Dealing With Angry Customers

By Sanya Weathers

Things happen. Systems fail, expectations are not met, and sometimes accidents strike out of the blue. Whatever the cause, you’ll eventually have to deal with angry customers. As with everything else in the community sphere, you can plan ahead and have a process in place for how you’re going to handle it. Here are a few tips:

Create the lightning rod yourself: Make the post, create the Twitter hashtag, say something on Facebook. If you don’t, someone else will, but using their choice of words/focus. Think of it as a lightning rod on a tall building. Lightning is going to hit your building. But you can choose where it hits and whether or not it burns down your structure.

Consolidate and direct. Forums: With hot issues currently causing distress for your customers, create the thread for commenting. Merge all user-created threads into your official one, or lock new ones with the explanation that the topic is in progress. Customer service: Add the topic to your phone menu (i.e., press 2 if you are calling about Topic A). Make the topic the top issue on your FAQ. Make a hotlink on your website. No matter what channel we’re talking about, directing the frustration into clear paths will keep your customer service and social media channels from being utterly overtaken.

Keep your perspective. There’s a difference between irritated, justifiably angry, and abusive. If you crack down on every little complaint, you won’t accomplish anything. Also, you’ll need a much larger staff in order to keep up with it all. Who wants to spend money trying to empty the ocean with a bucket? Save your banning energy for abusive behavior. Talk to the angry people.

How do you tell the difference? That’s usually a judgment call, frankly, and requires each person to decide “is this the hill I want to die on?” But the general rule of thumb is that if the customer is making a threat of violence (whether or not he has any intent of following through), it’s abusive. Personal remarks are abusive. Delete/refuse to respond, because a response to either will only escalate the situation.

Do not attempt to transfer blame. Do not post long explanations while the problem is acute. If the problem occurred within the context of your customer’s interaction with your product or service, it is your fault. Don’t waste your time talking about third party service providers, or breakdowns in communication, or whatever, until the problem is resolved. No cheating with the “So and so did it, but I accept the responsibility” either. It is your fault. The end. Hand out the refunds, fix the sprocket, roll back the servers, whatever. Then talk about what went wrong in whatever exhausting detail you want. The hubbub will be less and the audience more receptive if you solve the problem and then explain.

Listen, apologize, offer options. It’s a three step process:

* Step one: Angry people want to be heard, first and foremost. So listen. If in person, don’t interrupt except to ask clarifying questions for your own records. If online, don’t immediately respond to a post with paragraphs of explanation. Just listen.

* Step two: Apologize. Even if it’s not your fault or problem, apologize, and then specify how much time you need to solve the problem/fetch someone senior/get more information.  (Because you set up your emergency plans in advance, you already know who to call for each type of crisis, right?)

* Step three: The thing that makes people the most angry is the feeling that they have lost control. To make angry people happy, you need to give them something they can control. So offer them options – “would you like a refund, or free play time?” “Do you want this virtual item now, or in-game currency next week?” Choice is power. By giving your customer a choice, you’re giving them back the control they lost.

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3 Responses to Dealing With Angry Customers

  1. Marcel (mudbunny) Beaudoin says:

    I have a question based on the first step of your “ Listen, apologize, offer options” Part where you say to listen and not immediately respond.

    How do you decide that the time is right to respond, even if all you have to say is “I have let department X know and as soon as I have more information, I will posts and give an update?” I assume that a big part of it is based upon a feel for your community, experience in CM, etc. But are there any signs that one could look out for that indicates that the time to post something is approaching?

  2. It’s mostly instinct, as you guessed. Generally, I pipe up as soon as I know there’s a problem to let people know I’m listening. Listening is one of those things that doesn’t count unless people know you’re doing it. Then I wait. If we’re on a forum, remember that most people don’t read past the first three pages, so you’ll want to get a substantive response in before that mark is hit.

    You won’t be able to do that if the problem is really big (usually something to do with money). But you can at least post something like what you just said by the end of page three.

    Don’t hesitate to scribble on the top post – or lock the thread and start a new one with your updates in the first post.

  3. Pingback: You Can’t Afford to Ignore Customer Service | Keith Brown

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