How to work with upset customers via email

"The customer is always right". Even when he or she actually isn't. That's a rule you should remember because customers are the lifeblood of your and any other business.

You can not make everyone like you. Or your products. It's natural for clients to get frustrated or even angry when a product or a service they are paying for doesn't meet their expectations. Receiving an angry email from a customer is like finding a bomb, and defusing it becomes your priority. Here's how to handle angry customers via email.

Table of contents

  1. Understanding the customer’s complaint
  2. How to reach out to angry customer via email
  3. How to write a subject
  4. How to write the body of email
  5. How to handle different situations.Common scenarios when talking with customers via email
  6. Real-life examples of customer emails

1. Understanding the customer’s complaint

Miscommunication is a horrible thing. It often leads to quarrels, conflicts and sometimes even wars. While in customer management the stakes are a lot lower, you might alienate a customer if you don't speak the same language (both literally and figuratively).

First of all, when you receive an email from unhappy customers, you need to make sure that you perfectly, 100% per cent, with no "ifs" and "buts" understand everything they say to you. Only then you can proceed with a reply or get to solving the issues. The problem is, there are just too many variables to consider when deciphering a client's question or a complaint.

In many cases, a client might not even know how every piece, feature or a part of the product/service he or she's having troubles with called. Another problem is when a client does not provide the necessary info in the first message. If you're in a software tech support, try remembering how often you've received an email from an angry customer which consisted of something along the lines " [Feature] doesn't work". What does that even mean?

For a client, it's quite obvious as he or she has encountered a single problem with a single feature that's currently on the monitor. You, on the other hand, thankfully know a lot about your product/service and you need to match the correct details about the problem with the client's understanding of it.

So, when answering emails from angry customers your first message should be a qualifying one. Try to pinpoint as many details as possible so that you'd have a clear understanding of what's really not working. There's nothing wrong with asking such questions, but consider that a client probably doesn't have the same deep knowledge as you have, make it simple for him or her to answer.

Additionally, you might need to consult that customer's data and history in your CRM. This way you'll know what exact product/service is in question, when was in bought, and, if that's a software product, you might even learn the client's computer specs so you don't have to ask for them additionally. Your CRM might also serve as a knowledge base. It's worth checking if the issue isn't that rare and you already have a prepared solution for that.

2. How to reach out to angry customer via email

Once all preparations are complete, you actually need to contact your client with the confirmation or a solution. Use the same medium as the source question (e.g. if a client has addressed you on Twitter or Facebook, you should answer him or her exactly there). However, some channels have limitations, and it's better to ask the client to contact your support via an email and provide the corresponding address.

Now, keep in mind that your customer is probably frustrated because of the confronted issue, so approach carefully and politely. Actually, you should do that every time. Just don't over do it, because a client came to you not for the niceties, but for a solution. Here are some details about how to respond to angry customers via email.

3. How to write a subject

In case you're not replying to an email from a customer, but sending the first one yourself, it's important to pay attention to the subject line. There are no exact rules for that, but here are several tips to consider:

  • Be brief. Most emailing services limit the email subject character count to around 60. There's also no need to make it longer than that.
  • Address the core of an issue. You can immediately mention the detailed topic of your discussion with the client to grab the attention. For example, if a client has some questions about when will the product be delivered, you can go with something along the lines of " [Product] delivery date".
  • Use a "Re:". Stating that your message is a "reply to" is old fashioned and might seem pointless, but that's exactly what it is - a reply which you client is probably waiting for.
  • 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 some personalization is always appreciated more.
  • Do NOT use service ticket numbers. Some weird tech support ticket number doesn't help your client in any way at this point. If you need to include it, do so in the body.
  • Do NOT write in ALL CAPS or use fUnNy fOrMatTiNg. Unless you want to end up in the spam folder.

4. How to write the body of email

While the subject line is only to attract attention, the actual text of your email should if not follow, then at least try to include the following details:

Personalization. It's nice to open up your email in a friendly manner and address the client with "Dear [Full Name],".

Introduce yourself. While the customer would like to get to the solution of the request ASAP, you should state whom the client speaks to. The thing is, there might be several communications going on at the same time with that customer and your company, so seeing the company name isn't always obvious that it's an answer to a support request. Additionally, it helps to establish a connection between the customer and a real person, not a 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 a customer service trainer Robert Bacal, in his Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook, CARP stands for Control, Acknowledge, Refocus and Problem-Solve which is a rather simple process to keep to when dealing with difficult customers.

  • Control. This one is actually about yourself. No matter how angry customers describe your company, the situation and you, in particular, do not let this to break your focus. You have to be stoic, friendly and aimed at solving the problem, not arguing with the client.
  • Acknowledge. Let your client know that you understand his or her, that the current situation isn't a pleasant one and that you'll do everything possible to resolve it.
  • Refocus. The time for emotions is over. Now let's speak facts. You have to switch the focus to the actual solution of the problem or to asking for some more 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 that a client doesn't feel like he or she is getting a scripted answer that's simply stalling.

