Every business has challenges. Most problems are easily visible by looking at a spreadsheet, observing the chaos in a warehouse or noticing that a truck needs maintenance. These problems are observable and often predictable. It may not take too much time or effort to fix them, but we may procrastinate because the problems lack urgency.
Not all problems fit that pattern. The angry customer is a category unto itself. An angry customer can make all the other stress seem minor. The angry customer can deliver a powerful punch to a business that can keep owners up all night, have staff ready to walk out and wreak havoc with other customers and referral sources.
They tend to surface at the most inopportune times—the first customer to call on a Monday morning and the last call to at the end of a day. They pop up just as we are headed out the door to lunch, have an emergency to handle in the office or are ready to go home.
Companies often teach employees how to handle Medicare denials, order routing or plan deliveries, but they often neglect to teach staff about how to handle an angry customer.
First, let’s tackle denial. Stop telling yourself, “We never get a complaint.” You may not get one, but I bet some customers have stopped ordering or order less frequently because of a problem they experienced with your company. They may have been reluctant to tell you about it because of the relationship they have with you—or should have had with you.
Don’t be fooled into believing everything is just fine with all of your customers. Everybody gains new customers because of mistakes competitors make with angry customers. People who are angry or upset often do not complain. They take the easiest path—to another provider.
When you have an opportunity to deal with an upset customer, consider possible root causes of their anger:
- Illness or responsibilities as a caregiver. Perhaps they or a family member needs products and services for which they are totally unfamiliar.
- Frustrated expectations. Possibly it’s an unrealistic expectation—maybe that their mother will walk again.
- Stress caused by money problems. Illnesses can decrease income and increase bills. And dealing with third-party insurance issues can be difficult.
- Feeling out of control. Patients often lose independence and are relegated to working with a healthcare system that sometimes seems cold and uncaring.
Now it’s time for strategies that work not only for the angry customer, but the people on the receiving end of the ire.
- Never underestimate the power of the angry customer. The more a complaint is repeated, the longer its legs grow. A small issue can morph into a big deal. It can trigger a rant that ends with a referral source never calling you again.
- Move quickly to resolve issues. The longer a customer remains angry the more frequently he will tell others about what happened. As you wait to solve the problem, they continue to have no information to share about the how the problem is being solved.
- Show empathy. Often this is the most difficult strategy. When a complaint comes at a bad or busy time, it is difficult to show you care. There’s an old saying, “Never let them see you sweat.” Well, never let a customer sense you don’t care that they are upset. Listen carefully to their story. Recognize why they are upset and explain to them the actions you are taking to resolve the problem.
- Send a follow-up note to those who complain. Let the customer, referral source or patient know that you appreciate them taking time to discuss a problem. Let them know the relationship is valuable, and thank them for giving you the opportunity to not only fix the problem and keep their business, but also to ensure the same problem does not recur.
Everyone in your company needs to know how to address and deal with an angry customer. These customers can become your best educational tool. Each angry customer has a unique message to deliver, and if you cease being defensive, there is much to learn. They are your daily business consultants.