How We Handle Angry Customers And Potential Customer Service Disasters

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Every now and then, an angry or dissatisfied customer will call us on our customer support line and it’s not a pleasant situation to deal with. No matter how good your products are or how good your quality control is, inevitably some customer won’t be happy with some part of your business.

And the worst part is that the customer may not always be reasonable. No business is immune to this. If you run your business long enough, getting an angry or unreasonable customer will eventually happen. It’s inevitable.

Don’t Let Customers Leave Angry

Photo By Josh Janssen

Due to the rise of social media, blogging, twitter and other lightning fast means of communication, it’s crucial that you pacify angry customers quickly and efficiently. All it takes is just one tweet, blog post or facebook entry and your reputation could be permanently marred.

The fact is, you never know who you are pissing off. With the ubiquitous rise of blogging, all it takes is one article written by an angry blogger and you’ll immediately see negative articles about your store alongside your search rankings in Google. And any negative press is bad for business.

Just take a look at the many companies that have taken reputation hits across the web. Chances are you’ve seen the video of the UPS guy who delivered packages by throwing them 20 ft from his truck.

Surely, you’ve read at least some negative article or tweet about Best Buy and their sketchy business practices. Granted, these are both large companies but your little online store can be susceptible to bad press as well no matter how small you are.

Having great customer service is becoming increasingly important for all stores. Here’s how my wife and I deal with angry customers including those who make unreasonable requests. 99% of your customers will never complain but how you deal with that remaining 1% will define your reputation.

No customer should be left fuming if you can help it. If you handle the situation correctly, you can even turn a dissatisfied customer into a walking billboard for your business.

We Mentally Prepare Ourselves To Take A Profit Hit

If you take away one thing from this article, it’s that your time, reputation and mental health is far more important than trying to save a few bucks of profit from the sale of your product. If you let it happen, dealing with angry customers can drain away your life force and piss the living hell out of you at the same time. In most cases, it’s not worth it.

Back in the early days, I used to get really worked up and expend a lot of mental energy with dissatisfied customers when I finally came to the realization that all of this mental anguish was over 50 bucks.

Let’s see now….what’s worth more? 50 bucks or my sanity and the potential for a PR disaster? It may take some time, but you’ll come to realize that money isn’t the only factor.

Principles Shminciples

In maintaining a high level of customer service, we sometimes place our principles in the back seat. Whenever an angry customer calls, the first thing I determine within the first few minutes of the conversation is whether the customer is at fault in any way. If the customer is not at fault, then I take steps to rectify the situation even if we are not the ones responsible.

For example, I’d say 90% of the complaints we get are shipping related. Sometimes, the package is not delivered on time. Sometimes, a package gets lost. Even though technically it’s not our fault, we always take responsibility.

If an order hasn’t arrived and there is still time to meet their deadline, we immediately ship them another order at no extra charge. If the order arrives too late and we are aware of their deadline, we give them a full refund including any return shipping fees. We NEVER just blame the shipping carrier and have the customer chase down their package themselves.

What If A Customer Doesn’t Like Our Products?

Most of the time, dealing with angry customers who don’t like our products is easy because we have a fairly flexible return policy. Within 30 days, a customer can make a return and we simply credit their card back with no questions asked. End of story.

But it’s much trickier when a customer orders a personalized product from us which are all final sales. If a customer is dissatisfied with a non returnable item, we usually do one of four things.

Please note that how we behave is situational and depends on the customers behavior. If they are extremely rude and caustic, then we usually do nothing. But since we are in the wedding industry, we try to be understanding for every situation.

  • We offer to reship another of the same item at no additional cost. This usually only applies to personalized items in which the stitching may not have been done cleanly.
  • We discount the item. Sometimes the customer is on the borderline between perceived quality and cost so a discount can rectify the situation
  • We offer up some sort of freebie. For example, if they have ordered a personalized towel, we might send them some blank matching ones for free.
  • We offer them a different replacement item at a heavily discounted price.

The key to pacifying an enraged customer is to immediately disarm the anger by proactively taking action. The impact of the action doesn’t have to be big as long as you demonstrate that you are making an effort to rectify the situation.

