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The difference between responding and reacting to angry customers

Angry ReactionMost of us have experienced somebody behaving badly towards us – perhaps someone unpleasant in our personal lives or for those of us who run businesses, an irate or irrational client in our business lives.

Only recently I spoke to one of my clients – an IT business owner – who called me to share a customer issue he was experiencing. He shared with me that one of his customers had spoken to him in a totally unprofessional and frankly unpleasant way over what amounted to a trivial matter. He described how this person had talked down to him, used profanity and shouted. In his own words, my client also shared how he had “bitten his tongue” and let this person vent his anger before taking a moments pause and then talking to him calmly and professionally to resolve the immediate situation the client was upset about.

In short, despite the unpleasant way in which he had been spoken to – he had chosen to respond to his customer professionally, rather than simply react to their unprofessional attack.

Responding vs Reacting

In the fact of such unpleasant abuse from his customer, I don’t think anybody would have blamed my client for reacting. When somebody shouts at us or behaves unpleasantly, most of us do react – it’s our natural instinct to defend ourselves.

But reacting to someone in this way often leads to the situation becoming even worse. Tempers are flared. Voices are raised and the situation can go from bad to worse very quickly as each party reacts to the other.

Reactions of this nature – giving “as good as you get” – are based on emotions.

Responding, on the other hand, is based on logic, not emotions. It might mean you take a deep breath and putting your own ego to one side to help the person in front of you. It might mean you take time before responding to an angry email, or it may mean you ask for advice and a third party perspective before responding to someone behaving unprofessionally.

Practice responding instead of reacting

Professional BusinessmanBy taking a deep breath and calmly responding to a difficult situation rather than reacting, you’ll have more control over the situation and how you handle it. It’s rare to find an unpleasant situation in which your emotional reaction yields better results than a logical response. When dealing with customers, this is nearly always the best course of action.

I don’t pretend that it isn’t difficult to respond rather than react. I make the mistake of reacting rather than responding a lot – and I’m consciously trying! Most people aren’t even aware they are responding rather than reacting.

One good way I’ve found to practice is to check your responses whenever you receive bad service when you go shopping, or find yourself speaking to disinterested or uncooperative “customer service” person on the telephone. Most of us are used to poor service in these situations and so we “react” accordingly, speaking down to the person or making threats. The result? The person we’re speaking to, in turn, reacts and are even less likely to share with us the result we desire. Both parties lose.

In these situations, I practice responding rather than reacting. Sometimes it works and I win the other person around to a win-win situation. But even if it doesn’t work, I go away feeling better for keeping my emotions in check rather than reacting and making the situation worse.


When faced with a difficult or unpleasant situation, a knee-jerk reaction is based upon your emotions – and this often leads to the situation getting worse. In situations where one person reacts to another, quite often nobody wins.

However, taking a deep breath and responding to the situation calmly and logically gives you the best possible chance of resolving the situation properly. I’m not just talking win-win situations here, but holding your head high and acting professionally even when others are not.

It’s always worth remembering that while people around us may act unprofessionally, or even downright nastily, we personally have a choice on whether we react or respond to them.


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The value in learning to say No

Learning to say NoWhat is the value in learning to say no?

Have you ever had somebody tap you on the shoulder as you were in the middle of a task that required your concentration, or call you on the telephone just as you were about to get on with something important? When the person asks you for whatever it is they want help with, how do you normally respond? I’m guessing it’s not unusual for you, like me, to use the turn of phrase “Just give me 5 minutes”.

Of course, what you’re trying to say is “I’m busy right now” but you’re probably too polite to say that. So you set their expectations in that you’ll be no more than 5 minutes at which point you’ll be able to help them. The trouble is that if you take longer than 5 minutes to get back to that person then they may feel as thought you’ve let them down and you’ll probably feel the same way. Not a great way to start a conversation.

