Have you ever received angry emails from customers? If you have, I know how you feel. It’s that unpleasant, sinking feeling in your stomach. You can feel your heart pounding in your chest. And you want to defend yourself from this attack.
You’re Not Alone
First, let me just say you’re not alone. I’ve received a few of these, and I’ve worked with many clients who have asked for my advice regarding them. If you run a business that works with numerous customers, you’ll eventually get the angry email.
What Angry Emails Mean
Before we can talk about what to do, we need to address what angry emails mean. Typically, they mean you’ve failed to meet your customer’s expectations. Either you set the expectations too high or you performed below your bar.
How to Handle Angry Emails
First, take a breath. Never respond with the first thing that comes to your head. Your defensive lizard brain did not build this company. Your rational, thoughtful, brain did. Next, analyze their email. Is there a threat that could harm you or your business beyond this one customer? For example, if this customer has threatened a bad review or threatened to call other customers, these are serious.
After that, you need to look at your own performance. What could you have done differently to have made this better? Was this an expectations thing? Did you drop the ball somewhere?
Finally, create a proposed solution. If your customer is mad about something specific, can you fix that for them right now? They customer may not always be right, but they’re capable of a bad review, even when they’re wrong.
Only after you do all these things should you respond. I won’t claim to be the expert of these responses, but I have turned angry emails into lifelong customers. On the other hand, I have also responded very poorly because I’m human.
The number one way to prevent angry emails is communication. You need to communicate the proper expectations up front. Additionally, you need to keep your customer informed as things change or progress. Many long-term projects will have detours or speed bumps along the way. These are the moments you need to reach out. Keeping your customer in the dark is almost always worse than letting them know something is wrong.
There are ways you can make bad news better. For example, don’t say “your website will be delayed because the back end developer missed their deadline.” Instead, say “the back end developer missed the deadline. This might push back the delivery date slightly, but here is what we’re doing to make up for this delay.” Your customer may still be upset or disappointed, but it is better to share your plan than to simply state there is a problem.
Do good work. For whatever reason, sometimes we drop the ball. If we don’t do our best work, we should own up to it. Learning why we failed to meet our own expectations can help avoid these situations in the future.
When Should You Get Your Lawyer Involved?
Sometimes a threat is so egregious, it is best to seek the advice of your lawyer. I encourage all my clients to be on our General Counsel Program so they can email or call us with these whenever they come up.
Aside from that, I think you should get a lawyer involved whenever legal action or physical harm is threatened. If someone threatens a bad review online, that’s a business discussion. Absent a nondisparagement clause, there’s not a lot you can do about those. However, if someone is threatening to sue you, it is cheaper and easier to respond immediately than to wait for that lawsuit.
Not all angry emails are a result of dissatisfied customers. I have actually encountered quite a few people who are just looking for a discount or to not pay. Fortunately, none of these individuals were my own clients! If you think you’re dealing with one of these patrons, I would suggest asking for more information until you’re certain they’re rummaging for a deal. If they still won’t pay, you can send them to collections or get your attorney involved to go after them. Although it is upsetting to encounter these deal seekers, it is important to remember most dissatisfied clients are actually dissatisfied.
If you’ve received an angry email and want to talk to a lawyer about it, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (919) 912-9640.