Angry customers are prepared for confrontation so if you give them some sort of nugget right away, they will calm down almost instantly. And once they are calm, it is much easier to both agree to a mutually beneficial outcome.

What If The Customer Is Completely Unreasonable?

Once in a blue moon, we get a customer who is completely insane and makes unreasonable demands. I think we’ve only had one or two of these cases, but in general we point them to our store policies which are clearly defined on our website. If you don’t have such a page on your online store website, make one.

Outside of that, we try to remain polite and amiable. If it can be helped, we try not to put the customer on the spot and commiserate with their situation. We also try to propose possible solutions to their problem and point them to people they can contact to get help.

What’s an example of an unreasonable customer? Check out our customer story about The Overdraft Fee Fiasco. The other thing I forgot to mention is that we document all of our unreasonable and unusual customer interactions for our own records.

Specifically, we make sure to archive any and all email correspondence. That way if something slanderous were ever to arise, we could produce documentation to dispute it.

We Factor In The Costs

Of course, catering to angry customers comes at a cost for the way we handle customer support. At the end of the year, we tally up all of the additional costs due to dissatisfied customers and raise prices if need be to compensate for it.

So far, we haven’t had to drastically raise prices as dissatisfied customers have been extremely rare. The key is to anticipate these situations and set aside a budget for it so you can take a profit hit without worrying about it too much.

By handling customer service this way, we’ve turned profit losses into free advertising. When you go above and beyond to please a customer, they will talk to their friends about it and the word will spread. You just have to have faith.

If you are interested, I’ve documented many of our wacky customer interactions in our Customer Stories Section. If you need a good laugh, check them out.

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12 thoughts on “How We Handle Angry Customers And Potential Customer Service Disasters”

  1. Although the old adage is “the customer is always right” – we do have to stand up for our own employees because at the end of the day, they’re the people you work most closely with.

    However, everyone should do everything within their power to satisfy a customer.

    You pointed out social media as being a major factor now. It’s certainly so. I’ve gone on a rant about companies which surprised me to see them respond because they have taken the time to monitor their brand.

    There’s really two parts of customer service now:

    Damage control

    In the up-front customer service, do everything that this post talks about, be prepared to take a financial hit if that’s what satisfies a customer.

    For damage control, your business needs to make sure that if anything does slip up and the customer goes irate, you can engage them afterward (publicly) to solve any issues.

    Do everything to keep your customers – it’s harder and harder to get new ones but retaining them will show additional value after every visit :)

  2. I like the idea of logging your customer complaints and keeping records as you deal with dissatisfied customers. Also, making sure your store policies are easy to find is common sense that too often gets ignored.
    When I worked as a supervisor at a call center (travel agency) I found that often the really unreasonable customer has an issue that is only incidentally related to their complaint with you. It could be that they suspect insolence or disrespect from the person taking their call or they are just in a bad way. Taking the time to fully understand and emphasize with them can be the key. Don’t try to hurry up a solution that may be beside the point.

  3. Even though our return policy is posted clearly, we were still getting angry customers who said they didn’t know about our return policy. We solved this by creating a button that says “I have read and understand the return policy…” and they must click this button to continue checkout. This has reduced both returns AND angry phone calls.

  4. Great advice-from-experience. The best kind. Keeping a record of potential customer fiascos is a great tip, something I’ll have to prepare for.

  5. Julia says:

    Hi Steve, great points. I’ve worked in retail as well, and dissatisfied customers weren’t the rare occurrence. I had a knack though, for almost instantly bringing down the tension.

    All your points are rock solid, and the biggest tip I’d add, esp if you’re talking to the person, is tone of voice. It amazed me how the same exact words spoken by another sales associate with just a tinge of “omg I have to do a return, ugh” would instantly anger the customer. What I would do is as cheerfully as possible, say “Let me see how I might be able to help! Let’s figure this out together.” Works like a charm. The customer is already prepared for battle, so sounding cheerful disarms them instantly, and the interaction usually follows calmly. Plus, it make them feel like you’re working on a puzzle together :)

    On a side note, there’s some companies out there who won’t even respond on social media. Regardless of # of negative comments. I suppose the’re “too bit” to care. Sigh

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