Saying “Yes” when you really want to say “I’d love to be able to help, but I’m unable to right now” is something many of us struggle with. I, along with many others, find it difficult to say “No” for fear of letting the other person down, yet the reality is that by saying “Yes” and then failing to deliver what you’ve promised – you’re letting the person down much more.

Setting Unrealistic Expectations

I’ve recently said “Yes” when, with hindsight, I meant to say “No”. It caused stress (for me) and frustration (for the person I’d say yes to).

During the month of October I was on the road travelling for business almost solidly. I emailed my paying clients in September to advise them October would be very busy and so be aware I may be slower with responses to my email than I normally was. All my clients understood – I had set their expectations correctly. If only I’d done that with everyone else!

I set an out of office message on my email to advise everyone who contacted me that I’d be very busy travelling and unless they were a paying client that I’d be unlikely to be able to respond to them in a timely fashion. So far so good. I then made the mistake of sharing shared when I’d be back in the office and the day I’d specifically put time aside to catch-up on emails. I set expectations. Expectations that were, in hindsight, unrealistic. Expectations that I’d set because I felt bad telling people that I may take longer to reply to their emails.

(I typically work to the calculation that for every full day I’m out of the office, I need an hour specifically to catch-up on emails upon my return. So seven days out of the office = a whole working day to catch-up on emails. On this occasion I was out of the office for almost 3 weeks, which realistically meant I’d need 3 full days to catch-up on e-mail. “Nah!” I thought “A day should be fine!”).

Suffice to say that three weeks later and having spent just a day tackling the job of taming my email that was, in reality, a 3 day job — and then thrown back into the daily routine of new emails and fee earning work — I’d barely made a dent in the hundreds of requests for my time I’d received.

The consequences of breaking promises

Angry ManMalcolm, the owner of an IT business, was one of those people who emailed me while I was travelling to ask for help and who I regrettably didn’t respond to in a timely fashion. Understandably, given how I’d incorrectly set his expectations with my out of office message, Malcolm emailed me much later on to say “Well that’s disappointing – I sent this email more than three weeks ago and you didn’t keep your promise. You were possibly the solution to opportunities lost, but hey ho.”

Malcolm was right. I’d set his expectations, or made a promise, to get back to him three weeks earlier and hadn’t.

I’m guessing that if my out of office message was more realistic and actually said “I’d love to be able to reply to your email in a timely fashion, but the reality is that I receive so many emails that I’ll be unable to” that Malcolm would have been disappointed with my response and yet got over it and moved on. I may have even exceeded his expectations by responding three weeks later with a polite “Can I still help you?” when he probably didn’t expect a response at all.

Of course, I apologised profusely and went out of my way to subsequently offer free advice and help to Malcolm – but I never heard back from him. The damage had been done. I’d lost all credibility in Malcolm’s eyes.

A lesson learned for me and one you can learn from too, I hope.

Learning to say “No”

In your own business, how often do you say “Yes” to clients and prospects when you really meant to say “No” — then reap the consequences of putting pressure on yourself and setting your clients/prospects expectations too high to realistically meet?

  • It may be a friend or family asking for assistance when you’ve already got commitments elsewhere.
  • It may be a client who wants immediate help when you’re already booked up solidly.
  • It may be a prospect who asks for something which you’re unsure you know how to deliver upon.

I’m a helpful person by nature so I’m trying hard to learn to say “No” more often where my gut feeling is that I’m not going to be able to help that person in a timely fashion or indeed at all. It’s neither helpful to me nor the person to set their expectations unrealistically.

Saying “No” may disappoint the person you’re saying it to, but they’ll understand — and better to politely say “No” early on than say “Yes” and not meet your commitment later on.


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Is Your “Customer Service” About Your Customer Or Is It About You?

Customer ServiceAs a business, is your customer service really all about your customer – or is it all about you?

I recently took out a new home insurance policy with Swinton, a long established and well recognised UK Insurance company. The process of buying my insurance was straight forward – I popped the relevant details into their on-line quoting system on their web-site, found a competitive quote that suited me, and paid for the policy on-line using credit card. Simple, and effective.

