How I Won This Angry Customer’s Business Back

A strategy for talking people down. And I have the emails to prove it!

I got an email a little while ago. The subject line was: “waste”

I opened it up immediately.

“Really?” the email began.

It then went on to insult Entrepreneur magazine, and to complain, in some very vulgar terms, about an article we recently published. It wasn’t a controversial article; it was just a profile of an interesting entrepreneur.

The writer concluded his email by saying, “I won’t be resubscribing.”

What would you do if you got this email?

We are all confronted with anger. Generally we reply in one of two ways:

  1. We ignore it. After all, what’s the point in arguing with angry people?

  2. We might argue back — either to convince them they're wrong, or at least to try to preserve what we have. (In this case, it might be to convince them to resubscribe to the mag.)

Here’s what I like to do: As long as this person seems reasonable — that is, they're not some conspiracy theorist looking for a fight — then I reply as fast as possible. I never argue with them. And I never ask for their business back.

I just show them that I’ve heard them.

Why? Because of two theories I have:

Theory #1: More than anything in the world, people just want to feel heard.

Theory #2: Angry people don’t expect a response. In fact, their low expectation fuels their anger. They don’t think they’ll be heard, and therefore it’s like they’re showing up at a door that will never open. And what do you do if nobody will answer? You make a ton of noise, so at least they can hear you inside.

That’s why I swing the door open quickly. It startles them.

“Thanks for the feedback, and I’m sorry that piece upset you,” I began, in response. “I’m always interested in what readers have to say, so if you don’t mind sharing some additional feedback, I’d like to know: Have you been dissatisfied with other stories in the magazine, or was it simply your distaste for this one piece that has led you to the decision not to re-subscribe?”

Then I went on to explain our perspective — not in a defensive way, but rather just to show this guy that, despite what he thought about the article in question, it was not created with malice.

People often take things personally, which is exhausting and often unreasonable, but at least it carries some logic. When we create something, we are asking people to give us a little of their time — and time is their most valuable resource. Time is a fraction of their lives, never to be regained. If they feel that time isn’t well spent, it feels like robbery. That's personal.

To be clear, I am not making excuses for people to be rude (or worse). People need to calm down! And some people simply cannot be reasoned with, and therefore aren’t worth the bother. But if we are going to win over people who are upset, then we have to at least start by recognizing where they’re coming from.

We might not agree with them, but they are coming from somewhere.

So that’s what I tried to do. “We work hard to make a magazine that we hope will be enlightening and informative and surprising for entrepreneurs,” I wrote, but I said that we know not everything will be beloved by all.

Then, instead of trying to convince him to resubscribe, I just took it as fact.

“I hope we have at least a few more issues to impress you before your subscription runs out,” I wrote.

And guess what? He responded.

He told me more about why he hated that particular article. Then he wrote:

“I have gotten a good deal of value from Entrepreneur in the past, and sure there are some articles that are amazing and some that don't interest me as much, but no, no other article made me do an eye roll so high that I actually got dizzy.”

Do you note a change in tone? Now he’s engaging with another human being. Suddenly Entrepreneur is not a “waste,” as he called us before.

In response, I decided to try something a little risky. I was curious to understand what was driving his reaction. So here’s what I wrote:

“Got it. Thanks for the additional feedback. I’m just always surprised, and a little confused, when someone sees one thing they don’t like and it leads them to cancel a subscription. It’s just not how I function as a consumer—if, say, I don’t like one thing that Netflix produced, I don’t cancel Netflix as a result. But I understand that everyone makes their decisions differently. Always helpful to learn how our readers are reacting.”

Like I said — a little risky. But instead of confronting him directly, I put his reaction in the context of my own. And I never questioned his decision.

Here was his response:

“Sometimes I use hyperbole for effect.”

In other words, he’s not cancelling after all. He was heated, and probably didn’t expect me to engage him, and now he’s feeling a little sheepish.

Here’s the thing: We live in a loud, noisy, often angry world. And we will get nowhere by joining that anger.

But when we hear people out, we can replace that anger with something else. We’ll start with basic decency, and build from there.

Can You Pronounce These Brand Names?

Want to know the top 10 brand names that Americans mispronounce? CenturyLink ran a survey on this, and I thought it'd be fun to run the names by my 3-year-old — and indeed, hilarity ensued.


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