How to deal with angry customers? An actionable guide to handle angry customers and avoid churn

They are mean, rude, and totally unreasonable at times — angry customers give us chills and might turn out to be a bane for our business, if not handled the right way. Anger is considered to be the most unpredictable trait in a customer and is directly responsible for churn in most cases.

Converting a customer’s arghh? to ahh? is definitely every support agent’s fancy dream.

angry customers

Well, truth to be told, anger is perfectly predictable in most of the scenarios, sometimes long before the actual issue bursts out.

We all know of abstract ways to deal with an angry customer starting from apologizing and ending your game with a smile and a thank you, but there is a lot more that goes into handling angry customers. Especially if dealing means converting your angry customers into loyal customers. Because, in most cases, angry customers have the potential to become loyal customers—they care enough to raise their concerns and also have expectations from you.

Think about it, amongst customers who silently leave you and go, these customers are interested in providing feedback, however loud and angry it might be. They want to give you a chance. They voice out their opinion to be heard. That’s why it’s important to not leave them hanging, and care for such customers.

Why are your customers angry?

Let’s try to get into the head of an angry customer, psychologically. Though there might be multiple reasons behind a customer’s anger, the underlying root cause can, however, be mapped to a set of psychological factors. Knowing these factors gives you a better understanding of what could have gone wrong and what is the best way to overcome the situation. Ideally, customers become angry when they feel:

Invalidated or treated unfairly

Whenever customers feel that you made promises that you couldn’t keep, or you’re not treating them fairly, it leads to them feeling disconnected and angered. Leaving a customer query open for too long or not paying attention to their expectations are some of the other times when they feel invalidated.

Threatened or attacked

Issues like missing data privacy, non-consensual transactions, hidden agenda, data leakage, loss of information and so on, can make your customer angry because they feel attacked or threatened in that situation. And they are made to experience this situation because of you.

Frustrated or powerless

Cases where things are not working the way they were promised, stopping your customer’s access without any communication, not engaging with the customers and keeping them in the dark, incomplete onboarding, are some examples where your customers might get angry because they feel frustrated or powerless.

Not respecting their feelings or possessions

Let’s say a customer has been vocal about his/her feedback and you observe a declining trend in their likeability towards your product. In scenarios like this, when you do not take any measures to discuss their feedback or comments, or not try to understand their interaction with your product, it shows that you do not respect their feelings. This leads to them getting flared up and leaving your brand right away.

Who is an angry customer?

An angry customer is someone who is frustrated with your product and is completely dissatisfied with your service. Most of the angry customers are never too shy to be loud and vocal about their hatred. We all know that loyal customers can help in advocating your brand to others through word of mouth. Same way, angry customers have the power to convince people to hate your brand or have a negative likeability towards it.

dealing angry customers

Dealing with angry customers is therefore as important or if not more important than having strategies around customer advocacy, as it can swallow up all the good name you worked hard to generate so far, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

Angry customers can be of these types:

  • Customers who are genuinely angry with you and are vocal about it: Dealing with these guys will leave you with customers who are genuinely happy and loyal. It is imperative to have strategies to deal with these guys, such that you can reduce churn. Whatever might be the reason for their anger or level of intensity, this anger is genuine and is comparatively easy to deal with.

  • Customers who are genuinely angry with you but are silent about it: These customers are bound to leave you within the next sunrise once they experience bad service. These are the guys who typically cannot tolerate bad service and are not willing to give you another chance. They just don’t care. But it’s possible that these are your pocket fillers. They are the ones who have invested their money on you. The only way to handle them is to have a preventive strategy in place of a corrective one.

  • Customers who are frustrated for no particular reason: When there is no reason for your customer to be angry, or also at times when it falls out of your control or boundary, you can choose to let the customer go on a good note. Hanging on to this type of customers is only going to cause you more trouble in the future. These are probably customers who want you to keep prioritizing them over others and have no other reason to be angry as such. Such customers expect extra pampering and are probably not going to reciprocate in any which way.

How to deal with angry customers?