I received an e-mail back confirming my purchase, and was told that my insurance documents would be posted to me within 7 days. Posted? Hmmm. As somebody who lives his life virtually paper free – keeping all my documents electronically – I didn’t care for the thought of receiving a large insurance policy document via the post, a document that I’d then have to scan in to store electronically.

Customer Courtesy Calls

As if by magic, I then received a telephone call from a nice chap from my local Swinton branch – ringing to introduce himself and to make sure I had everything I needed.

This was a very welcome call and I applaud Swinton for taking this route, as in my experience telephone always trumps e-mail for building a relationship.

After introducing himself, the chap from Swinton asked if I had any questions. “Yes. It’s a little inconvenient to have the documents posted to me, do you think you could e-mail them across” I asked.

“No. I’m afraid we can’t” he replied “We only send out printed policies” the man “explained”.

I went on to ask that if he was going to print the document and post it to me, could he not just e-mail me the document instead?

“I’m afraid we don’t have external e-mail” he shared. Rather flabbergasted, and wondering if I’d stumbled into a time paradox which had connected my call to an insurance salesman from the 1970’s, I expressed surprise, and asked him if he had a scanner in the office. I rather suspect this gentleman knew where my line of questioning was leading, and so told me “No, I’m afraid not”.

(As a side note, for any IT companies reading – Swinton Birmingham Kings Heath branch don’t own a scanner nor do they have external e-mail. If I still owned an IT company, I’d be giving them a call to see if I could help modernise their office infrastructure!)

The Sales Call

It’s at this point that, having to my mind rather blustered through the “Is there anything I can help you with?” and failed to help me at all, the true nature of the call started to become apparent.

“Can I take a moment to tell you about our Motor Insurance Policy?” he asked.

“No thank-you”. I replied.

“But I think we could save you money. Can I just get a few details so we can check?”.

“No thank-you. I’m not interested”. I replied.

At this point I realised the call wasn’t a “courtesy” call at all, but a call to upsell me to Swinton’s other services.

What went wrong with this “Customer Service?”

Now, I’ve no problem with being upsold to. If this individual from Swinton had tried to help me with my electronic document issue, or even empathised with me and my situation, I would have happily continued the conversation.

If, unable to e-mail me the file he was about to print, this chap had offered to scan the same document back in and e-mail it to me as an electronic file, I would have gratefully shared all my insurance renewal dates with him – from my motor car to my pet insurance.

Even if the chap had empathised with me, and said he would feed back to his manager and/or Head Office of my frustrations, I would have appreciated the gesture and continued the call.

But he didn’t – and he gave the impression that he wasn’t actually interested in “Customer Service” at all, he wanted to skip straight to “Customer Selling”.

In other words, the call wasn’t about me at all – it was about him.

How it makes the customer feel

Only an hour into my becoming a new customer, my perception of Swinton Insurance had changed from a positive outlook to the view that they are at best, old fashioned, and at worst, unhelpful.

This view was, unfortunately, compounded when I took to Twitter to ask Swinton why they were unable to embrace e-mail.


I never received a response (although I did receive a Re-Tweet from what I can assume is a fellow frustrated Swinton customer). In fact, like many Corporates, it appears Swinton Group don’t “get” Twitter – using it as a loudspeaker to shout about themselves from, rather than seize the opportunity to use it as a platform to encourage engagement with their customers and prospective customers.


Now it might seem I’m unfairly picking upon Swinton here. Unlike Swinton, many Insurance companies would never dream of picking up the telephone to introduce themselves to a new customer at all. But by doing so, Swinton have to understand that they’re opening themselves up to customer feedback and be prepared to actually listen.

  • If your company is going to make “Customer Service” telephone calls – be prepared to offer customer service.
  • If your company is going to establish a presence on Twitter – be prepared to engage in conversation.

In both instances, I think Swinton have taken an opportunity to serve their customers and based how they offer this “Customer Service” on how they can sell more product instead.

