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It’s not you, it’s me: how to deal with angry customers

As someone who has worked in Customer Service before, I wish I could have stuck to the same script Kelly Kapoor did every time she got a call: pick up the phone, put on a display of empathy and regret that’s borderline creepy, hang up, and repeat.

Solving customers’ issues on a daily basis didn’t always come easy to me. Let’s face it: no one likes to deal with angry people, and while it isn’t necessarily rocket science, it also presents a unique set of challenges. To shed some light on this very personal aspect of business, I asked Mafalda Faria, Customer Success Manager at Unbabel, to help me.

Mafalda has been working at Unbabel for almost two years. She first joined the Customer Success Team, assisting customers with all their needs, from day-to-day issues to helping them grow as companies. As we grew, the team was split in two, and Mafalda will transition to the Customer Happiness Team, which she is helping to create. She still manages some of her accounts and monitors their growth, but will soon be focusing on solving cases that come up every day in order to keep her customers happy.

Roadblocks to customer happiness

Mafalda explains that most issues she faces with her clients are concentrated at the beginning of their partnership. To help customers make the most of our AI-powered Translation as a Service, the team prepares tools such as glossaries, rulebooks, and instructions, which help produce consistent and trustworthy translations that reflect the brand’s tone of voice.

“It’s normal, in the beginning, when you first start delivering translations, for there to be room for improvement,” says Mafalda. Occasionally, we will hand over the first translations to customers who have deadlines to meet, before glossaries and instructions are fully in place. Customers then find themselves with translations that differ from what they were expecting, which makes for a potential hiccup in the customer experience.

When we have these kinds of situations, the first thing — especially if it’s in the beginning — is to let them know how we work internally, what the processes are and how we are going to solve their issue.

Mafalda considers it important to go back to the beginning and explain to the customer exactly how Unbabel works. While this may not always do the trick, it’s a big help to assure customers that, whatever issue they are facing, it hasn’t been overlooked and is being taken care of.

It’s not only current customers you have to think about, but potential customers as well. Even if it’s just a few spotty days up front, you really don’t want to have an angry customer spreading the word about your less than satisfying service. But that’s probably what’s going to happen, since people are twice as likely to talk about bad customer service experiences as they are about good experiences. In fact, a dissatisfied customer will tell between nine and 15 people about their experience, while happy customers will let only four to six people know that they’ve had their issue resolved. Although the odds are against you, trying to fix whatever is wrong is always worth a shot.

Of course, not all customers are the same. There are a lot of factors that make them act differently when they come up against unsatisfying service, such as company, or even local, culture, and you will inevitably come across customers that will be harder on you. Whatever the situation, Mafalda would like to share some tips that have helped her along the way.


1. Don’t take it personally

“When confronted with negative feedback or criticism, don’t take it personally.” Easier said than done. There can be a lot of negativity in customer service: people will write you angry emails, yell at you over the phone, and complain about the service you’re providing — even when you’re doing your best to help them. Some might demand to speak to your manager.

It’s important for a customer service agent to take a step back and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Whatever the situation is that made them reach out to you, it must be difficult for them to handle, so try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Mafalda believes that, rather than focusing on why the problem happened in the first place, it’s more important to focus on how she’ll solve it. It’s also essential for her to understand what her clients need and how they’re organized from day one. On top of all this, it is important to recognize when you are wrong.

2. Be honest

We’ve all heard that honesty is the foundation of any relationship, and professional relationships certainly show this to be true. You should tell your customers that a problem won’t happen again only if you can live up to that promise. If it’s going to take days, a week, or even longer to be solved, then say so. According to Mafalda, “When you’re honest, you are authentic, and it creates a relationship.”

Depending on the area of business you work in, you may end up talking to the same customers very frequently, so if you establish a good relationship from the start, you will be able to provide better service. Remember that your customer would rather relate to you as a person than as the shadowy representative of a faceless company.


3. Say sorry

“When you have to say sorry, say so,” Mafalda adds. John List learned this lesson the hard way, when, due to a GPS error, his Uber driver brought him back to his place instead of the hotel where he was supposed to give a keynote. List, an economist at the University of Chicago and, coincidentally, Uber’s chief economist at the time, didn’t receive any kind of apology from the company. He told the CEO about this, and the company decided to look into what would happen if Uber apologized in these cases and how they could optimize their apologies.

After running a field experiment with several Uber riders, List came to the conclusion that in order for “an apology to have impact, [it] needs to be costly and understood by the person who receives the apology that it’s costly.” He also believes “it needs to occur directly after the event happened.”

Uber’s solution was to start giving customers a $5 US coupon towards a future trip. However, since not all businesses are the same, an effective apology doesn’t necessarily involve compensation. It can be just as powerful if you keep a few things in mind, like taking full responsibility for the situation, focusing on the person you’re apologizing to, and showing that you care. If you think about it, “I’m sorry you’re feeling upset” isn’t much of an apology. You need to say it like you mean it.

Despite the challenges she deals with along the way, Mafalda finds her role in Customer Success extremely rewarding. She recalls this year’s Unbabel Annual Event, where we had several customers speaking on different panels and, out of nowhere, mentioning how happy they were with the solutions our company provides. Moments like these make the 11th-hour emails and stressful days well worth it.

The post It’s not you, it’s me: how to deal with angry customers appeared first on Unbabel.