Every company has bad customer service examples. Here’s how to recover.
In a perfect world, you and your customer service team would always take exactly the right steps to respond to customers.
But we don’t live in a perfect world, and we all make mistakes.
Believe it or not, these moments are vital to the long-term success of your business.
If you can resolve the issue, you could very well earn a more loyal customer than you had before you made the mistake.
You could end up like the Comcast customer service department—featured in an ABC story as examples really bad customer service.
Did you hear what those former customer service reps recommended for customers who can’t get their situation resolved?
“If you do find yourself in one of these situations, the best thing you can do is complain on social media.”
Good advice for frustrated customers.
But an extremely bad result if they’re complaining about you.
Recovering from bad customer service
Ever had a customer go from angry and frustrated to grateful and thankful in a matter of minutes?
It happens all the time in customer service—especially if you’re good at it (or have a well-trained team).
This is known as the service recovery paradox, and we covered it in detail in our post about how to deal with angry customers.
Positive customer service interactions can result in customers that are more loyal to your company than they were they were before they had a problem.
Let’s look at three examples of customer service recovery in action…
1. Bill Thompson of Olark says ‘Talking to upset customers is kind of my thing’
Bill Thompson is the Guru of Customer Happiness at Olark, a live chat software company.
To say Bill has experience with customer service recovery would be a bit of an understatement…
“It’s kinda my thing,” Bill told us when we reached out to him. “In my sixteen years of doing CS and building online communities, I’ve had the opportunity to talk upset customers down off the ledge and back into being bonded, evangelistic users.”
“Rule one, stay calm, focused, and really listen to what the upset person is saying,” Bill recommended. “When a person is angry, they will not be at their most articulate. Their emotions can eclipse their normally calm and rational demeanor.”
Translation: They’re seeing red, yelling, typing in all caps, and not hearing what you’re saying AT ALL.
“What people need most when they are upset is to know that they are being listened to, that you are a resource, a life preserver and a path to a solution. Once they know you’re listening and will help/advocate for them, I guarantee they will calm down.”
Bill’s roughest day in CS
When asked to share a specific example of service recovery, Bill gave us this story, which we can all relate to:
“Probably the roughest day I’ve ever had in CS was my first week as Webmaster for a local high end pet food/supplies retailer here in San Francisco,” Bill recalled. “A company we bought really expensive dog food from got a bad batch from their supplier, and dogs were getting poisoned and getting extremely sick.”
“The one phone line that came in and the one email address all led to me, I had a horrific week or two of listening to very distraught and angry people. It took every ounce of patience and empathy and just being a reassuring shoulder to lean on to get through.”
Listening—rather than trying to immediately solve the problem—became Bill’s go-to customer support strategy as he helped dozens of customers that week.
“The key was not just blurting out a corporate PR response as a defense, but letting them tell their story and vent, before offering the help we were giving.”
Takeaway: Listening is one of the most important customer service skills. Most customers aren’t looking for an excuse or a defense; many simply want you to listen. If you can do that well, you’ll set yourself apart from the overwhelming majority of businesses.
2. Micah Bennet of Zapier shows the power of empathy
Micah Bennett is the Support Lead at Zapier, one of my favorite tools for integrating web apps without having to write any code.
With hundreds of thousands of people using the hundreds of apps on its platform, Zapier has a lot of support to do.
In one case, Micah faced a customer who wasn’t able to get what he wanted from the product.
“At Zapier, we often run into chases where our interactions don’t quite have the exact nuance or level of detail individuals need,” Micah told us. “That can cause them to be frustrated.
In once case, a user was frustrated that Zapier wasn’t able to provide a piece of data from a software product they were trying to integrate.
“They were miffed that a particular bit of information wasn’t available and deemed our product ‘useless’ without it.”
Micah didn’t give up on the customer
From the customer’s point of view, this looks like an example of a bad customer service experience—they can’t get what they need and are in danger of becoming a vocal detractor against Zapier.
But even through the product couldn’t meet the need, Micah wanted to transform the customer’s perception of poor service.
He took two steps:
“First, we acknowledged how useful it would have been to have the information they needed,” Micah recalled. “Hearing that from us helped put them at ease that we were on their side and not their to argue with them.”
