouble with that—we actually don’t currently have a feature that works that way”
This also works if someone has run into a bug in your product. “You’re right—I’m able to reproduce that here on my end as well. Thanks for reporting it for us.”
Just hearing another person agree that the issue is an issue, or acknowledge that there is a problem can be a huge step in starting to calm down your customer.
This is the second step in writing a response to a customer who has written in frustrated or angry, and it’s where you start to rebuild trust. By acknowledging their issue, you’ve put them slightly at peace, but aligning with them allows them to feel like you are both on the same page3. Customers already do not want to be emailing in to support, and nobody likes to feel angry, so aligning with them on the troubles they are experiencing, and doing so with candor is very important. To return to the examples from above, if a customer has issued a feature request or is angry that you don’t have a certain feature already, you can continue the email by saying “I totally agree that having that feature would make a lot of sense, especially for your specific use case.” This lets them know that you’ve read their whole email and understand their needs and makes them feel good by stating that you agree with them.
If someone is reporting a bug in your product, you can follow up your thanks to them for reporting it with “I know how frustrating it is for something that’s meant to just work to not work as expected.” This puts you in a human position, rather than a product-based position, and also lets the customer know that you feel their pain.
The last step of the three As is assuring the customer4 that you will either pass the information on to the correct people or that the issue is now resolved. You need to reaffirm that the things you’ve said are true and that you are going to continue to work on the problem if it isn’t already resolved. This is usually at the end of an email, after acknowledging, then aligning and giving some explanation.
To close out the email in response to a feature request, you could say something like “I can’t say that this is something that we are going to build soon, but I am going to talk to our team about this here and let them know that there is interest in this. Please let me know if you have any additional insights that you’d like me to pass along, beyond what we’ve already talked about here.” This makes the customer feel that you genuinely care about what they have to say and that they are able to have an impact on the product.
If someone is blocked by a bug that you have confirmed and reproduced, based on what we wrote to them for the align section above, you could say: “I’m going to speak with our engineering team and have prioritized this on our bug tracking software. We’ll reach out to you as soon as there is a resolution to the problem, but please feel free to respond here if you have questions or if anything else comes up in the meantime.” This gives them a clear picture as to what is going to happen with this report and lets them know it’s not just going down a black hole.
If that Doesn’t Work?
What if all of the niceties and rhetoric in the world can’t help, and your customer is still angry after you’ve tried all the above? In those cases, the best thing to do is to get a new perspective on the ticket, as there might be something that you are missing or don’t have the context to understand. Luckily, you probably have some people on your team or some tools already in your toolkit that can help.
Talk to a Team Member
The cool thing is that every human on your team would have had different experiences. If you’re running into trouble with a ticket and you’re not sure how to respond or where to turn next, talking to another person who has also dealt with angry customers, and maybe the same issues, can help. Direct message someone, invite them to a discussion and ask them if they have a second to take a look over a ticket with you.
Talk to your Manager
Managers are the best. Not only do they have a wealth of knowledge, but they love talking about the status of tickets and how to help you personally grow as a support person. So, if you have an angry customer, and you don’t have the opportunity or desire to talk to a team member, reach out to your manager and see if they have a second to chat. First, ask them to review the ticket with you and see if there’s anything that you can respond or shift. Second, consider if it might be valuable escalating your ticket to them, depending on how irate or aggressive the customer is being.
Work on Something Else
You probably have other tickets in your inbox. If this one is really stumping you, or the customer and you don’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye, maybe take a break from it and move on to something else. This is just as much for your benefit as it is for the customer: you taking a break allows you to recoup a little bit of your emotional currency, and the customer benefits from you responding in a more calm, cool and collected manner than you might have without taking a break away—even if it takes a little bit longer for them to get a response. Timeouts work for a reason.
You’ve got this!
It can be scary to handle an angry customer, especially if it is a complex issue, or you already know that you’re going to have to tell them no. These few steps and tools can help in de-escalating and making them feel valued while also allowing you, the support person, the emotional space you need to take care of both them and yourself. You’re going to do great!
1 – http://www.simplyfiercely.com/stop-letting-the-little-things-bother-you/
2 – https://john.do/3-as/
3 – https://medium.com/business-process-management-software-comparisons/the-alignment-of-customer-and-support-expectations-83b3016d2a05
4 – https://www.practicalecommerce.com/7-ways-to-keep-your-customers-happier-and-or-reassured-for-free