You may know that we’re big on Amazon customer service here at Efficient Era. It’s a great way to increase conversions, create loyal customers, prevent/change negative reviews… we do nothing but sing its praises. However, customer service, as effective as it can be, comes with a dark side — the dreaded angry customer.

Although angry customers won’t be yelling at you over the phone on Amazon, they can still be frustrating and emotionally draining to deal with over email or otherwise. However, it’s very possible to appease them; it’s even possible to turn them into a loyal customer if you handle the situation well enough. While not every customer can be placated this way, it's always worth a shot.

An important note before we get started: This advice applies not only to direct customer emails, but also to negative reviews. Negative reviews are often left by angry people, as you may be able to tell, but they shouldn’t always be seen as a blemish on your product page. Negative reviews are often an opportunity to provide a positive customer service experience and solve a frustrating problem. Recognize those cries of help and respond to negative reviews as you would to any other angry/unhappy customer.

Without further ado, let's go through some tips for dealing with these grumpy folks.

1. Be Quick

Remember, when you’re dealing with an angry customer, every aspect of a company’s response that would normally count as ‘slightly annoying’ quickly escalates into ‘infuriating’ territory. Response time is probably the biggest one of these.

A ‘normal’ customer with a question or comment will be unimpressed if you’re a few days late in your response. An angry customer will be blind with rage. Lateness communicates to them that you don’t care enough about your product or your business to stand behind them post-purchase, which is something you never want a customer to think. If they also left a negative review, be prepared to look at it every day, because it’s not going anywhere.

Naturally, you should strive for a quick response time in every customer interaction. However, with angry customers, a quick response become even more critical. Consider classifying these emails in a different, high-priority folder so that they can be responded to and dealt with swiftly.

Note that response time plays out a little differently when responding to a direct customer email versus responding to a negative review. Of course, tardiness is to be avoided in both cases — too late in replying to either one and the customer is already gone.

Here's where the difference lies, though: when you’re replying to an angry email, timeliness is the norm. You don't gain anything because you're doing what's expected. Replying quickly to a review, on the other hand, often exceeds expectations.

Customers don’t usually expect replies to their negative reviews, so if you quickly reach out to them and offer a solution, you’ve shown that you truly stand behind your product and care about your customers — they may be more forgiving and willing to listen.

2. Acknowledge Their Concerns

The quickest way to disarm an angry person is to agree with them.

Most of the time, an angry customer walks (or emails) in with fists raised, ready to fight. Arguing with them is the absolute worst thing you could do — it will only escalate the situation and guarantee a bad ending. On the other hand, when you simply admit that you messed up, customers feel validated — and are often more willing to talk.

“You’re absolutely right — the state your product arrived in was unacceptable, and far below our standards. I’m going to do my best to make it better for you.”

That’s all it takes.

Remember that excuses count as arguing, so you shouldn't make any. This is sometimes tough, as many issues are legitimately not your fault. However, the customer couldn't care less about what rough patches your business is going through. Those are your problems, not theirs.

All that matters when dealing with an angry customer is letting them know that their concerns are being taken seriously and that you (as the representative of your business) take responsibility and are willing to help. Whether you're actually responsible is beyond the point — you need to tell the customer what they want to hear if you want the conversation to become productive.

3. Solve the Problem

This might seem like the most obvious step, but there are a number of things to consider when you’re actually solving an angry customer’s problem.

Here's the thing: offering a solution is rarely the most difficult part of dealing with an angry customer. Ordering a replacement unit can take 30 seconds, but you can’t just jump the gun and throw a new unit at them right away — you risk seeming callous and dismissive.

Therefore, “solving a problem” doesn’t just involve the technical side — you also have to address the emotional side. An angry customer might be just as interested (if not more interested) in hearing someone that empathizes with their situation, rather than a quick fix or replacement tossed their way.

It can be tough to empathize with someone when they’re ranting, throwing insults around, and generally being very angry. If you can’t understand why they’re so upset, try to think about how you’d want to be treated if you were this upset about something else.

The best solutions transition the discussion from an emotional one to a solution-based one smoothly and subtly. Think along the lines of: “I’d be frustrated too if this happened to me, and that’s why I want to make it up to you.”

4. Watch Your Tone

This is one of the trickiest parts of dealing with angry customers — even the smallest slip-up or unintentional wording mistake can turn a mad customer into a furious one. Connotations exist where you never would have intended them; cliché and overused customer service phrases become hugely frustrating; even something you wrote to sound as apologetic as possible can come out sounding confrontational.

