Whether you’ve worked in support for a month, or a decade, you will have run into an angry customer. Maybe they’re angry because of something you did or something out of your control. But why they are angry doesn’t matter; it’s up to you to fix it.
Angry customers can be some of the most nerve-wracking people to come into the inbox. You can never be quite sure whether what you say is going to solve or exacerbate the issue.
To quell some of those nerves, we’ve put together a guide on the three most common types of angry customers that you’ll run into, and the best approach for handling each.
What are the types of angry customers?
There are three main types of angry customers:
- those that were angry before they reached out to you
- those that became angry during your interaction
- those that became angry after the interaction was over.
At a glance, all angry customers might appear the same but, they are not all created equal. Depending on the condition that each customer came to you in, you will need to handle the interaction differently.
Some customers are angry before they email
If a customer sent an angry email even before you’ve had a chance to speak with them, you might be feeling frustrated and discouraged. But the good news is that these are usually the least tricky to rectify.
Customer support emails work best using the same three components. Think of them as the flour, water and eggs in your cake. These components are:
- Acknowledge their frustration and restate it back to them in your own words.
- Align with them, let them know you’ve heard and understand that it’s a big deal.
- Assure them you will resolve the issue if you are not able to do so in the first email.
The main emphasis in your response should be to align with them and let them know that you have heard what they are saying and that it is valid. Here’s an example:
There are a few key things this customer is saying that will give you a clue on how to best align with them:
- “I can’t believe…”,
- “…without letting me know…”,
- “I was not expecting…”
Some of the customer’s anger is coming from their feeling that they were not kept in the loop. It’s also possible that they are angry because they may feel “stupid” for missing something that was probably written on the site.
Just to be clear: the customer is not stupid, and should not be made to feel that way, even if they had to click through several “accept” screens in order to actually sign up to make a payment.
Everyone’s been here: You sign up for something and you’re so excited about using it that you don’t bother to read the full print.
Use that feeling to craft a response that makes the customer feel like you get it, and that you want to help.
Acknowledge your customer’s frustration
Acknowledging the customer’s frustration and that you hear them. A good way to do this is to say:
“Thanks so much for emailing about this—I’m sorry to hear that you were caught off guard by our billing.”
This is a concise and quick way to reiterate what you perceive as the problem. It gives them an opportunity to feel heard by you, or, to correct you if you are wrong about t the issue.
Align with the customer’s frustration
After you’ve acknowledged and restated the issue, align with them:
“I can totally get how it can be frustrating to receive a charge that you weren’t expecting, especially when you’ve just started to use our tool.”
This lets them know that you are on their side and that when they say they’ve been wronged.
Assure the customer that a fix is on the way
Customers need to feel secure. Assure them that you will help them fix the issue. Something like:
“Could you share a bit more information with me so that we can get to the bottom of this? For example, would you mind sending me the username associated with your account along with the date that you received the charge? Using that, I can take a look in our system and see how we can get this fixed for you.”
What if the customer becomes angry during the interaction
Some customers will get agitated as the interaction goes on. This could be because of something you said or perhaps something they’ve experienced while using your product.
The two most common causes of this are:
- Misinformation from the support representative
- Confusion and subsequent frustration on the part of the customer.
Either way, it’s up to you to resolve it. Here’s the kind of response you might get from a customer in this category
No one enjoys being on the receiving end of that, but you should be able to turn it around using a few quick tricks.
The important thing to emphasize in your response is acknowledgement. Based on the language in their email, it seems they feel that you are not listening or have not understood their problem as clearly as you could.
Acknowledge the customer’s frustration
Acknowledging that you heard what they are saying and understand what they are going through can help to bring both of you back to a solid playing field.
It might be good to start off your reply email with something like:
“I can definitely see how this would be frustrating for you—I apologize that I misunderstood the trouble you were running into when you first emailed in. It seems like the issue that you are having is actually [X], rather than [Y] like I originally thought.”
This allows you to take culpability for the frustration, but also iterate what you think the problem actually is.
Align with the customer
Then, align with the customer:
“I know that having to go through multiple troubleshooting steps and not having any of them work can be a real pain, especially when you have more important things to be doing.” Lastly, let them know that you have been looking into the issue, and that you think it should be resolved: “That being said, I think we might have gotten to the bottom of this.”
Usually, a response that takes this approach will diffuse the anger that a customer is feeling, and will allow them to take a step back and see the situation a bit more clearly.
Angry after they emailed
Occasionally, a customer will leave an interaction feeling good and then realize, after the fact, that something didn’t go as well as it could have.
While sometimes the customer will email back in to let you know that they are upset, more frequently they will comment in your review system.
They could have left a “Happy” review immediately after the interaction was over, and then a few days (or weeks) later leave an “Unhappy” review that says something like:
“I thought everything was sorted, but when I went to go back and follow Mark’s advice it didn’t actually work. Feeling really disappointed. I’ll probably just stop using this product.”
Usually, in this case, the best way to handle it is to reach back out to the customer.
I find that assuring them is the best focus in your email, as it lets them know that this issue won’t happen again.
“I noticed that you left a review on your interaction with me that mentioned that the solution I’d offered didn’t work for you, so I wanted to reach out and see if we could get it fixed.”
“I know that you didn’t respond directly to my email and left a review instead. If you’ve decided that you don’t want to work through this any further, I totally understand. If that’s the case, please just ignore this email. Otherwise, could you let me know what steps didn’t work as expected?”
“Once I have a bit more information, I’m happy to help get everything resolved for you.”
Usually the customer does not provide the necessary information about what has happened or isn’t working as expected and so you’ll have to ask for it. Try to say this so that it doesn’t sound like the resolution will take a long time to find, or they may be reticent to respond.
Even the angriest customers can be comforted
There is never a one-size-fits-all solution for an angry customer—people all handle their emotions differently.
The optimal solutions will always keep the customer’s specific language and reactions in mind. Rather than copying by rote, take the things that resonate with you and make sense for your customer and leave the rest.
As long as you are working your hardest to assuage their concerns and get them where they need to go, even the angriest of customers will eventually be comforted.