A 5-Step Process to Calm Angry Customers

In my last post titled "3 Simple Ways to Delight Your Customers," I described a few techniques successful companies can use to delight customers and differentiate their services from the competition.

But unfortunately, let's be honest, despite our best intentions to provide the best customer experience possible, we...mess...up. The product doesn't perform as intended, the customer couldn't get the information they needed, etc. In today's complex world of people, process, and technology, things go wrong. And it's important that our front-line services professionals, whether in customer or technical support, account management, professional services, education, etc., know how to handle these situations and ideally turn them around.

From Detractor to Promoter

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an innovative way to measure customer satisfaction. It's based on one simple question - How likely is it that you would recommend your company to a friend or colleague? Although the details behind NPS and how you measure and interpret the results are beyond the scope of this post, the basic concept of detractors, passives, and promoters is a useful idea to our discussion topic. Essentially, what we're talking about is transitioning an angry customer (detractor) from either someone who is indifferent to your company or ideally, someone who promotes you to his friends or colleagues (promoter). Frankly, this is tough. But studies show that companies are more successful when their customers are more likely to promote their products, which makes a direct impact to the bottom line.

Now that we know a bit about NPS, let's get back to the problem at hand, which is how to handle an angry customer and discuss ways that we can turn the situation around. Ideally this process would flow nicely from start to finish once the individual gets the hang of it. The goal is not to create a rigid process, but to provide some guidelines that can help turn the situation around.

Acknowledge the Customer's Feelings

I realize this may be a bit elementary, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to jump right into problem-solving mode, rather than first recognizing the customer is upset, reframing their concerns, and also ensuring they understand that it's not your (or the company's) intention to mess things up. For example, let's examine this hypothetical response: "I truly apologize that you've had a difficult time with this product. At XYZ Corp, we value your business and unfortunately despite our best intentions, things go wrong. If I can just restate your concerns [insert concerns here]. Is this correct? [customer agrees]. Let's figure out how we can solve this problem together." Notice the last part changes the orientation of the conversation from a potentially antagonistic scenario of the customer against you, to you and the customer against the problem. A subtle but important distinction, which frankly can be used in a variety of conflict resolution scenarios, but in this case is communicating to the customer that you're on their side.

Troubleshoot the Situation

The process to troubleshoot and resolve problems varies across companies. Each company does it differently, and it's beyond the scope here to go into details about how to troubleshoot problems. But here are a few quick tips in this area:

  • Provide Guided Prompts: A tool that provides answers based on a guided tree of questions, also known as agent scripting, can be useful for newer customer support agents to help them narrow down a problem, especially of a technical nature. A comprehensive contact center cloud solution can help in this area.
  • Knowledgebase: No services group is complete without a comprehensive knowledgebase or larger support system (i.e. email distribution groups) where you can pose questions and find answers.
  • Communicate Level of Effort: The best services professionals, if they don't know something, reach out to their colleagues and do extensive research on the issue to provide the best solution possible. They may even test the solution themselves (if the right tools are available) to ensure the problem is resolved. I think the one thing we sometimes forget is reinforcing to the customer the level of effort we expended to arrive at the answer. This helps establish credibility and the customer is less likely to "go over you" if the answer isn't what was expected. "I consulted a few of my colleagues, including one individual who's been here 7 years, as well as my manager, and here's what I discovered, which my testing confirmed..."

Ask for Feedback

The goal of this next step is to get some feedback outside of the original reason the customer called. "How was your Sales experience? What's your experience with other aspects of the product outside of this particular issue? How have I been doing to help you resolve the situation?" The reasons for this are twofold: 1) obtain valuable feedback on other areas from the customer, which hopefully will improve the customer experience overall; 2) create an unspoken understanding with the customer that not all things are bad and hopefully this is an isolated incident that can quickly be resolved.

Make It Better Somewhere Else

At this point in the conversation, the customer has hopefully calmed down and you're well on your way to solving their problem. This is an ideal opportunity to essentially go that extra mile with the customer and provide some additional consulting, product, or service that will make their experience with you better than when they started. The idea is to create an opportunity that the customer didn't have before they called. Are there additional services you could offer (ideally at a very low cost or for free)? Can you provide them with advice on the product (i.e. a quick tip)? Think of this as a quick diagnostic service, similar to getting your car checked from the mechanic. You take your car in to get something fixed and the mechanic also notices your tire had a screw in it, which he quickly fixed at no charge.

Close With a Promise to Follow-up

This last step is critically important. In many cases, companies lose the trust of their customers because they fail to follow-up. This is where a promise keeper tool can help. Promises are logged for later follow-up along with a reminder. This ensures the customer not only receives a call, but any commitments that were made as part of the conversation are also logged and tracked.

At the end of the day, addressing concerns from angry customers is a services professional's biggest challenge. And the reality is that the customer may still decide to take their business elsewhere. But in many cases, by acknowledging the customer's feelings, working through a diligent problem-solving approach, asking for feedback, working to make their experience better, and finally following up on your promises, you improve your chances that the customer will continue their business and maybe even respect you more as a result of the situation.

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