Receiving an angry email from a customer, that seems unnecessary to us, is like a bomb for employee morale. As usual, NetHunt has got the answers.
The customer is always right.
Or so the saying goes. You know, you can’t argue with this motto for one simple reason - customers are the lifeblood of your business. But no, we aren’t on their side, business owners, we’re with you.
You can’t make anyone like you or your products. Dealing with complaints is an unavoidable reality for any sales or customer support rep. Learning how to stay professional in a stressful situation on top of constantly increasing customer satisfaction is a fundamental goal that any successful sales team pursues. Bad support experience ends up with risk of customer churn and negative online reviews that can haunt your business’s reputation.
Let’s put your great communication skills to work, draw on your situation-reading superpowers and walk through these tips to save your customer churn!
1. Listen to the customer
Miscommunication can trigger quarrels, conflicts, and sometimes even full-blooded wars. While in pipeline management the risks are a lot lower, it’s easy to alienate customers if you don’t speak the same language, both literally and figuratively.
First of all, when you receive an email from an unhappy customer, you need to make sure that you perfectly, 100%, no ifs no buts understand the reason for their complaint. The problem is, there are so many variables to consider when deciphering a client’s question or complaint.
Most of the time, the client doesn’t even know what every feature or part of the product they’re having troubles with is called, which, in turn, implies another problem. That is that they don't provide the necessary info in the first message. If you’re in the software support biz, you’ll often receive email from an angry customer going something along the lines of ”[Feature] doesn’t work”? For a client, the problem seems quite obvious; it’s right in front of them. You, on the other hand, are thinking “OK... but what does that even mean?”
Thankfully, you know a lot about your product. Here, the first thing you need to do is match the correct details about the problem with the client’s understanding of it. Having received a complaint, your first step is always to send a qualifying email. Try to pinpoint as many details as possible, so that you have a clear understanding of what’s not working. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, but consider that a client probably doesn’t have the same depth of knowledge that you have. Make it simple for them to answer.
Additionally, you might need to consult the customer’s data and history in your chosen CRM system. This way, you’ll know what exact product is in question, have all the related information about the purchase, and, if that’s a software product, you can learn the client’s computer specs. Your CRM serves as a comprehensive knowledge base, so it’s worth checking if the issue isn’t that rare and whether you already have a prepared solution for that.
2. Be on a same page as a customer
Once all the preparations are complete, you need to contact your client with either confirmation or a solution. Use the same medium as the source question. For example, if a client has addressed you on Twitter or Facebook, you should answer them there. However, some channels have limitations, so it’s better to ask the client to contact your support via email and provide the corresponding address.
Keep in mind that your customer is probably frustrated because of the confronted issue, so approach it carefully and politely. Show empathy and calm them down whilst ensuring you know how to solve the problem. It’s not about apologizing for every customer complaint, but rather connecting with customers, letting them know they’re valued on the one hand, and getting straight to the point and taking a problem-solving approach on the other.
3. The Subject Line Matters
Your client is waiting patiently for an answer from you, so make it easy for them to notice your email in their flooded inbox. Here are several tips to consider:
- Be brief. Most email services limit the email subject character count to around 60. There’s no need to make it longer than that.
- Address the core of the issue. You should immediately mention an outline of the topic of your previous discussion with the client. For example, if a client has questions about when a product will be delivered, you can go with something along the lines of ” [Product] delivery date”. Easy.
- Use a “Re:”. Stating that your message is a “reply to” is probably old-fashioned and might seem pointless, but it explains exactly what your client is waiting for. A reply.
- Generic. You can use a general subject line like “A reply to your customer support request”. Technically, this does the job if you have a lot of messages to go through. But remember that at least a little bit of personalization is always appreciated.
- Do NOT use service ticket numbers. Some random tech support ticket number doesn’t help your client in any way at this point. If you need to include it, do it in the body.
- Do NOT write in ALL CAPS or fUnNy fOrMatTiNg. Unless you want to end up in the spam folder.
- Check out our article about how to win the Battle of the Inbox with a killer subject line!
