When Customers Attack



Not all of your customers will love you. In fact, many of them will not even like you. In my career building products and services, I have been referred to as: an idiot, a moron, incompetent, a joker, and many, many more offensive terms involving profanity which I will not reproduce here.

It is hard building something new and sending it into the world. As a maker, you feel that your work is a reflection of yourself, and the way people respond to your product is how they respond to you. If they love your product, you feel validated. But if they hate your product, you feel like a failure. You have to rise above that in business. You should not fear angry customers.

You should fear customer apathy.

The most dangerous thing for you and your business is customers who do not care. They look at your product and move along. They never engage, they never care, they never think about it again.

You want customers to be angry, because at least that means they care. Someone who is angry is someone who cared and was disappointed. Maybe the customer thinks your product is too hard to use, too expensive, or not powerful enough. Whatever the reason, they wanted your product to be better than it currently is. They wanted to love your product—they wanted to love you.

Many of the best customers I have ever had, the ones that become evangelists for my products and my brand, started off hating my products. It is by working hard to reverse their disappointment that they become happier than someone who was satisfied from the beginning. An unhappy customer is a chance for true customer success.

So, how do you turn an angry customer into a friend? There is no one answer, but here are a few tips that may help:

  • Active listening. Respond quickly and clearly, demonstrating that you understand why they are angry. Many people get angry just because they feel ignored. Eschew automated email responses for personal phone calls or in person meetings.
  • Customer empowerment. As I mentioned, angry customers care. People who care have great ideas! Empower them by asking them how they would improve the product. What would they like to see done differently? Take that feedback and show them that you are listening through product improvements. Close the loop and ask what they think after the improvements are made.
  • Stay calm. If someone is screaming at you, it is easy to get angry yourself. Always remain calm and treat them with respect. Your calm and respectful presentation will calm them down, and they will eventually treat you with respect in return.

It is not always possible to turn an angry customer into a friend. Sometimes customers are angry for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your product, and are just using you as a punching bag. Even so, you need to treat every angry customer as an opportunity since you never know who can help benefit your product ahead of time.

We want all of our customers to love us and be perfectly happy. Because that will never happen, focus on the skills necessary to turn around bad relationships. You may find some of your best customers that way.


Reprinted by permission

Image credit: CC by Leszek Leszczynski

About the author: Sean Byrnes

Sean is the founder of Flurry, the leader in advertising and analytics services for mobile applications. He is currently an advisor, mentor and angel investor in the San Francisco bay area. You can read more of his advice and thoughts on building businesses on Sean On Startups and his personal website.

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