4 Effective Strategies for Communicating with Upset Customers

Strategies for communicating with upset customers

Strategies for communicating with upset customers can help you retain clients and transform escalations into opportunities. In this blog, we’ll look at some common causes of customer communication problems before presenting four effective strategies for managing difficult conversations. We’ll consider a variety of issues that can cause communication difficulties, ranging from misunderstandings to money to technical barriers. Then we’ll walk through a systematic approach to de-escalating difficult conversations. In the process, we’ll highlight how technology can help you not only manage escalations but anticipate and avoid them.

What Causes Difficult Customer Communication? 

Before reviewing strategies for communicating with upset customers, it will provide some context to consider what causes customers to become upset in the first place. Common causes of customer stress include a few categories of issues:

  • Technical problems
  • Miscommunications
  • Confusion
  • Misaligned expectations
  • Money

These issues may emerge individually, and they can also interact to compound communication problems.

Technical Problems

In today’s digital environment, technical problems represent one of the most frequent sources of customer communication issues. Problems may arise from frustration with a product, from matters as simple as lost passwords to those as complex as app integrations. Communication technology may create additional problems if customers reach out for support through tools such as email and chatbots only to meet frustration with slow responses or the inability to connect with human help.


Miscommunication may create problems or escalate existing issues. For example, a customer may be experiencing a technical difficulty because they did not understand instruction in a tutorial. Or they may become irate with a support agent because they misunderstood a proposed solution and what they tried instead didn’t work.


Miscommunications can create or aggravate confusion. A customer may be confused about how to use a product feature, how to implement a support suggestion or how to manage their billing process. These types of scenarios can place customers in a state of disorientation which makes communication more challenging.

Misaligned Expectations

Another communication barrier can be misaligned expectations. If goals aren’t communicated explicitly early on, customers may have expectations that differ significantly from what their providers are delivering. For example, the customer may be concerned about one key performance indicator while their customer success manager is focused on another. If this happens, you may be doing everything else right, but the customer will still be dissatisfied.


Money is often the bottom line, which can be true for communication problems as for other matters. For example, a customer may be reticent about their budget, leaving a disconnect between a solution being presented to them and what they’re expecting to pay or able to pay. Another money issue may emerge if a customer balks at a freemium upgrade or renewal because they haven’t understood the value of a product due to miscommunication.

Strategies for Communicating with Upset Customers: 4 Best Practices

You can employ a number of strategies to make difficult customer conversations more manageable. These include:

  1. Integrating automation into your customer journey
  2. Providing clear, concise solutions
  3. Empathizing with customers
  4. Using questions to find root problems

Developing standard operating procedures which apply these strategies will help you manage and reduce communication issues. Here are a few tips.

1. Integrate Automation into Your Customer Journey

Technology can help you manage and avoid escalations by allowing you to build automated solutions to customer needs into your customer journey. For example, Totango Spark lets you manage each stage of your customer journey by monitoring key performance indicators so that automated workflows called SuccessPlays are triggered when customers experience specific events.

To illustrate, when the customer starts the onboarding stage, they may receive an automated email with a welcome message and instructions on how to complete their profile. If KPIs show that they have not completed the onboarding process within a designated amount of time, a reminder message may be automatically sent to the customer, while a notification also gets sent to a success manager. Or another example is the automated detection of when the number of open support tickets exceeds a certain amount showing compounded issues they’re experiencing, or if a ticket is open for an extended period of time, this can cause frustrations with customers and leave them feeling neglected. This helps pre-empt escalation situations while giving success managers an early alert when escalations are emerging. After escalations have arisen, automated messages may also help with delivering customer notifications and support solutions, facilitating communication.

2. Provide Clear, Concise Solutions

For automated support to be effective, it’s essential to point customers toward solutions while address problems clearly and efficiently. Self-support tools such as FAQs and tutorials should be well-designed to clearly communicate solutions to customers’ most frequent issues. Human support should follow standardized procedures to clearly identify customer problems and deliver solutions. Technology can support these imperatives by matching customer data to automated messages which deliver relevant support resources.

3. Empathize with Customers

Customers who are frustrated will become more frustrated if they feel like no one is listening to them. Representatives should be trained to empathize with customers by listening to them and trying to picture the situation from the customer’s viewpoint, rather than responding defensively.

One simple way to extend a customer’s empathy is by responding to support tickets quickly. Long waits make customers feel neglected. Use technology tools such as chatbots, IVR, and automated emails to let customers know you’re there and to collect and share information that can help resolve their problems more quickly.

4. Use Questions to Find Root Problems

When talking with customers, asking the right questions is the quickest route to providing the right solutions. Often, the problem the customer is contacting you about is only the surface of the issue, and the root cause is deeper. Develop diagnostic lists of questions that support representatives can use to navigate through symptoms and get to the causes of customer issues.

Deploy Strategies for Communicating with Upset Customers to Increase Client Retention

Difficult conversations may arise from a number of issues, ranging from technical problems to miscommunication to money. Strategies for communicating with upset customers to address these issues include using automation to pre-empt and manage escalations, providing clear solutions, empathizing with customers and using diagnostic questions.

Automation can play a key role in helping you implement best practices for preventing and handling escalations. Totango Spark lets you set up KPIs, dashboards and workflows to facilitate better communication throughout your customer journey, from onboarding to renewal and beyond. Try it free to experience how automation can improve your customer communication.

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