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A straightforward guide to managing angry customers

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There comes a moment in any business where you suddenly realize you have angered a customer.

It happens. In fact, it’s completely inevitable – though that’s not going to stop you feeling terrible about it. It’s tough enough to disappoint or let someone down, but if you’ve actively provoked them to anger? That’s not good. It’s not good for how you feel about your business, and it’s also not good for what that customer might do to your business.

It’s a simple fact of life that we humans tend to speak more about bad experiences than good ones. So you can have 1,000 happy customers whose lives you have improved with your product or service, and maybe ten of them will take the time to spread the word online about how great your company is. If you anger the 1,001st customer however, you can be pretty much guaranteed the fact that they will be shouting their bad experience from the rooftops.

So rather than letting it escalate or falling into miserable feelings, you have to roll up your sleeves and take action to right the wrong.

1. Dialog

You have to talk to the customer to be able to rectify the situation. Even if you oversee a huge customer service department, if there’s been a really big error, then the customer is going to want to talk to you.

Not only does this let you get the information you need to go about fixing the problem, but it will also mollify the customer. By having the chance to talk to the boss, they will feel validated in their anger, and convinced that someone is taking them seriously. Half the time, this will be more important to them than actually fixing the problem. We all want to know our concerns are listened to, and by doing that, you’re already well on the road to fixing the problem.

2. Understanding what they want

Let’s be real for a second. If a customer buys a product from you, for example, they may find an issue. They will claim to be raising this issue for the greater good, usually citing safety concerns for other customers as the cause for their anger. Some of this might be legitimate, but… well, the majority of it isn’t. They don’t particularly care about the other customers; they just want you to take their concern very seriously.

That’s why the first thing you should do is promise to investigate how a defective product came into being, citing all manner of root cause analysis investigations and internal reports. This makes them feel better and it helps you identify what went wrong – the very definition of a win/win.

3. Compensation

You don’t want to be asked to compensate the customer; you’re going to want to be the one to venture it. If a customer has to ask for compensation, they’re going to feel you’re not taking them seriously – and as previously discussed, that’s often the cause for a lot of their anger.

The best way of doing this is to ask the customer something like: “I understand the problem and it will be investigated, but I want to compensate you for this too. What did you have in mind to help resolve the issue?”

They will likely name something ridiculous in terms of financial or products, but that’s fine; this is just an opening for negotiation. When you have an idea of what they want – and you raised the point first – you will be able to find a solution by working together, as you have shown you’re willing.

4. Investigate – and keep them informed

If a customer has brought a legitimate concern to your attention, then you do need to go through all the necessary investigations to see what has happened. This should be wide-ranging, from investigating any production machinery to speaking to the staff involved in what has happened.

Importantly, you should keep the angry customer updated on the progress of the investigation. A simple email is sufficient. This again helps to show their concerns have been taken seriously. If you do this, then there’s a chance you might be able to retain that customer. They will be able to think that if problems happen, you are at least thorough about identifying why. This makes your company and products seem all the more reliable.

Do all of the above and even the angriest of customers will soon be feeling far more positive — and you get the benefit of being able to investigate what caused the issue in the first place.

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