An example: “We’re very sorry that you’re having this problem.” Sounds like a standard, neutral apology at first, but imagine being on the receiving end and you’ll realize just how insensitive it sounds. This response is basically telling the customer “sucks to be you.” The best alternative here: just flat-out apologize. “We’re very sorry.” No need for filler at the end of the sentence that ends up backfiring completely.

A more general suggestion, relating to this example, is to be careful where you’re implicitly directing the blame. The above example points the finger at the customer — they’re the ones “having this problem.” Instead, you want to direct the blame inwards. Think: “I’m sorry we weren’t more clear with the product description.”

Another suggestion you’ll see everywhere is to use “positive language” in your customer service. What that means, essentially, is to avoid the words “no,” “not,” anything ending in “n’t,” or any expressly negative sentence talking about what you can’t do. Instead, you should spin your responses to talk about what you can do, or otherwise wiggle your way out of saying “no”. As you can imagine, this can quickly get complicated, and there are no hard-and-fast rules to follow. You'll ultimately have to develop a sort of 'sense' for positive vs. negative language, which is more or less impossible to teach.

For a simple example of negative vs. positive language, however, consider the difference between:

  • “I’m sorry, we don’t have that item in stock right now.”
  • “That item will be available in about two weeks. Would you like me to place an order for you right now to make sure it’s shipped to you as soon as it arrives?”

See how much better positive language makes the response sound? Even if the two responses are technically saying the same thing, the second version makes the whole situation sound more hopeful — like your problem is being solved rather than your frustrations being confirmed.

Sometimes, the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tone can seem subtle, but the devil is in the details when it comes to angry customers. Even the smallest slip-up can quickly spiral out of control and send them back into a rage, even if you can’t tell what you did wrong.

Before you send anything, read over your message, preferably out loud, pretending that you’re an unhappy customer and you just got this email from a company. Does anything rub you the wrong way, even just a little? If so, change it.

5. Make Sure the Issue is Closed

It’s hugely important to make sure that the customer has everything they need before you consider the email thread ‘resolved’ and stop responding.

No customer likes being left in the lurch without a definitive conclusion, even if you feel like you’ve fully addressed the issue over the course of back-and-forth emails. What’s more, your definition and the customer’s definition of ‘resolved’ might be completely different.

To avoid this possibly fatal confusion, be sure to hint at closure with an “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Even a simple “Are you all set?” can make the fact that you're wrapping up clear, although this response is less good at prompting follow-up questions out of the customer.

To go back to the issue of tone (it’s important!), these concluding messages are another place to be careful. You don’t want to ask any negative leading questions, as you’ll get angrier responses. Let’s play another game of Spot the Differences:

  • “How else can I help you?”
  • “Is there anything else wrong?”

The first version invites a neutral or positive response — if you ask someone with a problem if they want help, they will likely present their issues in a gentler manner. The second version, however, leads them into an angry response — “you’re damn right there’s something else wrong, and I’ll tell you about it.”

Even something as simple as a closer deserves caution — these are the realities of dealing with angry customers. Again, it’s the little things that count, and the even-littler things that can blow up in your face.

6. Take a Breather

Customer service can be really, really hard. Some days, it will be harder than others — you’ll get that one customer who just won’t quit, who seems to have it out for you personally, who’s trying to make your life a living hell.

No matter how much advice there is out there telling you to stay cool, calm, and professional, it’s never easy to keep a clear head when you’re taking a verbal (or text-based) beating.

After, or even during, a particularly difficult interaction, take some time for a deep breath. Sit back, try to take yourself out of the situation, and follow some of these steps:

  • Don’t take anything personally. Even if the anger seems to be directed at you specifically, the customer is often just trying to vent at whoever happens to be on the receiving end.
  • Keep some sort of “happy folder” storing memories of positive customer interactions and look at it when you're dealing with a tough customer — remembering the good times can get your mood back up quickly.
  • Go do something else for a while, if you’re able to. Getting up and walking around, stretching, or even just working on a different task can all help you calm down and refocus. (Obviously, you shouldn’t extend this break for hours if the response is time-sensitive, but a 10-minute break never hurt anyone.)

Conclusion

Angry customers are something of a wild card. Much of the time, there’s an opportunity hidden within a rage-fueled email — a chance to fix a problem, flip a negative experience on its head, and wow a customer with your expertise so that they become a loyal customer. Other times, however, this view will prove far too optimistic. Some customers just can’t or won’t be satisfied — that’s a part of life, and you’ll have to accept it.

You should do the best that you can. You’ll be surprised how much anger will fade away if you handle the situation gently. At the same time, you shouldn’t kick yourself if you can’t completely resolve or satisfy every furious customer that comes knocking at your door. Be nice, try hard — but stay sane.

Have any questions, comments, or additions? Leave them below!

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