How to Turn Angry Customers into Happy Endings

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How to Turn Angry Customers into Happy Endings

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According to Inc. Magazine writer Andrew Thomas, corporate behemoths Amazon and Apple share a secret to success that most other companies overlook; that is, simply, customer happiness. A happy customer is a loyal customer and one who comes back again and again. Conversely, angry customers can literally destroy your brand and business.

A happy customer may tell a few people about his/her positive experiences with your company. But, a truly angry customer will tell anyone who will listen about just how bad your business has treated them. In another article from Inc. Magazine, Thomas asserts it takes 40 positive customer experiences or reviews to make up for just one bad one (that’s a very sobering statistic.) The same report also states that angry customers are 90% less likely to do business with you again – which makes sense if you think about it.

So, what do you do when a customer is angry? You try your best to avoid the negative fallout an angry customer can unleash by making them happy again; that’s what you do. How do you do that? Well, here’s a few proven methods that can help.

An angry male customer shouting into a telephone.

The (Not So) Secret Weapon: Exceptional Customer Service

The most successful entrepreneurs understand that keeping current customers is a lot more profitable than trying to attract new ones. In fact, a study by Bain & Company claims that, “it costs 5 to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.” With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see why keeping your existing customers happy is so important. So, what’s the secret weapon to keeping your customers happy? You guessed it – customer service.

When done right, customer service can be more profitable than even your best and most expensive marketing efforts. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can use stellar customer service to make even the angriest customers happy again – no matter what type of business you have.

Don’t Hide From Angry Customers

The first step in repairing relationships with angry customers is to make it easy for them to contact your company. Therefore, it is essential you make your phone number, email address, and other contact information easy to find. Entrepreneur magazine claims that your company’s phone number is one of the five most important elements that you should include on the front page of your website. We suggest your phone number may very well be the single most important element on your front page.

If you bury your phone number and contact information with a super-small font at the bottom of the page or on an obscure contact page hidden in a complicated navigation menu, customers will perceive it as your company trying to make it hard for them to contact you.

Not being able to locate your contact information quickly and easily will only infuriate an already angry customer. Therefore, don’t hide; put your phone number and contact information front and center, and make the type font large enough that your customers notice it instantly when they visit your site.

Two outstretched hands engaging in a handshake.

The First 30 Seconds are Critical

When an angry customer calls, an agent has precious little time to make a good first impression. You will virtually seal your company’s fate with the angry customer within the first 30 seconds of the call or interaction. Therefore, you must communicate empathy and establish purpose as quickly as possible. How well you communicate with the angry customer during this very brief window will determine if that customer hangs up happy, or if he/she will run out and tell everyone they know how evil your company is to its customers.

As soon as the angry customer calls and relays a complaint or problem to you, say something along these lines: “Thank you so much for reaching out to us with your problem. I am so very sorry that you’re frustrated. The last thing we want is for you to be unhappy or upset, so we’re going to do everything we can to help you find a solution.”

You (or your agent’s) first goal should be to provide a sincere apology and empathize with the customer. Next, state clearly that you wish to help the customer find a solution – which is, of course, what the angry customer wants. When you let the angry customer know you want to work together toward an acceptable solution, it goes a long way in soothing the customer and diffusing combativeness.

Listen and Let Them Vent

After the customer has communicated their complaints and problems (and you have apologized, of course) let him/her continue to vent and get it all out. If they get loud, so be it; just let them have at it. Remain calm and understand that it’s not you personally they’re angry at – it’s your company.

Don’t interrupt while the customer is describing the issue he/she is having. When the customer takes a breath and pauses for a bit, thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. Next, try to recount (in your own words) what the customer has told you up to that point. Then, ask for more information on the problem by asking relevant follow-up questions. The Better Business Bureau notes that many times when angry customers call, they tend to generalize and not provide specifics. So, the more information you can collect about the issue or problem, the more you can help the angry customer.

A well-dressed call center agent listening attentively on the telephone.

Own the Problem and Establish Mutual Trust

When customers call with complaints, they’re probably angry and more than a little distrustful of your company. So, it’s imperative that you try to win back that trust. One effective way to do this is to “own the problem” and admit any deficiency or shortcoming by your business. When you admit shortcomings (whether real or perceived), most customers will let their guard down and start to engage in a more productive dialogue that will enable you to help solve the problem.

