Every customer service team has to deal with angry customers and haters. Use these practical strategies to create better interactions.
Let’s be real: haters will always be out there. Dealing with them is harder than talking to happy and satisfied customers, but these interactions can be valuable—for your company, your team, and for you as an individual.
How often do you find yourself dealing with severe and targeted criticism?
If you’re like most people, it probably isn’t that often—unless you work in customer service.
Interacting with people is part and parcel of customer service. Some of the best aspects of the job are interacting with customers. You get firsthand experience of how kind and clever some of your customers are. But if you’ve worked in customer support for a while, you know that it’s not customer conversations aren’t exclusively positive.
Start your day
Customers often seek help when they’re struggling, stuck, frustrated, or disappointed. As a customer service agent, you’re the first line of defense. When emotion runs high and frustration boils over, the resulting interaction can be pretty challenging. That’s when working in support can be draining and stressful. The trick is to approach haters in customer service with the right mindset.
5 steps to deal with haters in customer service
“Haters” refers to customers who are deeply unhappy with either your product or your service (or both!). They’re the people who complain loudly—across any (or all) channels—and make it clear that they are not satisfied with what you’re selling.
Managing these conversations well takes practice and experience. These five steps will set you up for success:
- Don’t take negative feedback personally.
- Find the kernel of truth.
- Respond graciously.
- Create an internal support system.
- Look for long-term solutions.
Don’t take negative feedback personally
It’s much easier said than done, but this is the foundation of any rational, constructive response to negative customer interaction.
Haters can come in many forms. They might criticize your company, your product, or you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to interact with them via email, which gives you both time to process their negativity and think carefully about your response. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you’ll end up dealing with a super frustrated customer on the phone, and you’ll need to be able to face their frustration and manage the emotions in the moment.
Whatever the circumstances, striving for emotional detachment is essential. Here are some reminders that might help:
- Their frustration is a result of the circumstances and their experience, not your direct personal actions.
- If your actions made the situation worse in any way, treat it as a mistake. Mistakes are unavoidable and provide you with an opportunity to improve. None of us are perfect.
- These customers aren’t talking to you as an individual. They’re interacting with you as a representative of the company you’re working for.
Creating distance between yourself and explosive customers makes it easier to respond appropriately.
Find the kernel of truth
One good thing about haters is that they often have a point.
Few people get outraged about a product or service if they genuinely didn’t care:
- For every customer that complains, 26 others don’t say anything.
- The number one reason customers leave a company is that they feel unappreciated.
Those haters that you see? They’re customers who are engaged with your product, want to fix a problem, and may represent more people than you think.
The fact that they bothered contacting you gives you a chance to improve the situation. While that doesn’t necessarily excuse unkind or outrageous behavior, it does create a potential silver lining. The goal should be to start by assuming that they’re right about something—even if you have to search hard to find it.
When it comes to customer service, haters typically fall into two buckets:
- The ones who give you extremely detailed and comprehensive feedback about what went wrong.
- The ones who state something generic and broad, like “this product sucks.”
In the first case, you can pick out the parts of their experience that were badly handled and own up to them. Their detailed feedback can highlight product or service improvement opportunities.
In the second case, even if your knee-jerk reaction is to disengage, you can do your best to get more detail so you can try to help.
The hardest part of all of this is crafting a response that works.
Responding graciously to a furious customer is hard enough when you’re dealing with a one-on-one interaction. The stakes are even higher if you’re on a public channel, like social media or app store reviews. This might be why 79% of customers who share their complaints publicly get ignored.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Jay Baer identifies two types of haters:
- Offstage haters complain privately. They’re more likely to reach out to your company and tell you why they’re unhappy.
- Onstage haters consciously go for a public channel, like social media. They usually expect an immediate response and want to hold the company accountable.
Responding is essential in both cases, but you’ll need to use a slightly different touch depending on the situation.
De-escalate offstage conversations
When customers complain privately, you have room and space to fully engage with their complaints and try to solve the problem.
