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Your Angry Customers Don't Care! Do You?

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Brian Cantor

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Interactions with disgruntled customers are often the best means of gaining valuable feedback and insights about your products and practices.

Unfortunately, these angry customers do not typically share your internal commitment to the brand’s success, and they therefore make no special effort to assure their feedback is shared in an actionable currency.

As a result, many organizations miss out on immensely valuable opportunities to improve their understanding of the experience they are creating for their customers.

Discussion during a session at the 13thAnnual Call Center Week in Las Vegas, NV revealed the extent to which the brand indifference resulting from customer anger can undermine efforts to collect relevant feedback and make the needed improvements.

In a session primarily designed to showcase the power of speech analytics, a customer service lead from a major retailer asked the attendees to evaluate a recorded, real-life call. Known as the "I Don’t Care" call, the interaction involved an infuriated customer, believing the retailer was spamming its e-mail list subscribers and possibly even selling contact information, demanding she be removed from the correspondence database. She was angry, and the aggressive call reflected that anger.

While there were points at which it appeared the agent was letting the customer control the call, the reality is that few in the room were going to criticize her performance. Could someone have done better? Possibly. But given the customer’s aggressive hostility, the agent’s ability to maintain a calm disposition and ultimately achieve resolution reflects a laudable effort.

What one Call Center Week attendee did point out, however, was the organization’s potential failure to capture a relevant nugget of customer feedback from the call.

Since the customer was so enraged about the level of email correspondence, the agent felt it necessary to note that even if she removed the customer from marketing lists and newsletters, the customer, a member of the Rewards Club, would still receive updates related to her card. Each time the agent attempted to bring it up, however, the customer hastily yelled "I Don’t Care."

Except for one time. In a rare break from the monotony of her "I Don’t Care" routine, the customer advised not to even get her started on the Rewards issue, given the fact that she has never been able to access the club’s membership website. When she tries to login, all she apparently sees is some "video" that makes navigation impossible. She thus has no loyalty to the rewards program and was fine eliminating her membership if it meant she would never receive another email.

The agent likely felt too intimated to follow up given the customer’s anger at any words that were not, "I’m removing you from our email list" and essentially let that issue go unresolved.

She did not ask questions like, "What video?...Why is it popping up?...Why can’t you close it?" Millions of customers access that rewards site, and if something is ruining the experience for at least a small portion of them, should not the organization try to diagnose the problem?

And therein lies the tragic reality of heated interactions with customers. Angry customers are theoretically best positioned to point out the flaws in the customer experience, but their motivation for calling is venting and potentially swift restitution rather than brand collaboration. This user wanted to put the issue to bed as quickly as possible; she did not "care" to offer the kind of feedback that would actually be far more valuable to the organization.

She gave the agent no chance to explore other issues surrounding the experience. She afforded the agent no confidence or leeway to ask questions about breakdowns in the experience and how the organization could do better. All she wanted to do was unload her anger on the business and mandate a swift response. This was a complaint call rather than a feedback one.

In such cases, few agents are likely to have the prowess to truly capture the desired insights. Even if a light bulb went off in the agent’s head and she realized that the "video" issue could prove far more important to the business than this specific customer’s frustration with email marketing, she doubtfully would have had any chance to gain a full perspective of the issue. She was far more likely to hear "I don’t care" than anything of productive relevance to the business.

What the agent must do no matter what, however, is keep the eye on the prize: the amplification of the voice of the customer. When something like a "video glitch" emerges in the midst of an unrelated call, the agent must use every clever and not-so-clever means of learning more. And if and when that does not work, the agent still must explore that issue to its fullest extent off-line. Potential gaps in the customer experience cannot be allowed to stand.

The agent must understand the difference between the caller’s objective and the brand’s objective. Though his primary obligation for the actual call is to resolve the issue on the customer’s terms, the identification of lasting customer insights is far more valuable to the business than the specifics of a single interaction. Agents need to assure they are hearing everything in the call and following up on the points with broader ramifications. They need to not only ask, "How can I help this customer" but also, "How can I leverage my interaction with this customer to help future customers?"

The "I Don’t Care" caller’s frustration over the emails she consistently received brought her to the table and absolutely represents the chief priority of the call.

But at the end of the day, the brand knows how many emails it sends out and whether or not it sells contact info. It might not know, however, of some bugs, glitches and poor practices that are silently but immensely killing relationships with customers.

Buried within the sea words in an angry customer’s rant could be the answers that help organizations identify and overcome those challenges, achieving customer experience excellence in the process.

Image credit: dimitri c & SXC