You come into the office and the phone rings. You quickly realise the person on the other end of the phone is absolutely furious with something associated with your business. It feels like you’re now wrestling with a monster and a misstep could be a stab of insecurity about your business and the service you are providing. How do you handle it?

You are not going to be liked by everyone. That’s just a truth of the world, let alone specifically in business contexts. Realistically, it therefore makes sense to have strategies to handle those inevitably unhappy customers.

I recently attended the Business Excellence Forum (where our clients picked up another record-breaking number of awards) and during that forum, Michael Heppel covered a framework that I think is extremely useful for this. Below is a picture of that framework I’ve gotten my team to put together:

This diagram is a way for you to segment your customers according to how much they like you (which is the x-axis) and according to how active they are about expressing those feelings (the y-axis).

The Four Customer Categories

Let’s first go through the profile of each of these ‘types’ of customer.

A.) Quiet Customers – These are in the bottom left quadrant. They are ones that don’t like you, but aren’t talking about it. These people are quite dangerous because they are dissatisfied but you have no idea why.

B.) Content Customers – These are in the bottom right quadrant. These are customers who are happy with what you do and your services but aren’t talking about it to the wider world (yet).

C.) Actively Angry – The top left quadrant is the one where you are usually paying most attention. These customers are voracious in vocalising their discontent with you and you often have no choice but to deal with them – and, really, you definitely want to address these people before they start impacting your reputation.

D.) Raving Fan – And, of course, the top right quadrant are your favourite people. These are the ones who love what you are doing, and are actively telling you and others about how happy they are. You want to keep these people where they are on this diagram.

Actively Angry: The Biggest Mistake Business Owners Make

Let’s start with the most problematic customers: the actively angry ones. The huge mistake that most business owners make it trying shift Actively Angry customers along the x-axis – i.e. trying to make them like you more.

Unfortunately, that’s going to be an extremely difficult thing to do. Once someone has become active in their anger towards you, you’re going to struggle to make them happy in a single, immediate action.

Instead, let’s take them on a journey. Here’s how to take that phone call from the angry person and turn them into a raving fan.

1. First, hear out your Actively Angry customer, so they become less active.

Instead of immediately making the angry person really happy with you, get them to talk to you rather than anyone else.

Actively angry people usually want to be heard, so listen to them. Go about this by starting with empathising – use the phrase, “Oh that sounds awful.” Repeat their issue to demonstrate you understand it, and express agreement that their experience has been awful.

Follow this up with, “This is what we are going to do about it.” Keep it forward moving and express what you will do to address the issue. Even if you will not fix it right away, make sure they know you will be doing something about it – passing it to the right team member, or give them a date when you will follow up with them.

While they are probably still simmering and not entirely happy with you, you have taken the first step in preventing them ranting and raving about it.

2. Now take that Quiet customer to contentment.

Now that they aren’t being loudly angry, you are in a much better place to give real value to your customer and give them the satisfaction they are seeking from your services.

The strategy to take here is to ask them the right kinds of questions. What is it that you currently ask your customer following a quiet spell from them? Do you say something like, “Is everything ok?” – if that’s the case then that’s your problem.

Make your questions active and encourage a specific answer by narrowing your questions as much as possible.

Examples of good questions:

“Is there something we can change?”
“What is one thing you would like us to do for you?”
“What did our customer representative say to you on the day you came in?”

3. Finally, just a nudge upwards to Raving Fans

With customers who feel content with what you do, all they need is just a small push to move them up the loyalty ladder to start raving about you. Compared to the dramatic act you’d need to move them directly from Actively Angry to this space.

So how exactly do you get this person who is satisfied with your work to start talking about it? Get them to tell a story – and do that by giving them a moment to describe.

The key here is to create poignant moments that stick in their minds. A surprise is one of the best ways to do that – give them something they weren’t expecting. And timing is everything. If they are distracted by something else, your surprise will be lost.

Point of sale, or when you’re delivering the fix to the issue, are some of the best times to surprise them. That’s when they are feeling best, so make them feel even better and nudge them upwards.

When you create those moments, you need to be ready to ask – directly – for them to tell that story (if it makes sense to do so). This might be by recording a video testimonial or getting them to leave you a review on Google or Facebook, or even just a share on their social media channels.

Set up a process like this within your business for handling your most angry customers and suddenly your Actively Angry customer on the phone isn’t quite a terrifying monster, and could actually end up being one of your best customers.

Do you have any strategies for dealing with unhappy customers that work well for your business? Share it in the comments below!

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