Don’t focus entirely on the technical or practical aspects of the problem the customer is having. Many times, the customers may indeed cause issues or problems themselves through a lack of understanding of your products or service. Nevertheless, the emotional aspect of the problem is very real and something you should never ignore. Even when you’re in the right, admitting some liability or responsibility can make the customer feel cared for and address the purely human and emotional side of the issue.

Tips for Gaining Trust From Angry Customers

  • Use simple and direct language to own the problem. Phrases such as “we messed up” or “this is our fault” help accept responsibility for the problem and build trust.
  • Don’t say, “I don’t know.” Instead, use more positive language such as, “let me find out for you.”
  • Instead of saying, “I am new here,” say, “I need to check with a colleague.”

These phrasing tips will help deescalate the situation and speed the path to repairing the relationship with the customer.

Respect the Time of Angry Customers

Tending to an angry customer’s complaint or problem as quickly as possible is key to calming the customer and deescalating the situation. When angry customers call, nothing is more frustrating for them than having to wait on hold for a long time or being passed from one agent to another and having to repeat their complaints and problems over and over. This alone can turn a merely disgruntled customer into a furious one.

Make sure that the first person to speak to the angry customer records all the relevant details of the problem before passing the customer off to someone else (try to avoid handoffs altogether if possible.) This will save both your customer and your company precious time and accelerate the de-escalation process.

Practice the Art of Effective Listening

In an excellent 2019 blog post from the Customer Service Institute of America, writer Christine Churchill discusses the importance of effective listening. In the post, Churchill writes that “listening is not the same as hearing” (an excellent point.) Listening is an active process that requires a conscious decision to really try to understand what the other person is saying (as well as the underlying message.)

Learning how to truly listen takes time and practice. So, here are some ways you can help yourself (or your phone agents) improve effective and reflective listening skills:

Pay Attention and Show It

When dealing with an angry customer, it’s not only important to pay complete attention, you must show that you’re doing so as well. This is easier to do when talking to a customer in person. However, even during a phone call, an agent can still show that he/she is paying attention by agreeing with a soft-spoken “yes” or “mmm-hmm” to encourage the caller to continue speaking.

Be Patient

By nature, we are often tempted to interrupt a conversation when there are a few seconds of silence. However, to truly listen means to give the other person enough time to explore their own thoughts before continuing. Therefore, give the person adequate time and space before asking questions or making your own comments.

Mind Your Body Language

Posture and body language play a very important role when speaking with someone in person. And while it may not seem as important when talking on the phone, it really is. When you sit up straight, you tend to pay more attention to details. Focused attention to detail is the heart of true listening.

Ask Questions

When the angry customer indicates that he/she wants you to speak or react, ask clarification questions relevant to the complaint or problem. This not only helps to clarify the customer’s statements but also shows you’re engaged and invested in the conversation.

Reflect and Summarize

When it comes to learning how to truly listen, mastering the art of reflection can be a very powerful skill. Reflective listening involves repeating or paraphrasing important parts of what the angry customer has already said. Reflective listening also shows a deeper understanding of the problem. Summarizing the conversation (in a clear and concise manner) helps solidify trust with an angry customer by enforcing the importance of the points made in the conversation.

Two women sitting at a desk trying to solve a problem.

Solve the Customer’s Problem

Angry customers don’t call for no reason; they all have problems that need to be solved. Therefore, helping them find solutions to their problems is of paramount importance for your company’s brand and reputation – even if the problems are not necessarily your company’s fault. When angry customers reach out, they should never hang up feeling like your company did nothing to help them resolve their issues.

As soon as it’s reasonably possible to do so during the call, try to offer the angry caller options to resolving the problem. Offering options not only starts to build rapport between the agent and the customer, it involves the caller in the process – which goes a long way in establishing mutual trust.

Make the Caller the Priority

If the caller needs tech support, make it a priority, and provide ways to help him find it. If a service or product is unduly delayed, apologize, and help her get it faster. Whatever the problem, offer the angry caller options and you’ll be on the path to making your angry customer happy again.

Even if you can’t offer a direct solution for the problem immediately, or if you need to contact someone else to help out, be sure to do everything possible to at least start the process of fixing the problem. This may be as simple as providing them with the phone number or contact information of someone better equipped to handle the problem (so they don’t have to search for it themselves.)