4. Your Professional Email Body should establish trust
While the subject line simply attracts attention, the actual text of your email should try to include the following details.
Personalization. It’s nice to open up your email in a friendly manner and address the client with a polite “Dear [Full Name],”.
Introduce yourself. While the customer would like to get to the solution of the request ASAP, you should state who they are speaking to. The thing is, there might be several communications going on at the same time between that customer and your company, so seeing the company name isn’t always obviously an answer to a support request. Additionally, this helps to establish a connection between the customer and yourself as a real person, rather than just another faceless corporation.
Explain why you’re getting in touch. Once again specifying that your email is an answer to a particular support request is a sure way to put the talk on the correct tracks.
Follow CARP. Introduced by customer service trainer, Robert Bacal, in his Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook. CARP stands for Control, Acknowledge, Refocus and Problem-Solve -- a simple process to stick to when dealing with difficult customers.
- Control. This one is about you. No matter how angry customers become, how offensive they sound, or how they describe your company, the situation, and you, do not lose focus. You have to be stoic, friendly, and aimed at solving the problem, rather than arguing with the client.
- Acknowledge. Let your client know that you understand them, that the current situation isn’t a pleasant one, and that you’ll do everything possible to resolve it.
- Refocus. The time for emotion is over; let’s talk facts. You have to switch focus to finding an actual solution to the problem, or to asking for further details.
- Problem Solve. This is where you ask for more details or provide the solution to the client. Also, include why you need those details so the client doesn’t feel like they are getting a scripted answer that’s simply stalling.
Also bear in mind:
- If you’re putting clients on hold because everyone is busy, notify them how much time you’ll need to get back to them.
- If you can’t solve an issue, escalate it, and forward a client to the appropriate department or manager with all the related information attached.
- Do not promise anything impossible. Clients often have requests that are nowhere near your company’s roadmap. While the requested feature is important for them, it might be too small to introduce for the market whilst you have other, more urgent features and fixes in sight.
- Reassure the client that while you’re not planning to introduce the requested feature, it might be included in the roadmap if there’re enough requests. Don’t forget to notify that client if it actually happens.
- Always use steps or bullet points while providing a solution to make it easier to follow and complete.
- Show, don’t tell. It’s always better to include some screenshots to make navigation easier for clients.
- Include links to additional resources. While you might have provided the solution to a problem, having the ability to read it on your site with additional details helps your clients discover more about the product.
- Help and suggest. Sometimes clients have a clear request and there’s a solution exactly for that. But if your clients are asking about a specific feature, don’t neglect asking what they need it for. Often you might have a better solution for the whole situation than the one which the client believes they need.
5. A situation-by-situation guide for a personalised approach
While each customer is a unique person, the situations they come across hardly require an individually unique approach. Having a script prepared for the most common customer issues might not only help you react faster, but will also provide your teammates with some tried and tested answers and tactics they can use for each situation.
Here are some common situations your support team members might find themselves, and the correct ways how to approach them.
When you don’t know the answer
Sometimes clients come up with tricky questions; okay to not know the answer to all of them. How can you tell them this without sounding incompetent? Try this, for example:“When will the item be in stock? Let me find out for you.”
While you don’t immediately know the answer, you’re still willing to help your client. It’s better to spend some additional time finding out instead of a lame “I don’t know, there’s nothing I can do here.”
You’ve made a mistake
Well, not exactly you, but a company rep. Sometimes the product you’ve supplied can be defective, or the client might not have received a service on a date they were supposed to. These things happen. It’s better to admit your mistakes and resolve them as quickly as possible.“I’m sorry that the product you’ve received doesn’t work properly. It is probably a factory defect, which we’ll investigate. Please return it, and we’ll provide you with a new one free of charge.”
Additionally, like Nintendo did recently when it turned out that one of their newest console’s controllers had poor connection: offer bonuses as well as a replacement. This doesn’t cost much, but does help with fixing any long-term damage caused.
