One of the most unpleasant parts of running any businesses is dealing with customers who are mad at you.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a dog walker or a graphic designer or a neurosurgeon. One of these days, someone’s going to express some significant dissatisfaction with what you do or how you do it.
When you’re still a small business, it feels like they’re attacking you. (Or, worse, attacking your baby. Those heartless rats!)
But bigger businesses foul this up too. We all take it too personally—it’s human nature.
The fact is, customers who care enough to get mad at you can provide a wonderful blessing. A cranky, ranting customer represents one of several possibilities.
The customer is nuts
This is the one that doesn’t help you at all. If the customer is truly delusional (some people are, you know), you’ll just have to set a boundary and walk away.
If you can afford it, give them all of their money back. And make it very clear that you won’t be doing more business with them.
Be very polite, set a very clear and firm boundary, and disengage.
The customer is right
Here’s the one that hurts. Your service/product/attitude/delivery were unacceptable.
When you were getting started with your business, you were going to do everything exactly right. You were going to have the best service in the world, wonderfully fair prices, amazing quality, the most remarkable product.
Then reality started to sink in. (This business thing really does have a lot in common with parenting.)
Perfection only exists in dreams. When you get off your tail and actually do stuff, you mess some of it up. And you know, there are a lot of good reasons so much service is terrible, and so many products aren’t what you hoped they would be.
The first thing to do is to, in Ben Zander’s wonderful suggestion, throw your hands in the air, smile, and say, “How fascinating!”
(Do not do this in front of the customer. She will kick you in the pants.)
Screw-ups mean you were trying something that wasn’t dead easy for you. Congratulations! You get 1,000 gold stars for getting out of your comfort zone. Almost no one is willing to do that, and you did. Please allow me to give you a hug.
Picking up the pieces
Now, back to addressing that pesky problem. A good screw-up generally means there’s something in your systems that needs a tweak.
If you can manage it, try not to freak out and overcorrect. The first thing to ask yourself is, Realistically is this going to happen again? If the answer is really no, do what you need to do to cool the customer off, and try not to dwell on it.
But usually there’s an opportunity for improvement. A better process you can put into place. A better system for managing client questions, or for packaging orders, or for setting expectations so people aren’t disappointed when they get their stuff.
Since I recently had a customer service experience that left me unreasonable, angry, frustrated, and generally feeling rotten, I thought I’d unpack that for you here. There are some really good lessons about the kinds of things that make people angry, and solutions for fixing them.
I won’t name the vendor. There’s no point, and they’re not really the Satanic minions I felt they were when I was having my problem.
And this isn’t about them. It’s about you. And me. And getting better.
Since this easily could be one of my ten-screen marathons, I’m going to break it up for you. The first installment of my letter to the vendor is tomorrow. (Ooh, cliffhanger!)