6 Steps to Defuse (and Retain) the Upset Customer


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According to the Customer Experience Impact Report from Harris Interactive, 86% of consumers will stop doing business with a company if they are dissatisfied with the customer service experience. Not only that, they will communicate their negative experience with 9 to 15 people, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs; 13% will tell more than 20 people.

In addition to the negative opinions formed and communicated about your organization, is it estimated that acquiring a new customer costs five to seven times more than keeping an existing one. So dealing with the angry or upset customer presents a tremendous challenge, opportunity and potentially lasting effect that reaches far beyond customer service to all levels of an organization.

Being prepared for that upset customer’s call, email, chat message or Facebook post or tweet is the half the battle. When service and support reps can go into proactive mode rather than the instinctive reactive mode, these widely-accepted next steps can potentially turn even the most volatile customer into a loyal and satisfied advocate for both the CSR and the brand:

1. Listen to emotion without emotion. According to a Psychology Today article, Let Their Words Do the Talking by John R. Schafer, Ph.D., “Anger must be vented before offering problem solving solutions.” Let the customer convey his or her complaint before offering a reply, and remember that their problem is not with you personally. The customer is yelling (or typing in all caps) to you, not at you, and in the end, they are wanting your help. Allowing them to initially vent without interrupting is a key to initiating calm.

2. Let the customer know you are truly listening. Take notes about their experience (and if you have the opportunity, let the customer know you are going to take notes, which will decrease the speed and volatility of the conversation). After the customer has voiced his or her frustration, repeat the issue back to them and ask if the information you have is correct. The art of quiet and thoughtful listening makes the consumer feel that what they’re saying to you is truly important. And asking a closed-ended question such as “is this correct?” will hopefully lead to a calming keyword: “yes.”

3. When it’s your turn to offer a reply, apologize, empathize and maintain a calm and caring tone. Most customers can tell, whether in writing or voice, if the communication you’re offering is scripted or simply half-hearted. To get in the right frame of mind to reply with care to a customer who has been shouting at you for the last 20 minutes, imagine that customer is holding a sign that says “make me feel important” or imagine the customer is a “mystery shopper” evaluating your skills at delivering a positive customer experience under challenging circumstances.

Suggestions for phrases that apologize or empathize, without throwing another co-worker or your brand under the bus, include: “I apologize. That must have been very frustrating for you;” “I appreciate you telling me your concerns,” or “I’m sorry we’ve let you down on this issue. I will do everything in my power to get this quickly resolved.”

4. Take responsibility. The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer notes that three of the top four customer service complaints are passing the buck, having to wait too long for an issue to be resolved, and being shuffled from channel to channel or service representative to service representative.

Never send the customer somewhere else or tell them to call back at another time where they’ll have to repeat their negative experience. Thank the customer for giving you the opportunity to address the matter, and to the best of your ability, address it then and there.

5. Resolve or repair as quickly as possible. Tell the customer the next steps you are going to take and how soon they will be taken. Even though customers may threaten when upset, most would rather not have to look for a new product or service provider. According to Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke in the book Service America, “Of the customers who register a complaint, between 54 and 70% will buy again if their complaint is resolved. The ?gure goes up to a staggering 95% if the customer feels the complaint was resolved quickly.”

6. Follow up. To ensure customer satisfaction, take a few minutes to follow up with a quick email, post, tweet or call. This common courtesy makes a valuable statement about you and your organization’s level of customer care.

A widely-circulating statistic notes that 95% of unhappy customers don’t complain; they just leave and go to a competitor. Angry customers who contact your organization are giving you and your brand the opportunity to make things right, keep their business and possibly create a satisfied brand advocate. Be ready for their call, email, message or social media post.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tricia Morris
Tricia Morris is a product marketing director at 8x8 with more than 20 years of experience at technology companies including Microsoft and MicroStrategy. Her focus is on customer experience, customer service, employee experience and digital transformation. Tricia has been recognized as an ICMI Top 50 Thought Leader, among the 20 Best Customer Experience Blogs You Must Follow, and among the 20 Customer Service Influencers You Must Follow.


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