The 5 reasons why you should employ your angry customers

angry customer customer complaints customer experience cx Aug 16, 2022

 Angry customers can be excellent for your brand if you listen to them and apply their anger to improve your customer journey.

“When I get angry, I usually don’t like the  person I become.” 

“I am often told NOT to make a scene in a shop, and therefore, I mostly complain to my friends and family, rather than to the company.”  

This is what we hear from many customers. Unresolved anger results in them disconnecting from your brand after they told the story to many of their friends! 


Complaints teams that I worked with are actually afraid of the angry customers, and they have boxed them into a stereotype of a vicious monster that wants to make life miserable for someone else. This is rarely true. Angry people usually defend injustice, and behind the anger, they may also be scared. Once you change the lens you are looking through, it opens up possibilities. It even allows you to befriend an angry customer and ask them to help you solve the problem.

Complaints teams also report that most complaints are not new. They deal with the same complaints daily and have scripts to deal with them. The problem with the scripts is that they sound fake in emails, online chats and on the phone and angry customers hate fakeness on top of whatever happened. 

Where most brands miss an excellent opportunity is that they have not applied journey mapping to the regular recurring complaints. Many journey maps also just look at the positive outcome of the experience. The real magic happens when you look at mapping the moments where you fail customer expectations. You can create more predictability when things go wrong and have various options to remedy the moment of misery. Customer service colleagues no longer have to be caught off guard by a complaint. They can be confident and empowered and know how to deal with that complaint. Most companies train people on the process to follow but not what to do when the process breaks. Great companies that are proud of their experience empower people to create a brand affinity in a moment of misery.

The state of mind of an angry customer

Customers usually get angry with a brand when they feel the brand has done something wrong or when the brand has not met their expectations, or they feel cheated in some way. 

When we look at the psyche of an angry customer, usually it is not just one thing that trips their wires. It is either repeat issues or a contextual situation that adds emotional intensity to the situation. It is essential to listen to the problem but also listen to the context and the story.

So here are the reasons why angry customers make great customer journey design partners:


Angry customers want to be heard.


The most important aspect I teach complaints teams is to listen to an angry customer. And when they make no sense, draw the scenario with stick men on a piece of paper. Sometimes it magically starts making sense, and it allows you to ask questions about the pieces that you do not understand.



Angry customers have come up with many solutions already.


It is almost impossible for the angry mind not to seek justice or find a way to solve the problem.

Even if an angry customer never complains to a brand, they have likely voiced the issue to a friend or family member and very likely they have solved the problem in more than one way. 

For example, If someone ordered food to be delivered to their house and it was the wrong order, the customer would say, “If I were them, I would at least include something extra or give us 20% off on our next order or give the next meal for free”. So typically, dissatisfied or angry customers run through many scenarios of what they would have done.  


Angry customers care.


The fact that someone is angry means they care enough to have that emotion. There is a spark, and you can use it. They might care about themselves or their family. They might be reacting to an “old” story that they don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect. 


Angry customers want you to care, but most of the time don't expect you to engage. 


Most angry customers don’t expect a company to call them or ask for their advice or be authentically empathetic. Yes, this sounds terrible, but true most of the time. People prefer to avoid conflict, and the closed loop processes are not in place to encourage reaching out to customers in distress. 

Most brands don’t take accountability, and service staff are managed to optimise profit, not empowered to solve customer problems. You can take the wind out of an angry customer’s sails if you reach out first and engage without the customer escalating it upwards in the hierarchy. 

Just a reminder that we are all in the business of making memories. This unexpected moment can result in your brand being remembered as the one who cared enough to reach out.


Angry customers can make great brand ambassadors.

I usually explain the peak-end rule from Daniel Kannheman to complaints teams. To take a customer from a neutral experience to a delightful experience is hard to do consistently, but to take a customer from a negative peak to neutral can actually deliver more significant benefits for your brand. People remember those interactions better. They have an imprint of the person who was kind and helpful and reached out to them in a moment when they did not feel great about their behaviour.

How to engage angry customers

Invite angry customers to a co-design group. Tread lightly and be skilful in this first interaction when you invite them. You want to ensure that they know what you need from them. Most companies that I consult with cringe at the thought of inviting angry customers, and the executive committee usually do not volunteer to sit in. I have facilitated many of these co-design sessions, and usually, the customers arrive in a calm state. They may get flustered later in the conversation as they replay the story but remember they have thought about this a lot. They want to be heard. They want the problem to be solved. Most of all, they don’t want to feel like they are turning into terrible human beings.

Once you have them in the session, I structure the conversation first to create connection and trust. Since it is a group of customers, they usually start reporting that it feels a little like a customer support group where they can share freely. Rather than ponder for too long on the stories of wrongdoing. I shift the conversation quite quickly to empower them to make changes to their experience and redesign the ideal journey first without constraints and then add the constraints back in. So, for example, no constraint would be, “you have an unlimited budget”, and then add the constraint “you have only $10”. I make them each brand CEO for 2 minutes, and they are only allowed to make one change on their first day on the job. In those 15 minutes, I get absolute gold. I seek permission to record this and later play this to the executive team and even use it in training materials for customer service teams.

They are now brand ambassadors in a weird way once they have been listened to, they feel emotionally invested in the brand. Some even ask me how they would know if their ideas will be used.

I want to leave you with this advice, if you want to design differentiated experiences for your brand, start with your pain points. 

  1. Take your top 10 complaints and design the pain out of them. 
  2. Design what happens when things go wrong because that is the only guarantee that I can give you; things WILL go wrong. Processes will break, systems will hang, and mistakes will be made. What is important is that you respond to these situations with confidence and care, and authentic connection. Don’t run away from complaints! Run towards them!
  3. Invite these customers to have conversations with you, to help you design the ideal journeys.
  4. Give feedback to these clients about what ideas have been used, and you will have brand ambassadors for life.

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