Another simple way to help may involve telling the angry customer exactly what he/she needs to say when contacting another party to expedite handling and resolution of a problem. There are many more situation-specific things you may do to get the ball rolling. But in short, anything you can do to help during the call will help repair your company’s relationship with the angry customer.

Empower Your Front-Line Team

Whenever an angry customer calls, the goal should always be first call resolution (if at all possible.) Resolving or fixing your unhappy customer’s complaint or problem the first time does more than anything else in turning your customer’s scowl into a smile. One of the most effective ways to do this is by empowering your front-line CSRs or agents.

In an informative Scorebuddy blog post, the writer advises companies should not micro-manage, and that they should give decision-making authority and trust to front-line customer service agents. When customers call to complain, agents should feel like they have the authority and tools to make the best choice or decision for a given situation.

This type of trust is a true asset that allows agents to provide the best customer service possible. Of course, the type of authority given to agents will vary broadly depending on the type of business you have. Nevertheless, always make sure you empower your agents with all the tools and decision-making authority they need to make your customers happy.

Dangers of Not Empowering Your Agents

Alright, we’ve covered why it’s a good idea to empower your CSRs or agents with enough authority to provide exceptional customer service. But, let’s take a deeper look. In a Forbes Technology Council article, writer Vasudeva Akula warns of the many pitfalls associated with not empowering your front-line team. With that in mind, here are some of the things that can happen when you don’t enable your agents with the tools and authority they need to succeed:

Sends Inconsistent Message

If yours is like many modern businesses, your customers interact with your company across several channels. If your agents are not aware of and well versed in your brand’s messaging (across all touchpoints), they could be sending the wrong signals, over (or under) promising, and failing to offer your customers the service and support levels they deserve.

No View of the Bigger Picture

Your agents should always know what’s going on in all areas or departments of your company that are relevant to their roles. If they’re not, agents may not understand how to represent your brand effectively or how they fit into the bigger picture of providing service and support for your customers. When agents don’t have a clear view of the big picture, they may only focus on their part of a customer engagement and not consider the customer’s overall experience after the call ends.

Reduced Productivity

Many times, customer-facing agents may not have adequate context or information about the angry customer on the other end of the call. This leads to agents not being able to answer customer-specific questions, find required information quickly, or offer angry customers satisfactory solutions. So, make sure that your agents have database, membership, and/or other relevant data at their disposal for quick and effective access.

Long Average Handling Times

When agents are not empowered with the authority to make decisions, they must reach out to supervisors or managers to seek approval to offer certain types of resolutions. Of course, this takes time and requires that angry customers wait even longer to have their problems solved.

Poor Customer Experiences

Angry customers call to have their complaints heard and their problems solved. When agents don’t have the tools they need to help customers rectify issues, the entire customer experience is put at risk. Poor customer experiences lead to high customer churn, which (of course) results in lower revenues and profits.

Follow Through and Communicate Every Step

Always follow through on the promises and statements you make to angry callers. If you tell the angry customer you’re going to do something, make sure you do it. Once you take a step in solving the customer’s problem, reach out by phone, text, or email and let them know what you’ve done to further the problem-solving process. Also, let them know you will follow up again soon with more information or progress.

If you’re dealing with more customers than agents are able to communicate with personally, ensure that you have a system in place that informs customers of resolution progress and keeps them updated. This is important – even if the same person is not always able to reach out and update the angry customer.

Check In and Follow Up

Once you’ve been able to resolve a complaint or problem successfully for a customer, don’t forget that there is still work to be done. Reconnecting with what was once an irate customer can be scary, and it is tempting to just let that customer be on his/her own way to avoid any further potential conflicts. Nevertheless, reaching out to the customer (after a few days perhaps) is yet just another step in ensuring that the customer is happy.

Following up and ensuring that the customer’s problem was actually solved is a fantastic way to let them know that your company truly cares and that you do indeed value their patronage. The more personal the follow up appears to be, the better. Nevertheless, even an automated form or email is much better than nothing. Either way, the customer will surely feel much warmer and fuzzier than when the ordeal began.

A group of female cheerleaders holding pom-poms.