I’d like to suggest to Swinton that the selling part comes after you’ve built trust, not before.


The Lesson for your Business

Is your “Customer Service” actually focused on your customer, or is it, in reality, all about you?

Are your “Customer Service” processes rigid or flexible? If your customers throws you a question that falls outside of the usual “script” are your staff empowered to do something to help, or are they shackled by trying to subdue or eliminate the question and quickly move on?

Ultimately, do your customers feel that your business is there to help them – or pay lip-service to the term “Customer Service”?


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Why it’s unremarkably easy to be remarkable

Choose to be remarkable, Let others be MediocreI’ve just returned from a great week out in Las Vegas for the CompTIA Breakaway 2012 Conference. Staying over and working out of the beautiful Aria Resort for a week alongside 1,000 of my peers from the IT industry was a positive experience I’ll not quickly forget. A dozen or more of us from the CompTIA UK Channel Community also made the trip Stateside and were bowled over by both the welcome we received from CompTIA and the Las Vegas locals.

One of the frequent topics of conversation amongst us Brits was the typically high level of customer service we received in the USA. The culture of low-salary and high-tipping (20% is the norm for good service in the States) obviously encourages employees to hustle and deliver great service in return for their tip. This certainly feels like it is in stark contrast to UK service, where it seems to be the exception rather than the norm to receive great service, let alone the expected levels of service.

Meet the Cabman

Business Card - Cabman - Las VegasI experienced great service a number of times during my time in the US, not least when I took a cab journey out of the main part of the City to do some shopping on the outskirts. My driver was Stephen Lenett, aka Cabman, who was polite and courteous (what you’d expect of any cabby) but went beyond this during the course of our journey.

Firstly, while asking after my experience of Las Vegas, I shared with Stephen that I was still getting to grips with the location of everything the City had to offer. Stephen proceeded to gift me a travel guide to the City, so I could “share all the locations of the places you’ve visited with folks back home” and secondly, “to encourage (me) to visit us again to see the places you’ve not yet visited”.

As the journey went on, Stephen shared his background with me. Moving from New York to Las Vegas in 1973, Stephen is known locally as the Cabman and as well as driving, he hosts a weekday local radio show called “Behind the Wheel” where he talks about the challenges, pains and pleasures of being a driver in the City.

Stephen confessed that he felt most Las Vegas drivers were missing a trick by not providing above-the-expected levels of service to their patrons. He told me that he took pleasure in ensuring that his passengers enjoyed and valued their experience, and shared with me that many of his passengers frequently asked for him as a driver specifically whenever they were in town.

When we arrived at my destination, Stephen asked me if I’d like to arrange for him to pick me up when I was finished. As a visitor to a strange City, I was more than happy to take him up on his offer!

Overall, my cab journey with the Cabman was much more than I’ve come to expect. It was remarkable. After all, I’m telling you about it now, right?

Differentiating yourself from the pack

With some 18,000 Cab drivers in Las Vegas, Stephen has managed to differentiate himself from the pack and ensure that the Cabman is well known and liked. He is regularly approached by the press for comments, and is seen as a leader in his space.

Stephen’s work towards being notable got me thinking about the IT industry we work in. I’ve often bemoaned the fact that many IT companies look, feel and behave the same way – but I strongly believe that you’re not the same as your competitors!

What are you doing to be remarkable?

What are you doing to establish yourself as an expert in your industry?

  • Like the Cabman, are you finding opportunities (or if none are to be found, creating them) to promote yourself as an expert to your local community?
  • Are you creating educational content to share with your potential clients? Are you blogging or contributing guest articles to local newspapers, newsletters and web-sites?
  • Are you looking for time to stand up in front of your local business groups to speak on subjects you are passionate about and an expert in?
  • When you deliver service to your clients, do you do what is expected, or do you try to exceed their expectations?
  • Do you make sure to thank people for their business, and ensure they feel valued? Valued enough to want to work with you again?
  • Do you help people to remember you, or do you run the risk of being seen as just another IT guy?


