14 Ways to Handle Angry Dissatisfied Customers Online

Decades ago, unhappy customers would have to write a letter to let a brand know how dissatisfied they were with a product they just purchased. It was a private matter between company and client, and a lack of response from a noteworthy name wouldn’t be unheard of. After all, letters in the mail do occasionally get lost.

angry online customer

However, filing a complaint today is now an incredibly public affair that can tear apart both the fledgling startup and the household brand. From the “Thumbs Down” button on YouTube to the poorly moderated comments on blogs, people have no problem expressing their distaste for something and telling absolutely everyone they can about it.

We asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs, the following question to find out how they deal with those who blast their dissatisfaction from behind their computer screen:

“What’s your top tip for dealing with an angry client or customer online?”

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Learn to Empathize

“Understand why your client or customer is upset before providing any solutions. Empathize by putting yourself in their place and understand how they were confused, disappointed or frustrated.” ~ Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

2. Avoid the Blame Game

“Instead of focusing on who is at fault, just focus on making the situation right for the customer.” ~ Josh Weiss, Bluegala

3. Switch the Medium

“If you’re confronted with a nasty blog post, email or forum post about your company, try to engage with that customer on the phone. Most people would never say the things they write online (especially when they feel they’ve been taken advantage of). By switching communication mediums and proactively calling the customer, you can diffuse a situation much easier than doing so online.” ~ Matt Mickiewicz, Flippa

4. Don’t Engage Online

“It’s so tempting to want to acknowledge, better understand or fix a complaint online. While you certainly want to address the issue for the customer — so that the complaint is a footnote rather than a reoccurring theme in your online profile — you don’t exhibit professionalism when you handle your business in an online chat forum. Get the customer’s contact info, then take it offline.” ~ Alexia Vernon, Alexia Vernon Empowerment LLC

5. A Second First Impression

“You don’t want a customer’s anger to be their most recent impression of your company. By going the extra mile — offering them a free product, calling them to check in or sending them a gift in the mail — you’ll help shift their frustration into satisfaction.” ~ David Adelman, Reel Tributes

6. From Angry to Advocate

“Many times, your angriest client can become your best advocate. Chances are good that you can make them happier then they were before their problem. Angry clients need help, and you need to give it to them to make them happy. You may have to invest some more money or time, but the payoff will be worth it for you in the long term.” ~ Louis Lautman, Young Entrepreneur Society

7. Kill Them With Kindness

“Whenever possible, do absolutely everything you can to go out of your way — above and beyond — to make the angry client happy. The worst thing you can do is ignore a client’s complaint. Seek to understand why they’re unhappy and do everything you can to make it right.” ~ Matt Cheuvront, Launch

8. Honesty Travels Far

“People know when you’re saying a few prepared sentences to get them to relax. Determine what the client/customer is upset about, reading between the lines if you must, then have an honest conversation about how you will remedy it. Doing this out in the open on your social networks can show the character of your company, and if the person is being irrational, your community will recognize it.” ~ Pete Chatmon, Double7 Images

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9. Go With Your Gut

“When a customer complains online, sometimes they kjust want something for free. Would they say that same online comment to your face? Most likely, they won’t. Find out what the problem is and if they just want something for free, then “fire” them. If you bend over backwards for one customer like that, then more will expect it, causing you to lose time and money.” ~ Ashley Bodi, Business Beware

10. Address It ASAP

“In today’s online world, it’s important to address issues before they get out of hand. Respond to the negative comment with a resolution or offer to speak with the customer offline. If it’s unfounded, perhaps turn to your company blog or social media platforms to explain the situation to current customers so they don’t think you’ve ignored it completely.” ~ Heather Huhman, Come Recommended

11. Go Public

“You will upset customers. The worst thing to do is to sweep it under a rug by deleting their complaint online or simply ignoring it. Take ownership for their disappointment, then do everything you can to resolve their issue. Do this publicly so that other customers know that you have a culture of excellence.” ~ Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