Turn Angry Customers into Brand Ambassadors

According to Andrew Thomas of Inc. Magazine, angry customers can become some of your very best customers and brand advocates – if you’re able to solve their problems, take responsibility and show the proper amount of empathy and humility. If you adhere to the strategies in this post, there’s a very good chance you can indeed make angry customers happy again. Once you do, though, it’s time to put them to work for you (in a sense.)

After you’ve solved the customer’s problem, and after you’ve reached out to follow up, wait about a week. Then, reach out again and ask if they’re still happy with the resolution. Also, be sure to reaffirm just how important they are to you as a customer. If the customer indicates they are still happy, ask if they would be willing to leave a positive review on the site or platform relevant to your business (i.e. Facebook, Google, Trustpilot, Yelp, etc.) But make sure that they understand it is perfectly fine if they don’t, as this will reduce perceived pressure or allow them to think about it and perhaps do it later.

If you are persistent and consistent, your dedication to your customers will pay off. If you’re committed to keeping your customers happy and providing the best customer service experiences possible, your customers will sing your company’s praises in no time – instead of doing business with your competitors.

Know When and How to End Abusive Customer Interactions

When angry customers call, it’s only natural that they might speak with a loud voice or perhaps not say the nicest things about your company. So, when your customers are mad, you should expect them to be loud, and there’s nothing you can really do about that (except try to make them happy again.) Nevertheless, there is a big difference between being angry and being abusive.

As awful as it sounds, abusive customers are not at all uncommon. And according to a Zendesk blog post, abusive customer behavior is on the rise. If your agents have done everything possible to deescalate the situation and tried to make the customer happy, make sure they hand the call off to a manager who can then inform the customer (in polite but no uncertain terms) that such language and/or behavior cannot be tolerated.

If an unruly customer continues to scream, shout, or use obscenities, don’t hesitate to terminate the call immediately. Just as it’s important to do everything possible to make your customers happy, it’s equally important to “have your employees’ backs.” Your agents should absolutely know that they can pass off abusive customers to managers and that they don’t have to just sit there and take it. When it comes to abusive customers, it is imperative that you make the psychological safety of your agents and employees an absolute top priority.

A woman holding up her hand with the word “stop” written on it.

Bonus: What Not to Do!

Knowing how to reconcile with angry customers is important in rebuilding relationships and trust. But it is equally important to know the things you should never do when dealing with angry customers (that is, if you want to win them back.) So, if you do not want to infuriate your angry customers even further, never do any of the following:

Don’t Take it Personal

When angry customers call, they are not angry at you (the agent); they’re mad at your company. So, if the customer talks loudly or says impolite things, don’t take it personal. This is hard to do at first, but after a while, you’ll learn to not let angry customers bring you down.

Don’t Delay Responses or Follow-Up Actions

If you tell an angry customer you’re going to do something, do it – and as quickly as possible. Don’t delay responses or follow-ups with information that may be helpful in calming the customer or helping them solve their problem. The faster you can follow through and ultimately solve the problem, the better it is for everyone concerned.

Don’t Fail to Be Attentive or Let the Customer Vent

When angry customers call, they want (above all else) to be heard and shown they’re cared about. So, NEVER fail to pay attention to what customers are saying or interrupt them prematurely while they are telling you about their issues and problems. Remember, making a customer happy again begins and ends (100%) with listening.

Don’t Focus Only on Practical/Technical Aspects of the Problem

Not all customers are adept at following directions or understanding how products or services work. Therefore, angry customers will often call with issues or problems that are of their own making. When this happens, it’s easy to pass the problem off as customer or user error and deny any liability or responsibility. Still, the emotional aspect of the customer’s complaint or problem is real and something an agent should never trivialize. Just because the customer doesn’t understand why he is having a problem doesn’t mean he doesn’t need help.

Don’t Blame the Customer

As mentioned in the section above, customers sometimes create their own problems or issues. Even so, you should never (never, ever, never) blame the customer. Instead of blaming the customer, it is much easier to just see if you can help the customer with his/her issue and move on. If an agent does blame a customer, the situation becomes much more explosive. Then, you probably have a “next to zero” chance of winning that customer back (unless you offer often outlandish and expensive concessions.)

