Angry Feedback is Still Valuable Feedback

We’ve had a certain lingering bug for a long, long time. We suspected that a bug existed in our system because customers often complained about the aftereffects. In this case, customers were unable to navigate to a certain area of their online account without first logging out and back in. This typically required an interaction with customer support to learn of the solution.

But for the longest time, we were unable to figure out why it was occurring and how to recreate the issue. So long in fact that we sort of gave up trying to figure out the root cause and just resorted to posting a workaround in our knowledge base. Gotta love a good workaround, right?

Fast forward a few months and one of my colleagues sent a support ticket over to me, suggesting that a customer had crossed a line and that we should consider firing them. The email from the customer said something to the effect of “What the #%&!. Fix this stupid piece of $#!&.” Oh, the joys of customer support. Yes, the kneejerk reaction would be to take offense at this angry rant from a customer.

Then I noticed that the customer included a video in their ticket. Slightly scared but definitely curious, I clicked on the video and discovered that they had perfectly screen-captured the bug and revealed exactly how to recreate it. Brilliant!

So in a few moments, this customer went from a fireable offense to possibly earning some sort of compensation for saving us upwards of a dozen support tickets per month. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of customers have encountered this bug and this was the first customer with the wherewithal to show us how to recreate it. That’s incredibly valuable insight! 

As I reflect on this experience, there are a few important lessons to highlight. 

Lesson #1 – Always be listening…as a team

We have absolutely no clue where valuable insight will come from. As much as we’d love it, customers won’t always take the time to book a slot on our calendar and then share a carefully prepared set of bullet points that highlight the issue they are experiencing and exactly how to recreate it. 

That’s why we have to pay attention to as many customer interactions as we possibly can. Our customer support teams need to be empowered to question and speak up when things don’t seem quite right. Pull at threads where systems don’t work as expected to gain a complete understanding of issues. We must never settle for workarounds but seek to solve issues once and for all.

As a customer support and customer experience leader, I’d love to be all-knowing and all-seeing. But with thousands of customer interactions each month, that’s simply not possible. That’s why this has to be a team effort and cannot be accomplished by a single individual with “Customer Experience” in their job title. Instead, leaders need to be always listening to their teams and be grateful when they speak up — even if they occasionally sound a false alarm.

Lesson #2 – Refuse to take offense…even when customers are offensive

No one likes to be yelled at, insulted, or sworn at. Admittedly, I still struggle mightily with such attacks from customers. 

Putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes for a moment, take a step back and imagine that you need to run an errand during your lunch break and you only have thirty minutes. You pull up to an intersection and there’s a car sitting there even though the light is green. No amount of honking your horn or gesturing with your hands gets that car to move.

What am I getting at here? I simply want to illustrate that when we have a job to do and a specific amount of time to do it, we might be a little (or a lot) upset when someone or something stands in our way. 

Applied to my original story, I can see why this customer was upset — even if their language may have crossed a line. This customer signed on to their account to complete a task and our system prevented them from doing so.

Had we chosen to be offended by the customer’s words and actions, we very well may have missed an opportunity to learn and improve. Instead of taking offense, take a deep breath and gather all of the facts and you are in the best place to gain valuable insight from your customer.

As a quick side note, I’m not saying that frontline support folks should resolve themselves to being punching bags for customers. If you believe a customer is being abusive, it’s fully acceptable to escalate to a supervisor or manager. I just want to make sure that we don’t miss the underlying issue driving the customer to this behavior.

Lesson #3 – Close the loop…even when you’re not sure the customer deserves it

When a customer takes time to give feedback, responding to them and closing the loop shows the customer that you heard them and did something about their feedback. Given that so few companies take this simple action, this can be a great way to connect meaningfully with your customers, turn negative situations around, and build stronger trusting relationships.

In this case, however, I wrestled with whether or not to dignify the customer’s abusive email with a response. Admittedly, I sat on that support ticket for a while. I ultimately did respond, acknowledging that this was indeed an annoying bug and thanking them for showing us how to replicate an issue that had otherwise evaded us for more than a year. Had the customer responded with more abusive language, I likely would have addressed that in more detail but instead chose to focus on fixing the root cause of their problem.

As I conclude, I often fantasize about a perfect Hollywood ending to these types of scenarios. You know — the one where we offer a service, the customer gets upset, we fix the issue, let the customer know it’s fixed, and they shower us with praise all over Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), and wherever else. 

But let’s face it. Customer service ain’t always Hollywood. And that’s not the point of all of this. The point is that by listening to this customer — regardless of how politely or rudely they conveyed the message — countless other customers were saved from the aggravation of encountering this bug. It would not have happened had we failed to listen to every customer or chosen to take offense when they were just downright mean. 

And in a funny way, I find myself grateful to have had this encounter and learned these lessons. I sincerely hope the results are similar for you when these sorts of situations present themselves!

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