12. Are You Sorry?

“Too often, those words are never said. If you simply start your conversation with “I’m sorry,” you might find that’s all someone is seeking. We often want to say, “I’m sorry but…” and everything after this phrase is all the customer hears. Instead, tell them that you’re sorry and listen to their issue.” ~ Erin Blaskie, BSETC

13. Meet the Demands

“If your customer is furious and wants a refund, give it to them. If they want to exchange a product, let them. If they want to talk to your boss, hand over the phone. Any minor inconvenience or money lost will pay for itself tenfold over the life of the customer when your good service turns them into someone who is raving about your business.” ~ Sean Ogle, Location 180, LLC

14. Fire Them!

“This might sound contrarian, but often, it’s the right thing to do, especially if you’ve followed all the other great advice in this article. Of course, refund their money if that’s an issue, and wish them the best. Just remember, you can’t service everyone and it’s best to focus your energy on clients and customers who are the right fit and alignment for your business.” ~ Michael Margolis, Get Storied

Angry Online Customer Photo via Shutterstock

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The Young Entrepreneur Council The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

10 Reactions
  1. Mike @ Dive Lights Direct

    My experience is that if you personally connect to them, admit they have a right to be frustrated, explain why it happened (including if it was a mistake on your end) and commit to trying to fix the problem that will get you 90% there. Actually fixing the problem is the other 10%.

  2. I completely agree with the above take, it is important to connect and respond to frustrated customers in as quick a manner as possible and it is also equally important to acknowledge your happy customers as they are the ones who are loyal and will keep coming back, you want to make sure you treat them not just as customers but as partners as they help you grow, they support you all along the way. Here is another great article on how it is extremely important to like your customers in order to succeed. Do you like your customers?

  3. This is really great advice. I’m particularly fond of #1, because it’s the greatest challenge and yet the shortest road to pacifying an angry customer.

    For anyone interested, we took a look at the same problem at BizEngine a while back.


  4. It’s always a challenge to keep emotion out and practically get to the root cause while others are watching via the online world. Crafting a solution that (ideally) satisfies the customer yet maintains an appropriate service level by the supplier is key.

    This article (http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/seven-steps-to-managing-your-online-reputation/) highlighting Henry Poser of B&H Photo by the NY Times writer David Freedman is over a year old. I still enjoy reading it. Henry was an early adopter of social media to work through customer service issues. Of all the places that are open for customer complaints, a camera shop like B&H is high on the list.

    As you can see from the article, B&H manages this customer service extremely well.

  5. I certainly agree with your article. I think we should always think about putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer, dont treat them as just a source of income (which in reality is what we are)!

  6. Saying “you’re sorry” goes a long way with solving a problem, 100% agree with that tip. While it’s great to offer up a million ways to solve the problem right away, you should first acknowledge that there is one and that you’re truly sorry it happened in the first place. In my experience, this goes a long with customers. It puts them at ease knowing they don’t have to be defensive or that you’re accusing them of anything.

    The best tip I got from my supervisor was to take a deep breath before responding. It’ll clear your mind and keep your blood pressure from sky-rocketing 😉

  7. Number 13 sounds like it cannot be used with all types of customers. When you feed the self-entitlement of some people, you might find yourself losing control of your business and bending over to any one who would so much as frown. I am not arguing this piece of advice, but I am stressing that there should be limits on the leeway you allow.

  8. Great article. No one likes to admit that they have made a mistake, but when you empathize it works. Killing with kindness is fantastic. It is hard for someone to stay mad when you are really trying to help. Over the years I have learned, service, service and then more service. The last point is wonderful. You don’t have to take every client and if you try all your points and they are still nasty, just say I am sorry you feel that way I can’t help you. No one has a right to treat anyone poorly. Walk away.

  9. very great article, helpful to me about Angry Dissatisfied Customers Online