Product Managers Learn To Deal With Customer Outrage

Product managers need to learn how to deal with angry customers
Product managers need to learn how to deal with angry customers
Image Credit: Jürg Dalkkas Follow

So what’s up with your customers? Why are they so touchy? It sure seems like customers can very quickly become upset about something that wasn’t covered in your product development, definition and then fly off the handle and be in the streets waving signs and talking with television stations about how bad you are all in the space of a couple of hours. It has become clear that we product managers are now living in a different age and time than we used to. What we need to learn how to do is to deal with customers who have for some reason become very, very angry with either our product or our company. When this happens, just exactly what is a product manager supposed to do?

The Power Of Outrage

Let’s face it – any one of us can make a mistake. This should not have to be something that will show up on your product manager resume. There are also a lot of people out there who seem to be sitting at home just looking for something to get angry about. When the two things come together – we make a mistake and people who want to be angry find out about it, we can very quickly find ourselves in a situation that we need to know how to handle in order to save the reputation of our product, our brand, and our company.

What product managers are discovering is that the online social media tools are allowing angry people to extend their reach and amplifies any mistakes that we might make. Product managers are now realizing that we need to come up with new tools that we can use to deal with the fallout when our products get global online criticism. Once upon a time, we could count on small local issues staying local – we hoped that nobody else would find out about what was going on. However, in the new world every small issue that anyone may have with our product will get written about and photos can go viral on the internet in seconds.

What product managers need to realize is that the fact the controversy can propagate at such quick speeds that you are going to need to implement a three prong system for responding to these events. What you will have to do is acknowledge, apologize, and investigate. The experts who study how best to react to upset customers tell us that we need to take action within the first half hour. This is referred to as being the “window of opportunity”. What has been learned is that if you make the mistake of ignoring something for longer than a half an hour, you are going to find out that it will that much more difficult to shape the perception of the public. The result of this kind of customer blow up can be as simple as having to lay low for a while or having your entire senior management replaced.

Plans For Dealing With Outraged Customers

The first step that product managers need to take in order to deal with outraged customers is to look for ways to prevent them from becoming outraged in the first place. What this means is that we’d like to find ways to not make mistakes. What most of us need to do is to create a diversity and inclusion team to review our products. We need to make sure that our products are reviewed by people in multiple departments. Product managers need to take a look at how their products are being produced. They need to find ways to add more eyes to the review and it’s even better if those eyes are diverse eyes.

What product managers are going to have to learn to do is to understand the crisis-management equation. What we need to learn is finding a balance between when we should issue apologies and pull a product vs when we should take a more hands-off approach. Product managers need to understand that most things that blow up on social media tend to go away very quickly. We need to train ourselves to not overreact to two days of online complaints.

If there is any good news in all of this online outrage activity, most times product managers will not experience any slump in sales when such an event happens. If the product manager deals with the situation and perhaps issues an apology, then there may end up being no impact on product sales. The take away from all of this is that product managers need to stay involved in what messages are being presented to our customers .Even attempts at progressive uplifting messages can become garbled or confused and may lead to customer confusion and anger. If a product manager can detect issues before they become pubic, then outrage can be avoided.

What All Of This Means For You

What every product manager wants to do is to make our customers happy. We want to provide them with products that solve problems for them and allow them to do things that they were not able to do before. However, sometimes even the best laid plans have a tendency to awry. When this happens and we discover that we have somehow slighted our customers, we may discover that our customers have become very, very upset. Outraged customers have a tendency to get on social media and amplify their anger. Product managers have to be aware that this can happen and when customers start to become outraged, we need to take a look at our product manager job description and quickly step in and take actions to resolve the issue.

No matter what your product is, there will always be people out there, customers and non-customers, who are just itching to become angry about it. When you make a mistake, either real or imagined, they will pounce. The reason that this has become such a big deal for us is that with the arrival of social media tools, angry people now have a platform that they can use to broadcast to the world just how upset they are. Very quickly what was a small local issue can become a global challenge for a product manager. Product managers have to be ready for people to become angry. When an event happens, we need to acknowledge, apologize, and investigate. What we need to realize is that speed matters – we have roughly 30 minutes to get out in front of an event before it blows up. Product managers need to start to have product related information reviewed by groups of diverse people to catch issues before they can blow up. Social media issues can go away quickly, we just need to be able to judge if we’re dealing with a real issue or a temporary problem. If there is any good news in all of this, it’s that product sales are rarely impacted by outraged customers.

So it turns out that being a product manager is a full time job. Just when you think that you have everything under control, somebody out there may decide to become outraged. You need to make sure that if this happens, you become aware of it quickly so that you can react to it. Showing your customers that you are listening to them and that you care what they think will go a long way towards calming angry people down. Spend the time listening to what people are saying about your product and you can make sure that you don’t get surprised by outraged customers!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it is always important to apologize when somebody becomes upset about your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Who among us could have predicted a Covid-19 pandemic would change our world in the ways that it has? I’d be willing to guess that the answer to that question is none of us. However, as much of setback as these turns of events have been, there are some product managers who are doing well even now. It turns out that these product managers had been preparing their product development definition for a different sort of future and the Covid-19 pandemic almost played into their hands.