“Second, we were able to give some detail on why exactly we couldn’t deliver on their need. Upon hearing the details, the user was able to better relate to our product, which—like any other product—has things we want to include, but can’t for lack of time or other circumstance.”
“Those two steps helped leave the customer much happier than they were at the outset, even though we weren’t able to meet their specific needs.”
Takeaway:Even if you can’t help a customer, empathy can go a long way in ensuring that you part ways on happy terms.
Kyle Racki of Proposify fires a customer (or tries to)
Kyle Racki is the CEO of Proposify, a proposal software tool that helps agencies and freelancers design better proposals.
Proposify had a customer who was being rude to Kyle and his team, and actually ended up using our word-for-word script for firing a customer on him.
In this case, though, the script backfired in perhaps the best possible way…
“We have a customer who regularly sends in complaints and is actually quite rude about it,” Kyle told us. “He’ll end sentences with stuff like ‘Pathetic.’ or ‘Not impressed.’ Some complaints are legit, others are just impossible to fulfill, like having 24/7 phone support.”
“The funny thing is, he would pepper his harsh criticism with stuff like ‘love the product’ and he wasn’t abusive, like calling us names or cursing at us. But eventually the complaints just got to be too much, he threatened to cancel if his demands weren’t met, and I thought, ‘Let’s get rid of him.’”
Kyle tries to fire the customer
From the customer’s perspective, Proposify was delivering poor customer service.
But in reality, he was just being overly demanding—to the point that it didn’t make sense for Proposify to keep him as a customer.
Kyle looked up our post on how to fire a client, and he used it word-for-word to suggest he simply cancel his account. Here’s what he sent:
And here’s the customer’s response…
“The funny thing is, we rarely get complaints from him now,” Kyle said. “And he’s still a customer using the product.”
Sometimes when you take something away from someone, they want it more.
“Rewarding bad behavior naturally encourages bad behavior,” Kyle told us. “But when you say you’ve had enough and they should use another product, you might end up learning that they actually love your product and want to keep using it.”
Takeaway: You can choose which customers you keep. Always strive to deliver excellent support, but be firm when you truly don’t think you can help a customer succeed. You might be surprised by how quickly this turns things around.
Action steps: How to recover from a bad customer experience
So… what did we learn from Bill, Micah, and Kyle? I think there are a few lessons we can take.
1. Always start with listening
The first step in every customer service situation is to listen to the customer.
As we learned from Bill, let the customer vent first—before you jump in and start defending your company.
You may hear some anger and frustration during this step, but keep your cool. The customer isn’t trying to personally attack you (not usually anyway).
As we heard in all three of these stories, before anything else, the customer wants to be heard.
2. Be an advocate, not an adversary
Customers who feel heard will almost always calm down at least a little. Usually this enough for you to begin to tell your side of the story.
The key to this step is to take the position of the customer’s advocate. You’re not defending your company against the customer.
You’re on the same team, working together to solve a problem.
“Once they know you’re listening and will help/advocate for them, I guarantee they will calm down,” Bill told us.
That’s exactly what happened in the Zapier story too, even in a case where the company couldn’t provide the feature the customer was asking for.
And from there, both customers walked away happy—or at least not upset anymore.
3. Don’t get taken advantage of
Finally, while customer satisfaction is important, doing your best for customers does not mean you have to allow consistently difficult customers take advantage of you or your customer service team.
If you have a customer who’s consistently rude, condescending, or unreasonable, let go of them. If you need help, here’s the link again to our word-for-word script for firing a problem customer.
At a minimum, you’ll be rid of a constant source of frustration. And in some cases, you might even see what Proposify saw: a dramatic shift in the customer’s behavior.
Bad customer service doesn’t have to be ‘bad’
The magic of customer service isn’t just that it helps one customer fix a problem.
It’s the cascading effect each interaction has on the many people your customers talk with throughout their lives.
Bad customer service creates social media posts that 300 people see, and all 300 of them now have a negative image of your company as a result.
But great customer service—the kind we saw in this article—does the opposite.
It prevents those negative reviews and angry social media posts, and—sometimes—it earns posts that rave about how great your customer service actually is.
That’s the best kind of customer service—the kind that can turn positive experiences into word-of-mouth marketing and higher customer retention.
The kind that keeps you off ABC News. 🙂