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5 reasons you should employ your angry customers

31st Jul 2020
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Angry customers can be awesome for your brand, if you listen to them and use their anger to improve your customer journey.

Angry customers

“When I get angry, I usually don’t like the person I become.” 

“I get told often not to make a scene in a shop and therefore, I mostly complain to my friends and family, rather than to the company.”  

This is what we hear from many customers. Unresolved anger that results in them disconnecting from your brand. 

Many complaints teams I’ve worked with are actually afraid of their angry customers. They have boxed them into a stereotype of an unreasonable monster that wants to make life miserable for someone else. This is rarely true. Angry people are usually scared and once you put this lens on, it opens up possibilities, it even gives you the ability to befriend an angry customer and ask them to help you solve the problem.

Complaints teams also report that most complaints are not new. They deal with the same complaints day in and out and have scripts to deal with them. The problem with the scripts is that they sound scripted in emails, chat and on the phone and angry customers hate fakeness on top of whatever happened.

What most companies have not done is to apply journey mapping to the regular recurring complaints. Many journey maps also just look at the upside, but there is a real magic that happens when you look at mapping the moments where you fail customer expectations. You can make these situations more predictable and have various options to deal with it.

Customer service colleagues no longer have to be surprised by a complaint; they should be confident and empowered to deal with it successfully. We usually train people on the process to follow but not what to do when the process breaks. We miss a great opportunity to empower people to create brand affinity in a moment of misery.

The state of mind of an angry customer

A customer usually gets angry with a brand when they feel the brand has done something wrong. When the brand has not met their expectations or cheated them in some way. 

When we look at the psyche of an angry customer, usually it is not just one thing that trips their wires, it is either repeat issues, or a contextual situation that adds emotional intensity to the situation. When a family member is involved, a mother or child and something has gone wrong, the issue can also take on a more extreme intensity. So it is really important to listen to the problem, but also listen to the context and the story.

So here are the reasons why angry customers make great customer journey design partners:

  1. Angry customers want to be heard

The most important aspect I teach complaints teams, is to listen to an angry customer. And when they make no sense, draw the scenario with stick men on a piece of paper. Sometimes it magically starts making sense and it gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the pieces that you do not understand.

Angry customers

  1. Angry customers have come up with many solutions already

It is almost impossible for the angry mind to not seek justice or find a way to solve the problem.

Even if an angry customer never complains to a brand, it is very likely that they have voiced the issue to a friend or family member and very likely that they have solved the problem in many different ways. For example, If someone ordered food to be delivered to their house and it was the wrong order, the customer would say, “If I was them, I would at least include something extra or give us 20% off on our next order or give the next meal for free”. So typically dissatisfied or angry customers run through many scenarios of what they would have done.  

  1. Angry customers care

The fact that someone is angry means they care to have that emotion. There is a spark and if you can use it, then do so. They might care about themselves or their family. They might be reacting to an “old” story that they don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect.

  1. Angry customers want you to care but most of the time don't expect you to engage

Most angry customers don’t expect a company to call them or ask for their advice, or be authentically empathetic. Yes, this sounds sad, but this is the world we live in today, where people avoid conflict. Brands don’t take accountability and most service staff are managed to optimise profit not empower to solve customer problems. You can take the wind out of an angry customer’s sails, if you reach out first and engage without the customer escalating. Just a reminder that we are all in the business of making memories. This unexpected moment can result in your brand being remembered as the one who cared enough to phone.

  1. Angry customers can make great brand ambassadors

I usually explain the peak-end-rule from Daniel Kannheman to complaints teams. To take a customer from a neutral experience to a delightful experience is hard to do consistently, but to take a customer from a negative peak to neutral can actually deliver bigger benefits for your brand. People remember those interactions better. They have an imprint of the person who was kind and helpful and reached out to them in a moment where they did not feel great about their behaviour.

Angry customers

How to engage angry customers

Invite angry customers to a co-design group. Tread lightly and be skillful in this first interaction when you invite them. You want to make sure that they know you want to hear them. Most companies that I consult with cringe at the thought of inviting angry customers and the executive committee usually do not volunteer to sit in. I have facilitated many of these co-design sessions, and usually the customers arrive in a calm state. They may get flustered later in the conversation as they replay the story but remember they have thought about this a lot. They want to be heard. They want the problem to be solved. Most of all they don’t want to feel like they are turning into a terrible human being.

Once you have them in the session I structure the conversation to first create connection and trust. Since it is a group of customers, they usually start reporting that it feels a little like a customer support group where they can share freely. Rather than ponder for too long on the stories of wrongdoing. I shift the conversation quite quickly to empower them to make changes to their experience and redesign the ideal journey first without constraints and then adding the constraints back in.

So for example no constraint would be, “you have unlimited budget” and then add the constraint “you have only $10”. I make them each CEO of the brand for 2 minutes and they are only allowed to make one change on their first day on the job. In those 15 minutes, I get absolute gold. I seek permission to record this and later play this to the executive team and even use it in training materials for customer service teams.

Angry customers

As an external facilitator, I don’t solve any of the problems, but I work with a customer care team that tries to resolve the issues or follow up with these customers after the session. They are now brand ambassadors in a weird way once they have been listened to, they feel emotionally invested in the brand. Some even ask me how they would know if their ideas will be used.

I want to leave you with this advice, if you want to design differentiated experiences for your brand, start with your pain points. 

  1. Take your top 10 complaints and design the pain out of them. 
  2. Design what happens when things go wrong, because that is the only guarantee that I can give you, things WILL go wrong. Processes will break, systems will hang, mistakes will be made. What is important is that you respond to these situations with confidence and care and authentic connection. Don’t run away from complaints! Run towards them!
  3. Invite these customers to have conversations with you, to help you design the ideal journeys.
  4. Give feedback to these clients about what ideas have been used and you will have brand ambassadors for life.



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