PR and Customer Service: Every Customer Counts, Especially the Angry Ones

“Our business would be great if it wasn’t for the customers.”

How many times have you thought that or even said that in jest? Customers can be annoying, demanding and sometimes just a real piece of work. On those days, it’s easy to think life would be much easier if you didn’t have to deal with them. But then you sigh, rub your forehead for a few seconds and remember where your revenue comes from.

Every customer counts and makes a difference. Customers contribute to your bottom line through sales, to your marketing effort through word of mouth and even to your reputation. Whether you want to admit it, you need every customer. Well, almost every customer. There are those customers who are such a drain on resources and energy that you truly are better off in both the short term and long term not having them as customers. Despite them, you need to adopt the attitude that every customer counts. Your goal should be to make your customers feel well taken care of, happy and satisfied. Happy, satisfied customers are returning customers, and returning customers means returning revenues.

As Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, every customer counts, and every customer affects your bottom line. (Even the energy draining, resource-sucking ones. They have an effect on your bottom line, too, just not in the way you had hoped.) And if you’re willing to shrug off one customer who is under-served, angry or even disappointed in you, then why not shrug off all the customers who are under-served, angry or disappointed?

Why not save yourself the hassles and the headaches—and the customer service costs—by letting all of them go? You know the answer to that already. Your company will upset each of them at least once in their life cycle as your customer, or maybe one day the majority of your customers will be angry at your company all at once. If you ignore them completely, they’re going to leave you, and they’re going to tell their friends. Worst of all, your profitability will plummet because you constantly have to find new customers to fill up the slowly emptying bucket.

In their book No BS Social Media, Jason Falls and Erik Deckers offer the pros and cons of different groups owning social media. Their solution? A Tiger Team, featuring two members from each group.


Sadly, a time will come when you have a customer you just can’t help, no matter how hard you try. He wants you to honor a warranty that expired 10 years ago. She thinks you should replace the phone she dropped from 30 feet up. He wants you to return a channel to your lineup after it moved to a different package. How do you disappoint these customers and do it in such a way that you don’t come out on the losing end in the public’s eye?

Start with the basics: You need to apologize, even if it’s not your fault, and explain why you cannot do it and what you can do instead. Try, “I’m really sorry, but we aren’t able to do a warranty repair on a digital camera that is 10 years old. I don’t even know if the parts are available anymore. But what I can do is give you 20% off a new digital camera if you would like to come in.”

Although these attempts might not completely satisfy the situation or the customer, you’ve done everything you can. These efforts certainly beat one of those cold responses that covers yourself but does absolutely nothing for the customer.

These types of responses are not only insulting, they also make angry customers even angrier and more willing to put energy into telling as many people as they can about your unwillingness to help.

By showing even a little courtesy and concern, you might be able to defuse the situation, even if you can’t help them completely.


Scott Stratten, Canadian social media expert and author of Unmarketing, once said during a talk, “I’m not the jackass whisperer. I don’t have time to deal with every troll who wants to give me a hard time or say nasty things about me.”

You’re going to have to deal with your share of jackasses, the people who complain just for the sake of complaining, once in a while. They’ll tweet out messages, usually with the hashtag #FAIL as part of the message. The #FAIL tag should be used for truly momentous problems, like “The new TV I bought had a crack in the screen. #FAIL.” But you’ll still get the occasional person who wants to tell the world his life lies in tattered ruins in the mud because of a heinous wrong done by your company. “Ordered large Coke for lunch. Was given Diet Coke instead. #FAIL!”

If they do, you’ll know you have a serial complainer on your hands. Fix the problem and be done with them. If they continue to gripe, state publicly that you have fixed their original problem, but if they would like to discuss it further, they’re free to contact you personally. This will at least show people who read the complaint that the person is being unreasonable, while you made an honest effort to help them.

If they’re not serial complainers, then maybe they do have real concerns, even if it is a Coke/Diet Coke mix-up. Apologize for the problem and promise you’ll do better next time. But—and this is important—customer service never means you have to put up with rude or insulting behavior. If you have a complaint from someone who is insulting or making threats or overly aggressive comments, make sure to record or copy the offending messages, then cut off all contact. Don’t respond, don’t try to talk them down, don’t try to defuse the situation. This is clearly someone who has boundary issues, and a rational discussion is not going to solve the problem.

Customer service professionals are going to tell you that this kind of behavior is typical and something they have to deal with constantly. It’s going to be the same in social media. The people who can be helped on the phone can be helped on social media. The people who are angry can be calmed down and then helped. And the jackasses are just jackasses and will never be satisfied. If you know you’ve done everything you can, then that’s all you can do. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from the book No BS Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing (Pearson Education, 2012), by Jason Falls and Erik Deckers. The book ships Oct. 2011 and can be pre-ordered here.]

[Catch Jason Falls’ keynote address at the PR News Twitter Conference in Las Vegas on Nov. 10. ]


Jason Falls,; Erik Deckers,