In the dark ages of automobile manufacturing (think the 70”s and 80’s) the manufacturing process included a rework area.  This is where cars that did not pass the end-of-line inspection were driven so highly skilled people could repair each defect. In other words, failure was built into the assembly process! These days the companies expect perfection and treat each end-of-line defect as something to be quickly fixed, the root cause established, and efforts taken to ensure that the problem was random and not likely to occur again.

Today, we plan on failure when we decide what kinds of training to give our customer facing employees.  We train on technical subjects, like product capabilities, and soft skills like time management and dealing with angry customers.  Unfortunately, no one is really asking the key question – why do our customers get angry, mad, pissed off, whatever with us? Since you are thinking about this question, I will now answer it:

That’s right, customers get angry when we do not met or exceed their expectations.  And if we fail to recover from something that should have been easy to fix, they really get mad!  The way we deal with customer anger is to provide more “how to deal with angry customer” training.

Does this make any sense to you?

The way to minimize the number of times we make customers angry with us is by understanding the sources of their expectations.  Then, if we know where the expectations come from, we can manage the customer’s experiences so we can meet or exceed their expectations.  This gets more difficult in the cases where we do not know the source of their expectations or do not have the capability to at least meet the expectations.

Where Do Expectations Come From? (This section is extracted from a more in-depth article here)

Organizational promises

  • Source -Explicit promises made by the business (collectively) and not by individuals in the organization.
  • Example – Your quotes and order acknowledgments include statements like “delivery and installation will be completed within 45 days ARO (after receipt of order).”

Competitor’s promises and/or performance

  • Source – If a competitor promises or does something beyond the experiences your company delivers, your customers and prospects will expect your company to either match or exceed the performance.  Even if you don not believe there is an “apples to apples” comparison, your customers may not understand or care.
  • Example – Your competitors all ship standard items with next day delivery at no additional cost; you ship in three business days and charge extra for next day delivery.

Personnel promises

  • Source – For whatever reason, your employee makes a promise (prospect demand, vague or unknown procedures, end of the quarter pressure to close business, or lack of employee engagement, etc.).
  • Example – Under pressure to close an order she says “Our software is so easy to use you will be up and running in a week or I’ll come in and provide free training until you’re satisfied.” This promise will most likely backfire. Either the software really isn’t that easy to use, the promise won’t be honored, or going onsite will eat up a large portion of the profit from the sale.

B2C experiences

  • Source – We all are consumers in the Age of the Customer. We are socially connected and well informed. We carry our consumer experiences with us into the workplace.
  • Example – If you order consumer goods and get free 7-day delivery with a small up-charge for 3-day delivery you may now expect to have the same options when you order business related goods or services.

Previous experiences with your business

  • Source – Customers anticipate experiences based on past purchases. This occurs if they purchase the same product or service from your firm or a completely different one. Regardless of what they’re buying, the purchase is with the same company, so consistency is anticipated.
  • Example – If you normally fill a medical prescription at a local pharmacy chain you expect the same easy transaction if you use their mail-order service. Same medicine, same company but frequently a different experience.  Or, you shop in a brick and mortar store and receive very informed, personnel assistance then decide to order online because of a lower cost.  You then call the contact center with questions about setting the product up and are disappointed when the agent is neither as helpful or knowledgeable as the salesperson in the store.  Again, same product, same company.

Comments from friends and associates

  • Source – Social media, off-line conversations, and the like.
  • Examples – If your business associates tell you they all had terrible experiences with a company and stopped buying from them, well, obviously you’re not likely to buy. If angry tweets abound a company, well, thanks but no thanks!

Key Takeaway

Dealing with an angry customer is like torture to your customer facing employees.  The customers hate getting angry and the employees hate being the target of an angry customer. The “ounce of prevention” is to manage customer expectations. The people in your organization can manage some and some are beyond their control.  However, for those expectations beyond employee control, you can actively reset customer expectations while deciding with are important enough to your customers that the business will work to eventually meet them.