Amy Wallace is the Customer Happiness Worker Bee at Updatey. This post is one in a series about the joys and challenges of building customer happiness at a startup. You can take a look at the other posts here.
Imagine this. You open up your inbox in the morning, ready to get started on helping out your customers, and the first thing that you see is an angry-sounding email from a customer who's encountered a bug. Or you've been having a difficult day and then mid-way through the afternoon, you see an abrupt tweet which feels a hundred times worse than it normally would. How do you make sure you can help that customer as well as possible?
It can be a real shock to get unhappy emails from customers when you're first building your business. Even years down the line, emails and tweets can still sting. It might feel personal, aimed both towards you or your product, and it certainly might feel like it will take a while to be able to build a tougher skin for such occasions.
Opening what might seem to you to be an "angrily" worded email might always send a small twinge of unpleasant emotion through your brain but you can do a lot to help both yourself and your customers if you begin to see "angry" messages in a different way. In fact, words like "angry" are far from constructive when it comes to Customer Support and Customer Happiness. A customer is a customer, and thinking of them as "angry" does both you and the customer a disservice.
For the purposes of this post though, the term "angry" will be used to describe those messages that might put you on edge and that, as someone building your own business, you might encounter and feel unsure about how to deal with. The aim of this post is to help you in situations where you might find yourself taken aback or unsure how to deal with messages from customers who have encountered a serious problem. You'll begin to understand the reason behind the messages and better see how you can help your customers in a difficult situation and hopefully, you'll never want to label any of your customers as "angry".
Just an "angry" person?
Firstly, you shouldn't ever assume that the person writing you an angry-sounding email or tweet is a person who is out to make life miserable for you.
We've all had bad days where one or two small mistakes, problems, or miscalculations have sent us spiralling into a bad mood. Now imagine all of that has been exacerbated by a frustrating interaction with a website - one that you were hoping or expecting would work perfectly - and you can see how the stress and disappointment builds up. It's easy to understand how this frustration can flow over into the messages sent in to a support team.
Your customers are living their own very busy and, sometimes, stressful lives. In fact, their stress is probably very similar to that which you feel at seeing a particular message, trying to run a successful business, or answer emails in an ever-growing inbox. Understanding this will help you deal with an "angry" message much more objectively while apologising for whatever was causing the problem and fixing the issue.
Remember, too, that when a customer writes in to your email address or sends you a tweet, the chances are there is something wrong. Yes, you'll get great messages from people who love your product but often, they won't feel the need to contact your customer happiness team unless there's a problem. If something's not working, your customers suddenly have to take time out of their day to contact someone about the issue they're having.
While it's your job to interact with customers all day and improving the product for those customers is constantly on your mind, your customer has other things to think about. They will have their own jobs to focus on, some of which will be directly based on the use of your product.
So if something's not working for them and they then have to remember to take time to send an email, their mind won't necessarily be focused on making sure they moderate their writing, mood or thoughts. Short and unclear messages might seem "angry" to you, but they might be the only few words a customer can send in a busy day. Your customers won't always have had time to re-read or think about how best to convery their difficulties in an email.
This is why you should make sure you treat them exactly as you would want to be treated in this situation and be sure to apologize for the hassle they've been through. You customer wants to know that you put them first and that their happiness while using your website or app is at the top of your to-do list.
The empty box
The way in which customers are contacting you can also contribute to their tone when they write to you. If they've found a bug or encountered a problem that has caused them a lot of hassle and they've had bad experiences with customer support before, they might not feel particularly hopeful of getting a helpful or quick answer by sending a few words in an email or a pop-up box on your site.
We're often used to dealing with large companies like airlines, gas, and cable companies, and often brace ourselves for long and complicated conversations that end in confusion and frustration. This, of course, can be fixed by providing much better customer happiness but better support is not guaranteed yet; we are still slightly on edge when writing in to a support team.
If customers aren't expecting anyone to read their message promptly, and they're typing into a small, faceless, and characterless box, then it's easy to see how a normally calm and happy person can (unintentionally) channel their frustration into their message.
It's really important that you apologize for the problem that your customer is seeing. Whether it's a mistake that's happened on your end or something that was out of your control, it's up to you to make sure your product is functional and clear for your customers, and to apologize when things don't go well.
If, for example, a user has accidentally deleted something, you could learn from this and make it clearer for the future with a confirmation box or by moving the button elsewhere. Of course, that won't help for the message in question, so apologizing is really important to show that you understand what has happened and why it's so disappointing that it did. It shows that you care about your customers beyond just getting their money and account details.
It's not about talking your "angry" customer into complacency with apologies but if you can take care of a customer who's had or is having a bad experience with your product, then you can learn for the future. You can also make a lifelong loyal customer who sees that when something bad happens, you take responsibility and go beyond the basics to make sure everything is fixed and show that you really care about them. Don't be stingy with refunds either - if something's gone wrong due to a bug, be sure to refund the customer's money and you can always go the extra mile to offer the next couple of months to them for free.
The Benefit of the Doubt
It's often easier to find reasons behind our own behaviour which help us make excuses for ourselves, but finding that understanding for someone else can be more difficult. We often want the benefit of the doubt even though we don't always share it as freely as we should.
This is not to say that when someone gets in contact with a customer support rep, they have a right to be rude, but if you're someone on the receiving end of the "angrier" messages, you can begin to understand them better and more effectively help a customer in a frustration situation.
It's not always easy, and some days will be more difficult than others depending on your general mood, but if you do find yourself affected by "angry" emails or tweets, make sure you take a deep breath or two before replying. Getting a bit of distance and taking a moment to calm yourself is a great way to make sure that you stay as objective, helpful, and understanding as possible. And if in doubt, ask someone else to read your reply to make sure you're being a helpful as possible!
So try to be understanding when someone writes in sounding "angry", and avoid even thinking of them as angry in the first place. They might be having a terrible day and contacting you might be the last thing they want to have to do. Give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you would want to be treated in a difficult and stressful situation.