An angry customer: an opportunity to score!

Guest writer, Tom Van Thillo,
Customer Experience Manager with Tessenderlo Group.


Tom is our former colleague and now a passionate warden of the customer experience at Catalent.

Our ‘humanity’ prevents us from surprising agry customers.

A typical customer service representative? A sadistic misogynist who indulges in his every fantasy. That’s what you’d think if you’d analyse the attitude of some of the customers calling in. Do you want to increase your collection of abusive words? Just listen in for a day at a random customer service department. Angry customers tend to forget that there is a human being at the receiving end of the phone call.

In this respect, it takes sheer courage to proclaim to our service reps that they ought to ‘serve with a smile’. This kind of angry-customer situations bring out our feral instincts: the ‘fight or flight response’. We defend our position tooth hand nail: “it’s not our fault”. Or we hang up, tail between the legs.

This is the ideal moment to make a difference with other customer services. And the experience your customer had with them. Surprise him!

But how?

Overcome your instinct: tackle both the problem and the frustration.

The essence? A complaint always consists of two parts: facts and frustration. One part is the mere facts of the problem, while the other is how those facts are perceived.

Mostly, we do exceptionally well with solving the problem: calm, rational and quick. But why does the customer stay annoyed?  Because we casually ignore the second part. Surely a good solution will always be important, but the degree to which the customer feels acknowledged is so much more important! A customer who doesn’t feel understood? He probably won’t even listen to your solution.

Reversing a painful situation? A concrete example.

A customer calls the customer service and isn’t in the best mood…

Customer: “At last! I’ve been trying to reach you for the last 20 minutes. By now I’m pretty sick of hearing ‘Für Elise’! Internet has been out all morning, while I have some urgent and important emails to send! How am I supposed to work like this?”

Scenario 1:

Service rep: So there’s a problem with your connection. Could you unplug the router for a minute while I perform a line check?

Scenario 2:

Service rep: What?! 20 minutes?! If it’d been me, I’d be seriously ticked off as well! I’m truly sorry for keeping you waiting that long. I’m going to do everything I can to fix your problem as soon as I can. Could you please tell me what you’ve already tried to get it working again?

Can you feel the difference? We start with acknowledging that the customer is frustrated. Moreover we don’t try to ignore or minimize his or her anger. If anything, we confirm that it is perfectly normal for him to get mad. We encourage him to get it all out before we start thinking –and talking- about solutions.

Turning an angry customer into an extremely happy with by only offering a solution? Not an easy job. Do you really want to surprise him? Respond to his emotion! That is when your organization can truly make a difference!