Angry customers are the bane of every service employee. We can summarize them with a single name: Karen. Entitled, unreasonable, condescending (not to mention white and middle-age). The person who acts like the world revolves around them, and everyone must cater to their whims. Or they’ve had an awful day and decide to take it out on a minimum-wage worker who can’t do anything about it.
While the customer isn’t always right, it doesn’t mean they’re always wrong. When dealing with delays, poor communication, and a lack of interest by employees, a customer might have to resort to anger when they don’t feel their issues are being heard. I know because I was that customer.
We’re about to make a huge investment on a critical item, and the next phase of the project has been delayed for months. After a lack of communication and unfulfilled promises, I had to tell them my concerns. I didn’t set out to be an angry customer. I just wanted answers to my questions. But as the conversation went on, I got more and more upset. The more defensive they got, the more I dug into them. By the time we ended the call, I felt awful. I felt less of a person for getting so angry. I felt nothing was accomplished. And when customers feel that way, not only will you never see them again, they will let everyone else know not to do business with you.
I’ve been on the other side of the counter from an angry customer. I dealt with them a lot when I worked at Carl’s Jr. in college. Here is what I learned from dealing with them, and what I wished the company I dealt with today would have done for me.
We don’t just want apologies and understanding. We want solutions.
“I’m sorry” and “I understand your frustrations” are good starting points. Ultimately, we want our problem solved. After we get past the expressions of sympathy, we want to get to work on resolving the situation.
Your job is to deescalate our frustration and regain our trust.
As a customer, I’m not out to make employees miserable. We’re the ones feeling miserable, and—I’m sorry—but it’s your job to make us feel better about doing business with your company. (If you feel, “My company doesn’t pay me enough to deal with this crap,” you need to find work at a company that values customer service and pays you enough to deal with this crap.) We want to feel happy with our decision to do business with you. Solving our problem will make us feel that way. We understand mistakes happen. Fixing them will build our trust with you.
Listen to our pain points.
If we need to vent, let us—especially because we’re giving you clues on how to solve our problem. Is there a workaround we can use until you are able to solve our problem? If we’re concerned about the price going up because of delays, tell us how you will prevent that from happening. By actively listening and showing how you can address our issues, you can further deescalate our frustration and build our trust.
It might not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility.
We know there are supply chain issues, inflation, and labor shortages. We know the Omicron variant will increase those problems. We also know there are many other issues that are beyond your control. Still, it’s your responsibility to mitigate these issues or set realistic expectations. The worst thing you can do is make excuses or dish out blame. We don’t care if an employee doesn’t return your calls. You hired them. You can fire them if they’re unresponsive to you. If the parts are back-ordered, let us know when you expect to get them in stock. As a customer, we want to know that you take responsibility and are making the efforts to solve our problem regardless of the cause.
Don’t be defensive.
No one likes confrontation, especially the customers who have a problem. But if you get defensive, we’re going to get angry. Your reaction makes us feel our concerns aren’t legitimate to you. We should feel bad because we want you to deliver on your commitments. And if you make it personal, we get angrier. Defensiveness is unprofessional. The quickest way to make an angry customer angrier is to be unprofessional.
Don’t make commitments you can’t keep.
The only thing worse than being defensive is lying to us. If you can’t deliver when promised, tell us. We may be disappointed, but we won’t be as upset as when you make a promise you know you can’t keep, and it inevitably goes unfulfilled. Don’t be like the Boston Market that couldn’t fill Thanksgiving orders. If you don’t think you have the staff lined up to do the work, don’t sell the product.
Offer an apple pie.
When a customer was unhappy with an order at Carl’s Jr., we gave them a free apple pie to go with their remade food. It was our way of compensating them for their trouble and showing how we appreciate them as a customer. Apple pies weren’t expensive, but small tangible gestures like this went a long way to build customer satisfaction.
I had an apple pie experience recently at Micro Center. I bought some parts online, but when I went to the store to pick them up, they were out-of-stock. So, they replaced them with a more expensive version of the part at the same price. Micro Center turned a situation that could have made me an angry customer into a happy one.
No one wants to be—or stay—an angry customer. We certainly don’t want to deal with finger-pointing, defensiveness, and false promises that will only make us angrier. What we want from you and your company is to solve our problem or let us know realistically when it can be solved. Listen to our pain points and offer assurances or temporary workarounds. Take responsibility to fix problems even if they aren’t your fault. Deescalate our frustration, rebuild our trust, and show your appreciation for us. This will enable you to turn angry customers into happy ones, which is what we really want to be.