When an item is currently unavailable
Sometimes your automatic inventory management system fails and a customer orders an item which is currently out of stock. While this is probably an accident, it’s totally your fault in a customer’s eyes. You must reach out to the customer as soon as you notice the mistake and explain the situation:“I’m sorry, but the item you’ve ordered will only be available only after the 27th. I can fill in an order for you so that you’ll be the first in line to get it once it’s in stock. Or, if it’s urgent, we have similar products available and I can help you find a suitable alternative.”
This way your clients know you’re doing everything in your authority to help them receive their order sooner or later.
Throwing a pre-prepared answer into a customer’s face and leaving them with that is a one-way ticket to alienating future clients and bad reviews. Your goal is not simply to answer questions, but to completely resolve your client’s problems. This is why you have to make sure that every issue is settled and the client has no further questions.“I’m glad that we’ve got that sorted out for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
By ensuring that a client has no other questions, you can find pride in the fact that you’ve provided every possible assistance. If a customer does actually have more questions, you can help them to fully sort out their situation whilst ensuring that you’re providing the full spectrum of services.
6. Real-life examples of customer emails
Sooner or later, some sort of a crisis hits a company. With the scope and size of Amazon, angry customers are more routine than emergency.
In the 2007 Black Friday sale, Amazon announced an interesting deal: you could get a $1,000 laptop for just $300. But only a lucky few were able to get one. The problem is, many people have started suspecting Amazon being involved in some dodgy deals. More suspicious customers claimed that because they didn’t win the discount, it’s probably only Amazon employees who have access to it.
What happened next is that someone on the forum decided to send an angry, disappointed email, not only to Amazon’s customer service but, for the fun of it, to Amazon’s president and richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. While Jeff didn’t respond personally, another Amazon employee took it upon themself to defuse the situation. Here are some lines from her email reply:
Dear Mr. Hildebrandt,
Starting off with some personalization.
Hello from Amazon.com.
My name is Autumn Walker of Amazon.com’s Executive Customer Relations. Jeff Bezos received your email and has asked me to reply on his behalf, taking any action necessary to assist you.
Here we have an introduction and the reason why exactly Autumn, not Jeff Bezos is replying to the message.
I understand and fully empathize with your desire to write epic novels using the “HP Pavilion TX1305US Notebook PC” offered in the “Amazon Customers Vote” promotion. I had similar hopes of producing my own work of greatness when I cast my vote.
Perhaps fortunately for the general public, neither I, nor any of my colleagues whom I was ready to beg from, won this round. (Come to think of it, I don’t think we won *any* rounds.) It is important, however, that your genius be heard.
Acknowledge. Autumn tries to show that she understands the client’s situation, establishing a more personal connection.
I am unable to take one of the fully claimed and purchased laptops away from its winning owner to provide you with this deal, nor will we be discounting other $1000.00 items to the fire-sale price of $299.00 offered in our “Amazon Customers Vote” promotion. As I’m sure you are aware, promotions are for a limited time only and cannot be extended.
Refocusing. Here we get a logical explanation of why, despite how much we want it, it’s impossible to bend the rules or fix the situation without hurting anyone else.
Take heart; Norman Mailer wrote all of his novels by hand. And you’ve surely heard the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword”? It would sound absurd to substitute “laptop” for the word “pen.”
In the meantime, since fate has conspired against me as well, I will continue the process of gathering material for my novel (also known as staying employed. This means that I will certainly be on hand to help you find exactly the right Sharpie, should you wish to persevere in your brilliant endeavor. That is, until next year’s “Amazon Customers Vote” promotion…
Here, we have some borderline refocusing and problem-solving. While the client’s original point was that he was going to use that laptop for writing a novel, Autumn introduces an alternative and suggests her help in finding a better-suited writing tool.
Despite this setback, I eagerly await the publication of your novel, and can assure you that I will be among the earliest purchasers at the bookstore.
Here’s wishing you the best of luck in next year’s promotion!
Autumn Walker, Executive Customer Relations
This is a great example of an email, which not only addresses the customer’s frustrations but also applies the personal touch to help understand the client. It doesn’t simply say that “we can’t do that” or “it’s your fault that you didn’t win”, but it calms the situation and applies a bit of humor.