You Receive an Email from an Angry Customer...Now What?

Photo by  Andre Hunter  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

You've received a terse, angry email from a client. You feel like your integrity is being questioned, and everything in you wants to mount a vigorous defense.

But if you respond inappropriately, this unhappy client might trash your company across social media that creates a potential PR firestorm.

So, how should you respond to diffuse this situation before it blows up?

1. Pause.

Resist the temptation to immediately react and defend yourself. A rash response could escalate the situation and cause permanent damage to the relationship. Instead, take a moment to calm down and gather your thoughts.

2. Respond quickly.

While you don't want to react rashly, you also don't want to allow too much time to go by and cause the problem to fester. Lack of responsiveness will cause the customer to feel disrespected, making it more difficult to improve the situation and preserve the relationship.

3. Demonstrate empathy.

Validate the customer's feelings, even if you think that person is wrong. That's because, in the customer's mind, he is right. You telling him otherwise will cause him to put up his defenses and escalate the complaint.

Thank you for your email and feedback.
I'm very sorry for the inconvenience [this matter] has caused you. When I look at this from your perspective, I'm certain I would feel the same way.

4. Invite to speak offline.

If possible, try to take the discussion offline. There is too much risk of miscommunication via email because it's difficult to accurately convey nuance and tone in writing.

Are you available for a quick phone call? This way, I can learn more about [this matter] so that we can fix this for you ASAP.
What's the best number to reach you?  

Taking Responsibility

Once you have the customer on the call, how do you handle it?

1. Apologize.

I'm really sorry for [this matter].

2. Listen.

Please share with me what has happened from your perspective.

Then give the client opportunity to vent fully.

3. Apologize again.

Wow. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you.

If your company was clearly at fault in this matter, then proceed to step 5.

But, if there seems to be a misunderstanding or some of the mismatch in expectations between your company and the customer, go to step 4.

4. Share your perspective.

You might say something like:

Now that I see where you're coming from, I can understand why you would be really frustrated. I would be, too. Let me share with you what we were thinking, and this might shed light on why there was a misunderstanding ...

Then share your side of the story in a way that doesn't put the customer on the defensive. 

5. Come to clear next steps for resolution.

Propose a solution and ask for feedback. For example, if the issue is a late delivery of a product, you might say something like:

We're really sorry for the inconvenience and want to make this right for you. If we wave the shipping fee and put in a free [whatever the product or service], would this be an acceptable solution for you?

Or, if the client is angry over a high-dollar project that's behind schedule, you might say:

I'm very sorry for the inconvenience this delay has caused you. I will personally oversee this project and keep you updated daily to ensure this gets on track and delivered ASAP. Would this be acceptable to you?

6. Follow up and follow through.

After you have provided the solution, check back with the client to make sure she is happy with the resolution.

The Bottom Line

Receiving an angry email from a customer gives you the opportunity to actually strengthen the relationship and create a happy customer—if you handle the situation (and the client) with care.

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tell their story in a way that grabs attention, garners trust, and grows their business. 

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