The 5As of De-Escalation is a great framework for accomplishing this:
- Acknowledge: Start by acknowledging their experience and being empathetic. An apology might be appropriate. The goal is to make the customer feel heard and understood.
- Address: Take time to address their feedback explicitly so that it’s clear that you care and are invested in understanding the customer’s perspective. This often involves active listening and reading between the lines.
- Assert: Once you’ve reached clarity, you can assert the company’s position or policy. For example, if a customer is unhappy because a feature hasn’t been developed, you can explain some parts of your product team’s process when they prioritize new work. It isn’t about being right, but rather about offering an alternative explanation for why the customer experienced that problem.
- Agree: Find something about their feedback that’s a fair point and openly concede it. Admitting when you make mistakes (as a company or an individual) is often the best way to disarm someone when they’re angry and frustrated.
- Appeal: Involve them in finding a solution, either by suggesting a workaround or offering some compensation.
De-escalation is fundamentally about calming down emotions so that you can address the substance of an issue. It requires hitting the right tone of authenticity and openness and a willingness to own up to mistakes—while still representing your company in the best light.
Respond (with limitations) to onstage haters
Responding to haters is significantly easier in an email when you have virtually unlimited characters available and you can craft the perfect tone.
It’s way harder if you’re replying on Twitter or the Play Store (or during a live webinar). When you have to come up with a great answer on the spot, in front of tons of people, it’s very easy to make a mistake.
The best way to respond to onstage haters is to:
- Focus on displaying empathy. This is where acknowledging your customer’s experience and feedback can make a world of difference. Jumping ahead to anything else comes across as defensive.
- Reply only twice. Social media lends itself well to short, snappy comebacks. It’s not the best environment for a great experience or an extended conversation.
- Switch channels. If you need to carry on the conversation beyond two answers, switching channels gives you a lot more room to delve deeper—ideally “offstage” and in private.
Say you’re an airline and someone tweets at you about a horrible flight experience they had. Flying can be stressful. Passengers are stuck in a small space for long periods. Virtually everyone has experienced a terrible flight, so publicly shared feedback usually resonates with many people.
But the best response isn’t to ignore it.
It’s to acknowledge that they didn’t have a great experience and to offer them an avenue to contact you privately. This gives you the opportunity to gather further details and make things right, wherever possible.
Don’t discount how important a simple, public reply is as the first step. It signals to your entire customer base that you care about their complaints.
Create an internal support system
Dealing with haters is much easier when you have an internal support system within your support team. Here are some examples of what that looks like:
- Invest time in preparing responses in advance. Preparation makes a gigantic difference in how comfortable your team will feel handling tough customers, especially if you take the time to test the messaging out to see what resonates best.
- Make it easy for your agents to switch out if a case gets heated. Sometimes customers do get annoyed at that one individual. Having another person step in changes can be a game changer.
- Have processes in place to offer compensation. Enabling frontline employees to make small gestures, like providing a voucher or a discount, extends a little bit of goodwill towards your customers.
- Have a line that should not be crossed. Firing a customer is not easy to do, but if you’re the support manager, your team needs to know you have their back. Some types of hate are not acceptable. Get clear on where those lines are for your business and stand firm.
Look for long-term solutions
The cherry on top of dealing with really angry customers is finding long-term solutions for the issues that lead to the most hate.
Dealing with the same complaints repeatedly is exhausting for your team. Your customers will be significantly happier if you can solve thorny issues for good, but your support team will also get to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
This could mean aggregating the most common customer complaints and passing them on internally to your product or marketing teams. You could also aim to provide proactive support to reduce the issues your customers are experiencing.
Engage with angry customers and all the feedback
Excellent customer service means dealing with all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Talking down an angry customer and turning that into a positive interaction is one of the most rewarding parts of working in support—despite the knee-jerk stress response that these situations cause. Even when you can’t successfully turn a situation around, it’s worth remembering that it’s still an investment in your customer experience.
Even if “haters gonna hate, hate, hate,” you don’t need to let them bring you down. Seize those opportunities to get better at handling all types of negative feedback.
Who knows? Your customers may even end up thanking you.