Listen (literally and figuratively), everyone knows that it’s not easy to deal with angry customers. So much so that there are multiple books, blogs and videos doing rounds on the internet to solve this problem. There still seems to be little to no decrease in the hoard of angry customers and brands are fighting hard to be the first ones in the race to truly bulletproof their customer support strategy to have nothing but happy customers.

Just the other day, I thought to myself, there should definitely be A-Z ways to deal with angry customers such that we fix all the loopholes and prevent leakage. Well, guess what, somehow there really are A-Z ways to handle angry customers.

These are statements you should consume so thoroughly, that they reflect in every action that you take going forward. Let’s march on this journey together; let’s turn the frown of your customers upside down, what say? Here we go; 26 ways (I was not kidding when I said A-Z) to handle angry customers.

When the customers express their anger personally

A – Apologize, acknowledge and address

Apology marks the beginning of this journey of converting angry customers into happy customers. No, your customers are definitely not going to be happy just with an apology, but it’s a good place to start. An apology doesn’t mean you are accepting the blame. As part of your first step in dealing with angry customers, you also need to acknowledge and address the problem that your customer is facing. This gives your customer an understanding that you respect the way they feel and that you are there to help them.

Sometimes your customer might be angry for a reason that is totally out of your control. In cases like that, you can still choose to start your conversation with an apology and then explain yourselves. For example, let’s say your customer was dealing with some important data and his/her phone gets switched off and they lose all the data. This might not be your fault. But if you have an angry customer who thinks it’s your fault, it is good practice to start with an apology, address their anger, and acknowledge the fact that they have reached the right person.

how deal angry customers

Now let’s say you decide to just offer incentives to cool your customers down, without apologizing for their bad experience. A study conducted by Seige Media shows that customers who received compensations or incentives with an apology are more satisfied with the experience than the ones who receive incentives without an apology.

csat

B – Be where your customers are

Angry customers need a channel to express their anger. It’s been found that 55% of the angry customers who rant on social media agree to have not received a proper platform to communicate their query in the first place. That says a lot about providing your customers with the possibility to interact with you instantly — whenever and wherever they want. ‘Proximity’ is going to be a game changer in the support world going forward. Customers are confused and angry when they want something to be resolved instantly but are not able to reach out to you based on their urgency. Ensure that you are available on chat, call, emails, social media, video call, and so on. Enable opportunities to share your screen, take control of their screen. Be present on the channels that they are already present, like Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so on.

Protip

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Proximity lets you:

  • Be on the same page with your users with video and audio

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proximity

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C – Conversations for the win

Engage in meaningful conversations with your customers. As it holds good for any relationship, communication is the key to resolve anger. Get into instant conversations with your customers. Also make the conversation friendly, casual, and personal. Choose your channel of communication-based on the urgency of the issue and preference of the customer. Sometimes a phone call might seem too intrusive, an email might seem too laid back and slow. In cases like this use a live chat tool to get the right balance of urgency, accessibility, and availability. According to research, customers prefer live chat over other channels to engage in conversations.

live chat

 

D – Diagnose and understand the “why”

At this stage, it is important for you to get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred in the first place or in other words figure out the root cause of the problem. This can be understood by using the ‘5 Why’ strategy. This strategy is a straightforward way to get to the core of the problem. The root cause of any problem can be diagnosed by asking ‘why’ five times. Check out the following example.

problem

This clarifies that the problem was not caused because of you and it was completely the customer’s fault that she lost her data. Understanding the root cause allows you to get clarity on the type of problem and helps you arrive at an optimized solution without causing further problems.

E – Empathize and engage

Once you have understood the problem, the next step is to empathize with your customer and help them understand what went wrong. In the previous example, we know that the problem was caused because of the customer. In a scenario like this, it is important to explain the context to the customer otherwise they will end up assuming that it was the product’s fault.

Every time you provide a solution to angry customers you need to account for “what’s in it for them”. Your solution should be articulated in such a way that it solves their problem or at least gives the near possible solution to make them happy and enable them to continue doing business with you. Ensure that you constantly engage with them throughout the process of incorporating the solution, such that the process is smooth and error-free.