Other important details include:

  • If you're putting clients on hold because everyone else is busy, care to notify how much time you'll need to get back to them.
  • If you can not solve an issue, escalate it and forward a client to the appropriate department or manager.
  • Also, forward all of the information which the a has already provided you with. Making clients restate the issue and details will only make them more frustrated.
  • Do not promise anything you can't do. The clients often have requests that are nowhere near your company's roadmap. While the requested feature is important for him or her, it might be too small to introduce for the market and you have other, more urgent features/fixes in sight.
  • However, reassure the client that while you're not planning to introduce the requested feature, it might be included in the roadmap if there'll be enough requests. Don't forget to notify that client if such thing will eventually happen.
  • Always use steps or bullet point while providing a solution. This makes it easier to follow and complete.
  • Show, don't tell. It's always better to include some screenshots to make the navigation easier for clients.
  • Include a link to additional resources. While you might have provided the solution to a problem, having the ability to read it on your site with some additional details might help your clients to discover more about the product.
  • Help and suggest. Sometimes clients have a clear problem in mind and there's a solution exactly for that. But if your clients are asking about how to do something in your product, don't shy away from asking what do they need it for. Often you might have a better solution for the whole situation than the one which the client believes he or she needs.

5. How to handle different situations.
Common scenarios when talking with customers via email

While each customer is a unique person, the situations they come across hardly require a truly unique approach. Having a script prepared for the most common customer issues would not only help you react faster but will also provide your teammates with some tried and true answers and tactics they can use for each situation. Here are some popular situations your support team members might find themselves and how to approach them.

You don't know the answer

Sometimes clients come up with tricky questions and it's OK not to know the answer to all of them. But how should you tell them this without sounding incompetent? Try this, for example:

"When will the item be in stock? Let me find this 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 saying that you "don't know" and, hence, nothing can be done here.

You've made a mistake

Well, not exactly "you" but the company you represent. Sometimes the product you supply might happen to be a defective one, or the client might not have received a service on a date he or she was supposed to. These things do happen and it's better to admit to your mistakes, resolving them as fast 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, as Nintendo did recently when it turned out that one of their newest console's controller had a poor connect, they not only provide a replacement but throw in some bonuses. This won't cost you much but will help with fixing the damage caused.

When an item is currently unavailable

Sometimes your automatic inventory management system might fail and somebody might order an item which is currently out of stock. While this is likely an accident, from the customer's standpoint, it's totally your fault. You must reach out to the customer as soon as you notice such mistake and explain the situation:

"I'm sorry, but the item you've ordered will become 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 that's urgent, we have similar products available and I can help you find a suitable alternative."

This way your clients will know that you'll do everything in your authority to help with receiving their order sooner or later.

Finishing up

Throwing away a prepared answer into the customer's face and leaving him or her only with that is the right way for alienating future clients and getting some bad reviews. Your job and goal are not simply to answer questions but to resolve your client's problems. This is why you actually have to make sure that every issue is settled and the client has no other 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 that client has no other questions, you confirm that you've provided every possible assistance. If the customer actually has more question, you actually help them to fully sort out the situation and ensure that you're providing the full spectrum of services possible.

6. Real-life examples of customer emails

Sooner or later some sort of a crisis hits every company. And with the scope and size of Amazon, angry customers are more of a routine than an emergency.

In 2007 Black Friday sale, Amazon has announced an interesting deal: you could get a $1000-worth laptop for just around $250-300. But only some lucky few were able to get one. The problem is, many people have started suspecting Amazon in a fraud, claiming that because they didn't win a discount, it's probably only the Amazon employees who have. You can read the whole story on Consumerist.

What happen next is that someone on the forum has decided to send an angry and rather disappointed email not only to Amazon's customer service but, for the fun of it, to Amazon’s president, Jeff Bezos. While Jeff didn't reply personally, another Amazon employee took it upon herself 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.

I share your wonder that neither you nor any of the other 18 bloggers participating in your thread did not win the “Out & About” round. As a matter of fact, I was quite vociferous in like-minded protest. Perhaps the response I received to my own objections may clear this matter up somewhat: when I stoutly declared that some member of my voluminous family should have statistically won something, I was reminded of a common thread in our “Customers Vote” forum which states buying a lottery ticket only marginally increases one’s chances of winning the lottery.

(Refocusing. Here we get a logical explanation of why, despite how much we all want it, it's impossible to bend some 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 something 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!

Regards,

Autumn Walker Executive Customer Relations

This is a great example of an email, which not only addresses the customer's frustrations but also applies a deeply personal touch to 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 rather calms down the whole situation and applies a bit of humor to look at it.

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