Learning from unhappy customers

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

– Bill Gates

At Automattic, we aim to offer world-class support. We want to be known for offering the best experience to our customers. Internally, Happiness Engineers encourage each other to “engineer the happiness” of our customers.

This isn’t always easy — sometimes people reach out to us when they’re struggling with their site, their site is broken, or something went wrong. It’s our job as professional communicators to turn around even the most difficult situations, so our customers walk away happy.

Effectively handling the worst customer situations is one of the most important tools to have in your customer service tool-belt. Below are a few strategies, examples, and steps to take when an angry customer asks to speak to your manager.

How to speak to angry customers:

When someone is upset with us or our products, we view it as a learning opportunity. We want to hear from these customers. If we don’t hear from these customers or — even worse — we do hear from them but we ignore them or don’t listen to their experience, then we miss an opportunity to fix what went wrong. Try viewing every angry customer as an opportunity to make our product and support better!

Yet when a customer gets angry, you might struggle with how to even respond to them.

I’m paraphrasing from one of my favorite books on the subject, The Customer Service Survival Kit:

There are many reasons why our customers are unhappy, but often only one reason they become angry. They do not feel heard. They feel voiceless and powerless, and respond by puffing themselves up and confronting you until you pay attention to them.

This means that the first step in calming down an upset customer is likely the very last thing that you feel like doing: acknowledging them as deeply and with as much gusto as possible.  

(The Customer Service Survival Kit: What to Say to Defuse Even the Worst Customer Situations by Richard Gallagher)

What does this look like? Let’s walk through an example. 

Customer: I am absolutely furious! This is the third time my site has broken down and I have had to come back! Why can’t you people just fix this?

Not-so-good response: Please calm down.

Not-so-good response: I can see that you are very angry. Let me take a look.

Better response (focusing on validating the user): Wow, three times! That would bother me too! I can see why you’re frustrated. Let me pull up your site and take a closer look at this. Meanwhile, can you tell me more about when this started happening?

When a customer is angry, deeply acknowledge their experience and then lean heavily on becoming curious. Ask them questions. Learn why they feel the way they do or learn more about the problem.

Even outrageous customer behavior often calms down when they’re heard instead of reacted to. This is why acknowledging people is the most powerful tool that you have in difficult customer situations.

If we’re listening to, acknowledging, and working with a customer, oftentimes they won’t feel the need to ask to speak to someone else since you’re on their side and are doing everything you can to help them. 

In summary, try focusing on providing world-class support to even angry customers and view them as an opportunity to make your product and support better!

Do you have what it takes to provide world-class customer support? You can read more about the Happiness Engineer role and find instructions for applying here.

One thought on “Learning from unhappy customers

  1. So much wisdom in this, Tish. Thank you for sharing.

    > the first step in calming down an upset customer is likely the very last thing that you feel like doing: acknowledging them as deeply and with as much gusto as possible.

    FWIW, this also often works with angry family and friends. Instead of reacting, listen, empathize, mirror, and acknowledge them as deeply as possible.

    Liked by 4 people

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