Don’t Forget to Apologize

Earlier in this post, we discussed how important owning the problem and apologizing is in leading your customer back to a happy path. Still, it bears repeating. Even if it’s not the fault of your business, never forget to apologize. Even if you cannot honestly apologize for a fault with your business, you can still tell the customer you’re sorry that they’re unhappy and having problems. A simple apology costs your business nothing and is a giant stride towards making your customer happy again.

Extra: The Types of Angry Customers You Can Expect

A customer can become angry or dissatisfied for any number of reasons. So, it’s important to realize that every customer is unique and has their own needs in terms of emotions and/or experiences with your company. When it comes down to it, though, dealing with angry customers effectively boils down to listening, empathy, and understanding. That said, it’s important to understand the type of angry customer you’re dealing with when they call. In most cases, angry customers fall into one of the following three categories:

Reasonable (But Justifiably Angry) Customers

These types of customers are mad and justifiably so. These customers have a clear-cut problem that results from some sort of failure on the part of your company. These types of issues are usually the easiest to solve, though, as the company controls all the processes or resources needed to address the problem. On the other hand, these types of customers are potentially the most dangerous for your company because they have legitimate complaints they can share with others (and many others) if they feel they must.

When a customer’s anger is justified, it has the potential to escalate very quickly and become an even more serious issue. With justifiably angry customers, the handling of complaints or issues must be made a priority. If necessary, management should step in and address the problem to ensure it is resolved as quickly as possible. Moreover, the importance of an apology to this type of angry customer cannot be stressed enough.

This type of customer is also the easiest to make happy again (in most cases.) If you listen, apologize, and solve the problem, this type of customer will (more often than not) give your company another chance and reward you with loyalty and continued patronage.

Angry Customers Who Are Irrational or Demanding

In many cases, irrationally angry customer are upset about issues over which your company has no control. These types of customers can be extremely difficult to deal with and require a lot of patience and empathy. With irrationally angry customers, the issue or complaint is usually more emotional in nature and requires agents to deal with the customer’s emotions rather than actual problems with your products or services.

The best you can really do for irrationally angry customers is to let them vent, apologize, use reflective listening techniques, and let them know you understand their frustrations. Afterwards, helping the customer manage their expectations or directing them to a more appropriate source of information for the problem can go a long way in helping resolve the issue.

In some cases, customers use anger and aggression to try to bully a company into giving them what they want – even if they’re not justified in doing so. If this is the case, it may be best to offer the angry customer a stop-gap solution that allows for a cooling-off period. If an irrational, angry customer persists in demanding things that are not reasonable, you might have to stand your ground, limit their options, and just ask them to choose. When irrational customers are presented with calm, yet firm, boundaries, most will become more reasonable.

Angry Customers vs. Rude and Abusive Customers

We already covered abusive customers to a degree. However, before you end a call with an abusive customer, or cut all ties completely, try to at least allow the customer to self-correct and rejoin the conversation in a more polite and productive manner.

Let the customer vent and listen to his/her full complaint. Once the customer stops ranting, acknowledge the problem and their frustration calmly, and then move on to providing potential solutions immediately. When trying to salvage a conversation with a rude or abusive customer, it’s best not to engage with them too much on an emotional level, as doing so could set off the person even more.

If possible, try to move past hurtful or abusive statements in the beginning without engaging. Try to focus on the part of the complaint or problem that is relevant to the business (forget about everything else.)

If the customer uses particularly hurtful or abusive words, the agent should pass off the call to management immediately. A manager can then make the decision to try to help the customer or terminate the call immediately.

IA Solutions – We Keep Your Customers Happy

At IA Solutions by IA Call Center, we have over 50 years of experience in helping our partners keep their customers happy and increase customer retention. When you partner with IA Solutions by IA Call Center, we tailor our services with the sole intent of pleasing your customers or clients with stellar customer service.

Our tried-and-true methods are ingrained into every IA Solutions by IA Call Center agent and help ensure customer satisfaction and happiness. Happy customers are repeat customers (not to mention your best marketing tool.) At IA Solutions by IA Call Center, we understand this and keep your customers happy and content through world-class call center support experiences.

If you would like more information on how partnering with IA Solutions can help you increase customer satisfaction and retention, please contact us for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by clicking here.

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Ian Tempro, Head of Special Projects, at IA Solutions by IA Call Center writes about his 20+ years of extensive contact center experience in leadership, client relationships, operations and specialized vertical markets.

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