If you’re content to be a part of the pack – delivering average service, then you’ll probably get by. Most people deliver average nowadays, and most people get by.

But if you want to rise above the pack, to be successful and respected, look for the opportunities to stand out. These opportunities are everywhere, every day. You just need to think about delivering at a higher level than everyone else. Personally, I don’t think that it’s very difficult at all. In fact, it’s quite easy – it just takes commitment and practice.

In an industry where so many of your competitors aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities to stand out, you’ll probably find that its unremarkably easy to be remarkable.

Lessons from T-Mobile on how to convert a Raving Fan into an Active Critic

I thought it was worth sharing this story, as I think it’s an example of how simple it is for a business can chuck the goodwill it’s built up with a customer down the drain. Or possibly I just wanted to exercise my modern consumer right to publically complain about how I’ve been treated by a large Corporation. Either way, here goes…

T-Mobile UK LogoI’ve been a customer of the UK Mobile Phone network T-Mobile for 6 years or more. Overall, they’ve given good service to me – with few causes for complaint – and I’ve actively shared this fact with people when asked by others.

My trusty old HTC HD2 has recently gone from being a reliable workhorse to being an unreliable mess that gets in the way of me being productive, so reluctantly it came time for me to upgrade my handset and agree a new 2-year monthly contract with T-Mobile.

I’d picked a Samsung Galaxy S2 handset to upgrade to, as it’s received stunning reviews. Unfortunately, the reviews are so stunning that there is apparently a worldwide stock shortage.

Seeking out the Samsung Galaxy S2

In the middle of May, I ‘phoned T-Mobile to check whether they had stock, and wasn’t surprised to hear that they didn’t. T-Mobile advised me to call back the following Friday when a new stock shipment may have arrived with them.

I ‘phoned T-Mobile again the following Friday and was told there was still no stock but that deliveries may be arriving for the following Tuesday.

I ‘phoned T-Mobile again on Tuesday, and was told there was still no stock – but I’d been placed on the back-order system and so I’d receive notification when there was stock. Minor point, but it would have been nice to have been offered this option when I first called – saving further ‘phone calls.

I ‘phoned a fortnight later, and was told there was still no stock and there was no need to keep ‘phoning T-Mobile to check whether there was – as soon as stock arrived I’d be notified.

Still waiting for delivery

Near the end of June I received an SMS message saying my order had been processed, and would be shipped to me soon.

A fortnight went by, and no delivery. So against T-Mobiles advice, I ‘phoned them to see what the delay was. A lovely lady called Gill answered.

“Did you not receive the delivery a fortnight ago?”. No, I’m afraid I hadn’t.

“Can I just confirm your address is <address>”. Erm, no – it isn’t.

“What is your address?”. The one you send the bills to each month.

Gill was hugely apologetic, and said she’d credit £10 to my account as a goodwill gesture. She understood how frustrating it was that they’d messed up, and she also added that the ‘phone would be in stock for Friday and therefore delivered to me on Monday. If there was any problems at all, she’d call me on Friday.

I confirmed with Gill that delivery would be Monday, if if there was any problems, she was working over the weekend and could call me. Affirmative.

I was pretty irritated that I’d missed out on stock due to a ridiculous administrative error on T-Mobile’s part, but Gill had empathised with me, and assured me all would be well. So I gave T-Mobile the benefit of the doubt.

Second time lucky?

Friday passed without a ‘phone call. That’s good news, no problems!

Monday lunchtime arrived, and with a sunny day outside – I was regretting I’d have to spend it staying at home awaiting a delivery. So, despite Gill’s assurances, I thought I’d give T-Mobile a call just to be sure the delivery was on it’s way.

I spoke to a colleague of Gill’s who told me that the stock of Samsung Galaxy S2’s expected on Friday hadn’t arrived, and so I wouldn’t be receiving delivery today. T-Mobile were experiencing huge stock delays due to the demand for the ‘phone and that it was the same everywhere else.

