David Heinemeier Hansson

March 22, 2023

Angry customers are a gift

The majority of customers will never tell you why they stop buying on their own. In fact, even if pressed, most will just smile, nod, and give you some face-saving reason for how “now is just not the right time” or “we are just going in a different direction”. Because that’s what avoids conflict.

Thus, the only time you’re truly allowed a free peek at the naked truth of why your product or service didn’t fit, is when the customer is really upset. That’s when they might air out their frustration.

This is a test. 

You can either protect your ego from the sharp words of a frustrated customer by dismissing the feedback entirely OR you can be smart enough to filter out the emotion while retaining the crucial information that’ll improve your offering. Every loud, angry customer represents at least a dozen silent ones you lost to the same issues.

But it’s hard! We bond with our creations and our companies because that’s the human thing to do if you like your work. So those sharp words can and often do hurt your feelings. It’s only natural to want to parry and riposte.  

Before you do, though, remember the coin. If the customer takes the side that says “this is the end of the world”, you have to train yourself not to instinctively reach for “it’s no big deal / you’re overreacting / everyone else is fine with it”. If you do, you’ll gain nothing, and you’ll learn nothing.

So embrace the conflict of an angry customer as a rare gift of feedback. Remove your ego from the response. Extract the maximum amount of information to feed back into the offering.

That’s how you win. By building better rather than defending worse.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.