In a perfect world, there would be no angry customers. Product configuration would work flawlessly. It would arrive on time. And no customer would wait—listening to elevator music—for 20 minutes on the phone.
But absent that perfect world, you will have angry customers. And when they get tired of waiting on hold, they will send angry emails. Despite their best efforts, most organizations will occasionally frustrate some of their customers.
In some industries, this occurs with alarming frequency. But regardless of the industry, customer problems have a powerful impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Whether you’re hearing from your angry customer by phone or email, your goals are similar: Fix the problem and convert an angry customer into your biggest fan.
Many companies try to reduce the number of customer complaints. We’re all familiar with the request to “put that in writing.” This is exactly the wrong approach to take with customer complaints.
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A quality CRM approach describes a “world class” complaint handling system. When customer complaints are handled well, most customers will remain loyal. But when complaints are discouraged or handled poorly, a loss of customers is certain to follow.
Follow these 10 tips for answering email from angry customers and you’ll solve the customers’ problems and soothe their anger.
- Restate the problem.
Before you answer an angry customer’s email, show that you understand the problem. If the customer has included all relevant information in the email, you should simply restate the problem and then set about solving it. Quote or paraphrase the customer’s own wording to show you’ve read the email carefully. Include all relevant information you have about the customer: purchase history, account number, previous customer service contact, etc. But if you don’t understand the problem completely, see Tip 2.
- Ask for clarification.
Angry customers may not write clearly. The customer may be unskilled, or his email may have degenerated into a rant about the company rather than an explanation of the problem. So you may have to ask the customer to clarify the problem: “I need some more information to solve your problem with the replacement parts for your storm door handle. Were the parts you received broken, or did you receive the wrong parts?” You may also have to clarify how the customer would like the problem resolved. Unless you clearly understand the problem and the preferred solution, you’re bound to make the customer even angrier.
- Personalize your response.
Nothing infuriates an angry customer more than the feeling that no one is listening.
Thank you for your email. We take our customers’ problems seriously and are glad to hear from you.
Personalizing an email to an angry customer reassures him or her that you’re hearing the complaint loudly and clearly.
Use the customer’s name and title: Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Dr. Or use the customer’s signature as your salutation: “Tom Marquez,” “Dr. Marquez” or even simply “Tom.”
Review the customer’s account information and incorporate it into your response:
We’re proud that you’ve selected us as your solution provider for the last three years, and we would like the opportunity to keep you as a satisfied customer.
Sign your email. An angry customer needs to know a real human is trying to solve his problem.
- Say how you will respond to the problem.
Angry people want action, so you must specifically explain how you will resolve the problem. If the resolution is complicated, outline the steps you will take. If possible, tell the customer when actions will occur:
We will immediately trace the shipment to see exactly what went wrong.
We will issue a credit for the shipping costs; this credit will appear on your next statement.
- Put good news first.
If you can make the customer happy, put the good news first and the empathy second.
We are happy to refund your money, as you requested.
We understand the frustration of not receiving a magazine publication.
But if you can’t make the customer happy—if you have to tell the customer no—put the empathy first and the “bad news” second.
We understand the frustration of not receiving a publication. We can send you out a new one.
- Use a polite, positive tone.
You may be tempted to match the customer’s angry or accusatory tone:
You may have just misplaced your publication, and we do not cover your incompetence.
But you should never do this. It’s merely matching fire with fire, and it will only escalate the problem, leading to more email! Keep your tone polite and positive:
The problem you’re having seems to be the result of our publication not being delivered in a timely manner.
- Avoid scolding the customer.
Emphasize the pronouns “I” and “we,” rather than “you.” Don’t write:
Your order was not filled, because you didn’t include your mailing address on the order form.
We didn’t fill your order because we didn’t have your mailing address.
- Acknowledge the customer’s reason for being mad.
Maybe the problem is not your company’s fault, and maybe you can’t fix the problem. But you can acknowledge the customer’s frustration.
- When you are at fault, apologize.
When your company is at fault, apologize. Make your apology genuine and specific. Don’t write:
We’re sorry for the confusion regarding your scholarship application.
We apologize for posting the wrong date on your scholarship application. We’ve corrected this error.
- Satisfy the customer by offering something of value.
If your policy allows, give your angry customer a product, a discount or a rebate:
We can offer you a $20 credit.
Answering angry emails is hard work. And unlike resolving a customer’s problem over the phone, doing so by email doesn’t give you the chance to hear the relief in the customer’s voice or experience, in real time, the gratification of turning the customer’s anger into appreciation. But by following these steps, you can feel good in knowing that you’ve done your best to soothe the angry customer.