Working with customers when you are disappointing them

Not something most people enjoy doing.  Most people don’t like talking to “angry” customers.  I actually do – because that is my absolute best chance to amaze them – to turn them around – to prove to them that we really are fanatical about support.  To prove I really do care about them.  To make myself feel good by making them feel better.

It’s not easy – and it shouldn’t be easy – you have let a customer down.  A process, or a promise, has broken.

So how do you “deal with” a really angry customer?

First off – you better really care about them, because if you don’t, you are screwed.  They will know it, and they won’t trust you.  Customers know when you are blowing smoke – even if you are REALLY good at blowing smoke.  Set your corporate and personal values high – and live up to them.

Second, it helps if you can put yourself in their shoes – particularly if you have actually been in their shoes.  I manage customer relations for a hosting company (although I am not technically IN support) – so it helps that I have been hosting web sites for well over a decade.  It helps even more that I was a customer of my employer for years before I became an employee.

Third – and most important.  Don’t lie.  Don’t EVER lie.  Customers can forgive a lot – but they will not forgive a liar.  When I can’t tell a customer something specific I just tell them that I can’t answer that.  Simple. And when I honestly don’t know something, I tell them that. No harm in not knowing every answer.  Extra credit if you know where and how to get the answers, and get back to the customer quickly.

Fourth – don’t try to funnel customers into a “system” for support.  Support customers where and when you find them.  They may not like your systems.  They may prefer Skype, or Twitter, or comments on a blog post.  Don’t expect customers with issues to find you – you need to be looking for them – and talking to them wherever (and whenever) you find them wanting help.

Fifth – have a personality.  Be human.  Customers relate to real people.  Be open, and honest, share your contact info – make it VERY clear that you exist to talk to customers.  When you leave a blog comment, leave your entire title and phone number.  I “Tweet” my home phone number at least a dozen times a month.  I *want* customers to find me – taking care of them is my job.  Actually – it is more than a job – it is what I love doing.  And that leads us to #6.

Sixth – if customers annoy you, and you are in the service business – do us all a favor.  Get. Out. Now. I often have my waitstaff at restaurants replaced if they just don’t seem to like their jobs.  Sorry – I am paying for more than food – I am buying an experience – and if that includes listening to someone bitch about how much they hate serving me, I just get a manager to replace them.  I don’t feel bad about it.  If they get fired, they deserved it.  They aren’t suited for this line of work, and better they find out now.  I deserve the experience I am paying for. And that brings me to number 7.

Seventh – don’t put up with bad service.  When you allow a company – ANY company to give you bad service, and you don’t complain to correct, you are setting the new standard.  You are in actuality lowering that standard.  Demand more.  From everyone.  Don’t tolerate mediocrity.  Demand more, don’t settle.  Ever.

Finally – I know customer support can seem like an “expense”.  But when you look at the cost of customer acquisition – a good support representative – one that really “get’s it”, and loves it – they can be a gold mine for your company.

Avoid the burn of churn and support customers where, when and how they want support.  They will love you for it, and you will profit from it.


  1. @Jon – thanks. Seems we share the benefit of working for the same company. And I know they “get” what I am talking about in this post. That’s pretty damn important to me 🙂

    Thanks for being here, and building this – it’s an amazing thing we are all part of!


  2. Jon Burgin says:

    I write software that monitors systems at your company. I don’t do support either (not the right person for that job), but I truly enjoyed your rules of engagement and am comforted that you’re on the front lines. It is no wonder people rave about our company.