How to Survive Angry Customer Service Emails

How to Survive Angry Customer Service Emails

Running an eCommerce store can be great- flexible hours, low startup commitment, can be run from anywhere.

The worst part? Hands down, dealing with customer service emails. I used to absolutely dread this, but wasn’t quite big enough to outsource it yet.

The good news? The more you do it, the easier it gets. Here are some tactics to make customer service emails, even angry ones, as painless as possible.

Limit your involvement

Don’t spend more time or energy on customer service emails than you need to. No matter how hard it is, try not to take angry emails personally. They are mad at “the uniform”, not you.

If an email upsets you, let yourself cool off for a bit before responding. Remember that you have many other important things to do during your day, so don’t let yourself get sucked into negativity coming from customer service emails.

I try to get mine done first thing in the morning, and I’ll actually set a timer to see how long it takes me to get through it all. Turns out, I spend a lot more time worrying about them than actually doing them.

Use templates

I have a bunch of customer service template in a plain text document to cover the most common customer service situations and use these as a basis for my emails.

The obvious benefit is that it saves me time: in 90% of cases, I just need to make small modifications to the 2 or 3 most common templates.

The less obvious, but more important, benefit for me is that copy/pasting my answers helps me to take things less personally than if I needed to type them out, and saves me the pain of trying to write polite things when I’m not feeling very polite- they are already written for me.

Be proactive

Do them right away, every day, so they don’t pile up. Make it a habit to respond within 24 hours on weekdays (48 max), otherwise the problem will escalate on its own.

When customers get a quick, friendly answer, they are much more likely to be happy than if they need to follow up.

Don’t take it personally- but make it personal

It’s much harder to be mad at a person that at a faceless corporation. Use a name in your signature, but it doesn’t need to be your real name. This makes me feel better as a way of distancing myself from “the uniform” but helps give them a “face” to identify with.

Preventively, you can combine your Contact and About Us pages. Have a photo and describe your story. Make it personal so they know that you are a small company, that you care about your customers, and that they like you and want to be understanding towards you… before they even write that email. This can help diffuse some anger before they even hit send.

See the person behind the screen… or pretend to see someone you like behind the screen!

My initial knee-jerk reaction to most customer service emails is either “what an idiot” or “what an asshole”.

Sorry, it’s true. More often than not, when I first read a customer email for my eCommerce store, I think the person is either (a) rude, (b) asking a stupid question, (c) wrong about something (d) didn’t read what was clearly written on the website (e) can’t spell or (f) some combination of the above.

This probably says more about me than about them.

Either way, responding in this state of mind will probably come out bitchy and just make things worse. I need to find a way to empathize with the customer.

One trick has helped me a LOT: pretend the customer is someone you know, who you would want to be nice to. For example, your aunt, your grandparent, your nice older neighbor, your friend, your friend’s parent. Whatever floats your boat. Pretending they are someone you know (and like) helps you empathize with them.

We have all been angry at a customer service department at one time or another, so channel some of that understanding and respond to the person the way you would respond to the person you know and understand.

Defuse the situation – don’t blame or shame

Assume that whatever they are angry about was an honest mistake or an honest oversight. Be professional. Defuse the situation.

“This person is angry that they haven’t received a tracking number? Oh well, they must have missed the first email I sent with it. Maybe it went to their spam. Mom misses emails sometimes too, I’ll just give it to her again with the tracking link so it’s extra-clear.”

Angry responses, or pointing out things they did wrong, will just antagonize them and rarely leads to a positive response.

Give them the benefit of the doubt, be extra-nice, and if you’re lucky, they’ll feel bad for being rude to you and be extra-nice back next time.

You just won a loyal customer, and you’ve put a little more good karma out into the world. Win-win.

Know when to “pay for peace”

Sometimes it’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault, but in the interest of your sanity you just need to refund this jerk and move on. Don’t give out refunds like candy, but when that one customer comes along who you really can’t deal with, just be thankful that you have the margins to afford to issue a refund and get them out of your life.

Remember your wins

You’ll have happy customers too. It’s easy to forget them! (Notice how we’re not writing articles about how to deal with happy customers?)

The same way that in a performance review with 9 positives and one negative we tend to focus on the negative, try to remember all the happy customers who never email you, or the few who do. Save their emails, print them out, whatever helps you focus on the positives.

Rip the bandaid off

The more you do it, the easier it gets! Good luck!

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