F – Feedback collection

Measure everything to understand if your customers had a good experience or not. It is extremely important to complete the loop by asking your customers if they were satisfied. Some valid metrics to consider are NPS, which helps you decide if your customers are happy and loyal, and CSAT, which keeps you informed of whether your customers are satisfied with your solution. More than collecting quantitative feedback, it is useful to receive qualitative feedback by asking open-ended questions and also sending surveys with close-ended questions. This feedback should give you an idea of the health of your service.

G – Give importance to data for future reference

As I mentioned earlier, just as how you can predict a customer turning into a loyal customer, it is possible for you to predict if a customer can turn into an angry customer.

This can be done by measuring stats like NPS and CSAT. When you observe a declining trend in such stats you know that a particular customer is not happy with your service and has the potential of getting angry in the future.

When the customers express their anger out in public

Dealing with angry customers differs based on the surrounding parameters like the channel of communication and type of problem. Here are some pointers on dealing with customers who are vocal about their anger.

H – Hear them out

If your customers are facing problems with your service and have tried to reach out to you through multiple sources, then they are probably already out there talking about you on social media. In this age of connectivity and conversations, it is important for you to be available at all touch points and also be aware of what people are saying about your brand and your service. Simply put, it’s imperative that you practise social listening. Be present, observe data, analyze sentiments, and be aware of the context.

AI and ML can be used to accelerate the finding of ‘patterns’ in the huge volumes of data associated with customer interactions captured in the contact centre. You can use these ‘patterns’ for predictive scoring and discovery of key business insights. Just by including this step, you can predict if a customer is going to turn angry in the near future with almost 65-70% accuracy.

I – Insult-proof your ego

Yes, your customers are saying mean things about you out loud. And it’s probably not even your fault. They are saying hateful things and harboring negativity around your brand and service. You are equally disappointed because you feel like you were not given a chance to explain yourself. You are getting a little anxious too. It feels like a personal stab.

At this stage, it’s important to insult-proof your ego. Whatever your customers are saying can be reversed by being genuinely helpful and concerned about them. However, if you let your ego loose, it’s possible that you end up ‘reacting’ instead of ‘responding’ to the problem. And that is only going to rev up the engine further.

J – Justify and provide reasons

Do the drill — apologize, acknowledge, and address the problem on social media. This could be a tweet or a Facebook post; get there and comment. Engage with your angry customers. Let them know that you care. Also, justify and provide reasons for not being available for them at the right time.

K – Keep listening from multiple sources

Provide seamless integration of touchpoints. Let’s say they tweet out something about your company, ensure that you have visibility to such tweets and automatically create a ticket based on the priority. If they DM you on Facebook, ensure that you respond to their query instantly by using a live chat tool that provides integrations with other messaging apps. Multi-channel support helps you truly experience the meaning of connectivity and conversational support.

L – Look for a solution

Most people who are loud on the internet are doing that because they seek attention. You need to be extremely cautious while handling such people, as if you don’t meet their expectations, you are in for the bumpiest ride on the road. When you deal with socially angry people, you need to decode the problem and look for the right solution that would calm them down.

context

M – Motivate them to stay

Think of ways to motivate them. Most brands go behind extrinsic motivation methods to motivate their customers like providing incentives, giving discounts, freebies and so on. Though this is a great way to motivate your customers to stay, the effect of this will only be temporary. Instead, you can try to motivate your customers intrinsically. Give them a choice to decide the way they want to be rewarded for being patient. You can align your compensation with what they believe in. Sometimes you can use this opportunity to give them access to premium features as a token of appreciation; this is more permanent.

N – Nurture them and keep your focus on

The most important step in this journey of cooling down an angry customer in public is to not forget them. Ensure that you keep shouting out to them once in a while. Whenever a new feature or product update happens, tweet to them asking for their feedback. Keep in touch with them. Ask them for feedback at regular intervals. Track the NPS and CSAT provided by them and ensure that it doesn’t dip.

