In an article at E-WRITE, Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan give ten tips on how to answer e-mail from angry customers and turn them into fans, solving their problem and soothing their anger.
1. If you understand the customer’s problem and he or she has included all necessary details, rephrase the problem to show that you grasp the situation. Include all relevant information about the customer.
2. If you don’t understand the problem completely, politely ask the customer to clarify the problem. If the customer’s preferred solution is not clear, ask for clarification. This will ensure that the solution matches the customer’s need.
3. Personalize your response, using the customer’s name and title or his or her signature in your salutation. Include details from the customer’s account information, such as how long he or she has been a client. Then sign your e-mail.
4. Explain in detail how the problem is being - or will be - solved and, if possible, give the time line for the process.
5. If you can give good news, put it in first before offering empathy. On the other hand, if your response would be bad news for the customer, offer empathy before the news.
6. Be polite and positive and do not match the customer’s angry or accusatory tone.
7. Do not scold the customer. Use the pronouns “I” and “we” more than “you.”
8. Empathize with the customer and acknowledge his or her pain and suffering even if it is not your company’s fault and even if you cannot fix the problem.
9. Offer a genuine and specific apology to the customer when your company is at fault, and do not dilute it with a “but.”
10. If possible, offer the customer something of value, such as a free product, a rebate or a discount, to satisfy him or her. If this is not possible, offer something else, such as a software upgrade, a whitepaper download, or - at the very least - a follow-up e-mail.
According to Rudick and O’Flahavan, the satisfaction in replying to angry e-mail from customers comes from keeping problems from escalating out of control.
This is a difficult communication skill to master but it could have a major impact on the organization.