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A Real Example of How to Handle an Angry Customer Service Complaint on Social Media

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We’ve covered how to deal with angry customers. Now let’s see it in action.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and freshness. The original version first appeared on the Groove blog on December 1, 2015.

In customer service, angry and upset customers are a fact of life. They’re not going away, no matter how good your business is.

People have bad days, and things go wrong. And you’re left to solve the problem.

We’ve covered this topic before, from handling bad reviews to putting your best foot forward in social media support.

But I thought it would be helpful (and fun) to see a real example of these concepts in action.

Today, I’ll share a story from a friend and Groove customer, Kyle Racki of Proposify, about how he handled a situation with an angry customer on Twitter.

As we all know, in the early days of a startup, product issues do happen, and they happen often. You’re focused on making the product better, but especially at the start with your resources spread thin, this is an uphill climb.

The single best way to compensate for that shortcoming is to offer undeniably excellent customer service.

Proposify’s focus on stellar support is what got them through their early days, including in today’s example.

We’ll look at the juicy details of what happened, and analyze Kyle’s response to see what we can learn about dealing with angry customers on social media.

But before we get into it, I want to give you with a simple framework you can use every time to diffuse tense situation and deliver great service to your customers.

5 Steps to Excellent Customer Service Recovery

The Walt Disney Company is known for being a masterfully run company.

In everything from logistics to leadership and marketing, Disney is looked at as a model business for others to learn from and emulate.

In fact, businesses pay many thousands of dollars to send their employees to the Disney Institute to learn the company’s insights.

And with more than 135 million people passing through the company’s parks and resorts each year, Disney has perfected the art of customer service recovery to create happy and loyal customers.

Their approach to service recovery is a five-step process, easily remembered with the acronym H.E.A.R.D:

  • Hear
  • Empathize
  • Apologize
  • Resolve
  • Diagnose

1) Hear

Let the customer tell their entire story without interruption. Often when we’re upset, we just need someone to listen.

2) Empathize

Empathy is one of the most critical customer service skills you can possess. It’s the ability to deeply understand the thoughts and emotions of your customer, and making sure that they know that, too.

You can use phrases like “I’d be upset too” or “I can see why you’d be frustrated.”

3) Apologize

As long as it’s sincere, you can’t apologize enough for screwups.

In one study at the Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, 37% of customers were satisfied with service recovery when they were offered something of monetary value (e.g., a refund or credit). But when the business added an apology on top of the compensation, satisfaction doubled to 74%.

The Value of An Apology The Value of An Apology

4) Resolve

Resolve the issue quickly. This can only be done if your employees have the authority to do what it takes in terms of compensation, so make sure you’re empowering your team to act.

If you’re not sure exactly what sort of compensation or resolution would be appropriate, ask the customer:

What can I do to make this right?

By showing an eagerness to do right by them, you can begin to bridge the gap between your customer’s dissatisfied state and where you want them to be.

5) Diagnose

Once the customer is satisfied, get to the bottom of why the mistake occurred, without blaming anyone:

Seek perfection, settle for excellence. Remove any personal guilt and examine the processes related to the service failure. Returning customers will appreciate your efforts to improve the experience.
The Disney Institute

The H.E.A.R.D. approach sounds great in principle, but would it really work in a situation where you have an angry customer sitting behind their computer ready to blast you on social media?

An Angry Tweet Comes In…

Early in 2015, Proposify, a SaaS company whose product helps people put together super-polished proposals, got a Tweet from a less-than-pleased customer.

The customer certainly had a legitimate complaint, and their frustration caused them to package the complaint in a sarcastic Tweet.

Completely understandable.

At this point, the Proposify team had a few options:

  1. Apologize. (Do this no matter what)
  2. Defend themselves (Don’t do this. It only makes you look bad.)
  3. Try to resolve the issue.

Here’s what they went with:

Was their response perfect?

Some might not think so.

The “just looking to publicly shame us?” bit could come off as a bit passive-aggressive to some.

But here’s what’s important:

The response included an apology.

The response offered help.

And the response was authentic.

The last point is important; not every company’s tone has to be all smiley faces and sunshine, and you don’t have to be a pushover to deliver great support.

Proposify is a company with a personality, and they weren’t afraid to show it here. The customer’s Tweet was a bit snippy, and Proposify responded in kind.

But it wasn’t a Twitter fight that Kyle and his team wanted.

That’s why immediately after responding, he reached out to the customer directly…

Reaching Out via Email

Kyle sent the customer a note to follow up:

While the execution of the Tweet can be debated, there’s no question that Kyle’s email is excellent on all fronts.

Let’s break it down:

Here, Kyle does something really important: instead of making assumptions about what the customer meant, he asked for clarification. It’s an obvious but underused tactic in a world where many support departments are focusing on first-contact resolution, leading to scrambles to try to answer questions that agents don’t even understand.

And importantly, Kyle offers to help resolve the issue once the question is clarified.

Kyle also stays positive, and compliments the customer’s ideas. Note that he doesn’t necessarily promise to add the feature (a promise we can’t always make right away), but he still gives credit for good suggestions.

And here…

… Kyle does a great job in explaining why a particular feature doesn’t work the way the customer wants it to, rather than simply telling the customer that it doesn’t work.

This is important; people respond to story, and sharing how the issue was a struggle for the team likely went a long way in making the customer empathize with the business and be more understanding of the issue.

Next, Kyle apologizes:

Again, notice that while Kyle is eagerly helping the customer solve the issue, his tone firmly makes it clear that the way the customer voiced their concern isn’t the most effective way to get help from Proposify.

This was a very smart, above-and-beyond move. Kyle didn’t need to offer a refund, and the customer never asked for one.

The offer was a textbook move for excellent customer service, and explained well by Fog Creek Software (makers of Trello):

We don't want your money if you're not amazingly happy.

The Fog Creek Promise

The refund is not necessarily because the customer’s issue demands it, but because it demonstrates a commitment to making things right, and to delivering an amazing experience.

It’s a move that shows that Proposify values their long-term relationship with the customer far more than that month’s bill.

And finally:

Kyle ends by continuing to build rapport with the customer.

We’re a lot less likely to stay angry at people that we know and like, and building rapport is a great way to get your customers to know and like you.

So, What Happened?

Soon after, Kyle got this response:

This response speaks for itself, but it’s truly amazing: the situation was completely diffused, the customer was sold on the resolution, and they even apologized for their initial Tweet.

And a bit later on, the customer even followed up via Twitter:

How Will You Respond to the Next Angry Tweet?

I hope that this example shows you that it’s not that difficult to turn an angry social media complaint into a better relationship with the upset customer.

Even if Proposify's response did not fall withing Disney's approach squarely, the team still addressed the issue right by taking the following steps:

Kudos to Kyle and his team for their handling of this challenging situation.

Have you had to deal with angry customer complaints on social media? Let me know how you handled it (and how it went) in the comments!

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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