O – Order some extra love

Remember how we spoke about extrinsic motivation not being the best way to cool down your customer’s anger. However, at a stage where they are out of the anger, it’s time to go ahead and pamper them. Send them goodies. Send them some love. Go ahead and send personalized messages and customized gifts. This helps in building a good relationship in the long run. Let’s face it, when have gifts ruined our day?

Some best practices to deal with angry customers

It’s time to reach the last lap of this run. Now that we know how to handle angry customers at two different scenarios, let’s look at some common best practices. You might feel like there are some repetitions, but those are deliberate. It just shows how important that particular step is.

P – Personalize your communication

Personalize your communication to address the right node. Use your customer’s name while sending campaigns. Understand what they like, what they dislike and customize your messages accordingly. Do a quick background check before you address any of the angry comments you receive and try to personalize your message such that it becomes relatable.

personalization

Q – Questions are your best friends

Ask questions not just when your customers are angry but even otherwise. Also, always allow your angry customers an opportunity to talk more by asking open-ended questions instead of close-ended ones.

Questions

R – Remember to analyze the root cause and treat the problem

Always get to the crux of the problem to provide a permanent solution to the problem. By doing so, you also avoid a series of conversations with other angry customers who could get affected because of the same issue.

S – Serve up some “because”

Justifications are extremely important when it comes to dealing with angry customers. You need to take the responsibility to not just apologize but also figure out the problem and inform the angry customer that the problem was caused because of some reason. There is an interesting psychology behind why you should do this. In a behavioral experiment conducted by Harvard at a public library, to test the willingness to allow a person to cut the queue.

  • First try: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. Could I use the Xerox machine?” 60% of the people agreed.

  • Second try: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. Could I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94% of the people agreed, which already shows the power of the “because justification”.

  • Third try: “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. Could I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” Remarkably, 93% of the people agreed – almost as many as with the more or less legitimate reason to cut in line!

That’s the power of the “because justification”.

T – Treat them well

Always maintain a moral high road while solving an anger issue. It might be difficult to be patient while staying on the receiving end, but think of the impact your customer must have had and deal with it accordingly. Remember you are the face of your brand and what you say or do will reflect on the image of the brand.

U – U-turn when needed

Sometimes there are times when the customer takes personal stabs against the customer service agent. They probably do not have any proper reason to be angry in the first place. They are doing all of this to seek attention and manipulate you into giving something profitable. Times like this, learn to part ways with such customers. Remember, it is perfectly fine to give up on customers who do not share the same values as you.

V – Validate using data

In this age of ML and AI, you can easily observe user engagement and other metrics within your product and understand if a customer is getting any value or not. You can use this data to validate if your product is performing well. Also, ensure that you measure behavior instead of attitude. Whenever you measure NPS, ask your customers if they have already recommended your product to their friends instead of asking them if they are willing to recommend. This provides a more accurate view of user analytics.

W – Win for them

Always remember to think on the lines of “what’s in it for them” while addressing queries, providing compensations, working on new features, creating help portals and so on. Think of how your product can make your customers successful. Win for them.

X – Xtra effort

Go an extra mile to solve your customers’ problems, both proactively and reactively. When the data shows that they confused about a particular feature, share the required documentation and send video tutorials proactively. When they are spending too much time on the pricing page, send an in-app trigger message providing a personalized discount.

Y – ‘Yes’ is the magical word

This doesn’t mean you need to keep nodding your head and saying yes to everything that your angry customer demands. But, try to be available for them and be willing to solve the problem. When you think you cannot solve the problem, you should still be able to provide a nearly good alternative to make them happy. Be willing to say yes; be prepared to say yes.

Z – Zero to hero

Be sincerely appreciative of their effort to bring a problem to your notice, however harsh the medium was. Some tactical ego caressing will make your customer feel good, increasing the odds for an open mind. Sending them messages to thank them for pointing out a problem from your end, immediately increases their respect for you. You instantly become their hero.

Zero to hero

Dealing with angry customers might be tougher than rocket science, but the journey leads to fruitful outcomes. The process of inverting a frown and making your angry customer happy is the most fulfilling part of the customer support agent’s daily life. So, how do you deal with angry customers in your company? Let us know!

Blog cover illustration by Sudheesh Chandran!