I understood the stock shortages, but I was assured delivery after T-Mobile’s last mix-up, right? I didn’t even bother to ask why I wasn’t called on Friday as agreed to explain this delay or that I’d have regretted spending the rest of the day in the house waiting for a delivery that wouldn’t arrive.

So I asked for my PAC code, to transfer my number to another provider.

I was unceremoniously put on hold, and a few minutes later told that they’d found stock of a Samsung Galaxy S2 and could have it delivered to me tomorrow.

You found stock… how?

Perplexed how they’d found stock when I threatened to leave, when minutes earlier there had been none – I’m afraid to say I didn’t have any faith that said stock would actually be delivered as promised.

So I explained that unfortunately, as I’d been let down by T-Mobile twice already in assurances of delivery, that I’d have to insist on the PAC code.

In rather aggressive salesman fashion, I was then told that I’d not find a better offer elsewhere and that nobody else had stock of this ‘phone either. Plus, I did realise that if I refused this deal now, I couldn’t be offered it again?

I’m not sure what I was more irritated about – the fact that he’d not bothered to address my “You’ve already let me down twice” statement, that he’d insult my intelligence saying I’d not get a better deal elsewhere, or that I was suddenly being offered an ultimatum to try to force my hand.

It’s not about the money

I told him that I’d already found a better deal, and they had stock.

“I don’t think you have” he went on. “Nobody can beat £25 per month”. Grrr.

I explained that actually, T-Mobile had offered me a £35 per month renewal deal when I’d ‘phoned in May – not £25 per month as he suggested. “No, you’re mistaken. You get a £10 per month discount on that £35 per month tariff”.

That had surely not been communicated to me when I called to renew. I even checked my written notes to confirm this.

It’s at this stage that I lost *all* confidence in the ability to come renew with T-Mobile. They could have offered me a £35 per month contract with a £45 per month discount, and I’d not have bought it.

I went on to explain that I would have loved to have stayed thanks to the years of good service, but T-Mobile had let me down so much here that I’d lost faith in their ability to deliver, and that I hoped he understood my situation, but could I have the PAC Code please.

He didn’t take this last attempt to elicit an apology or any empathy with my situation. I was given the PAC code, and then the line went dead without any goodbye’s or apologies. I’m guessing he wasn’t pleased with the outcome of our conversation, and let me tell you that he’s not alone in that respect.

Looking at the mistakes made

I’m not sure where to start with how many lessons can be learnt from this debacle, but the biggest mistake he made was to not empathise with my situation. If he’d had apologised unreservedly for T-Mobile letting me down not once, but twice, and told me how he understood the frustration it caused on my part – I may have been more receptive to any remedial actions he then offered. But he didn’t – he assumed I was only interested in the cost of the contract, not the service.

If he told me that there wasn’t any stock, but that as I’d been let down so badly that he had moved mountains to find a unit to ship to me next day – I may have bought it. As it was, he told me there was no stock, and then when I said I was leaving, he suddenly found stock. I’m assuming there wasn’t stock for upgrades, but there was stock for new sales and about-to-be-lost sales like me.

If he told me that he was sorry for the confusion, clearly they hadn’t communicated this to me, but they *really* wanted to keep my business and so had come up with a £25/month deal, not the £35/month I had thought I’d been offered – I may have forgiven that mis-communication. But he didn’t, he told me I was mistaken and that I wouldn’t find a better deal.


Add all these things together, and I’ve gone from being someone who would speak well of T-Mobile, to someone who will actively warn others off their service as untrustworthy and condescending.

From my perspective, I wasn’t comparing T-Mobile with another network on price at any time, and there was no question of me moving my contract elsewhere.

The bottom line is, throughout this back and forth all I really wanted was to be acknowledged – for T-Mobile to acknowledge that I was frustrated, that they’d let me down, that I was important to them. But they missed out the apology phase and went straight to trying to “fix” the issue. There’s a lesson to be learnt from that.


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