Angry User Training

Defusing the Bomb

Sometimes the most ugly part of a person will come out when he or she is frustrated. Conversing with a user will have no filters or guaranteed politeness. And each frustrated user is frustrated for these three main reasons:

  • they have tried everything to make the product work as they envision it
  • they could not resolve their issue to their satisfaction
  • they may simply not agree with the way their issue is being addressed

Each of these reasons is based on the expectations that are set in the beginning of the conversation. From the moment the question is submitted, the time limit gets closer to expiration. It is almost as if you play the role of defusing their bomb.

This section will teach you a few techniques which can help you to remain within this time limit and show you how to keep in control of the situation.

Get to the root of the question right away

What is it that the user is asking? What is the hidden question behind it? If you find a question confusing, please clarify it and make sure the user knows that you understand what he or she is saying. This understanding will avoid a lot of unnecessary queries and uncertainties; it also speeds up troubleshooting.

Setting the expectations

Setting the expectations early will create a better understanding of your accountability of the situation. For example, as a volunteer, you are not getting paid to help these users. However, as a volunteer in this forum, you hold the steering wheel for the conversation. Whether or not a user agrees with you, you are the one with the knowledge that they do not have. And you are the expert.

Actively empathize

An irate customer wants to know that he or she is heard and is in good hands. Reassuring those users helps soften the blow and leads them back to actively looking for a solution to the problem which made them angry in the first place. But even if you as a contributor don't have the same issue: Being able to recognize the severity of the frustration from the user’s standpoint and actively communicating this lets the user know he or she is in good hands. And remember to go back and check your response if you have time; most cases are solved with a little more attention.

Going the extra mile

Offer a possible solution to the issue: At the beginning, if you have a hunch what the issue may be, or later, when you are closer to a solution. Offering a possible solution is always better than not trying to fix the problem at all.

Do not take it personally.

One coworker put this perfectly: “Do not respond to the tone, respond to the question”.

"The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow." - H G Wells

The best part of helping angry or frustrated users is to exceed their expectations and have them leave with a better picture of the product than they had at the beginning of their support experience.

Provide flexible help

Each thread is a unique challenge and its variety will depend on the user: their tone, their problem, their technology and their skill level. Being able to adapt to their situation will bridge any gaps in technical communication and make you sound much more personable.

For example, talking to a grandmother who is technologically inexperienced about how to change an about:config entry in Firefox is much more complicated than to ask someone to reset his or her configuration altogether. The first scenario requires research and technical troubleshooting experience, while the other one is just pressing a single button.

What if users are already angry?

Try these tips to keep control:

  • Stay calm.
  • Listen actively and do not be afraid to paraphrase or repeat what they said in their question.
  • Exercise patience.
  • Don't be afraid to take a break. Sometimes the best ideas come if you are outside a situation.
  • Remain professional and objective.
  • Stay focused and on topic. If the conversation drifts away from anything other than support, reel it back in.
  • Show empathy
  • Apologize

Why are they angry? Or are they just angry? <insert image> Don’t feed the fire, and please avoid the smoke, you’ll suffocate.

Scenario 1: The user is angry because something is not working.

Response example: Your reassuring address "I appreciate your frustration, so I'm going to try my best to help you" is followed by a comprehensive answer, consisting of a couple of options. Then you tell the user which possible causes of his or her problem require the suggested approaches, and finally you request specific information, together with a brief explanation of why you need this information to help solving the problem.

Formula: Address frustration + add sympathy + explain what is happening + what you need to help them

Anyone can get frustrated, and sometimes taking a deep breath and rolling up the sleeves at a later date may be necessary and more effective. Don't feed the fire: if you are frustrated too, come back later.

Scenario 2: The user is angry at Mozilla because something is not working.

Response example: "I understand that this is frustrating. Be assured that our primary goal is to make the web open and usable by all users, not to frustrate them. I would be happy to help and continue troubleshooting your issue here so that it does not happen. However, we may be at an impasse at this point, so I would suggest to flag a Mozilla staff member or an engineer with a little more expertise in how to address this issue."

Then escalate or get the attention of a moderator, because sometimes a little more care is needed. In such a case it can be useful to involve someone with more experience (preferably a moderator, if the forum is concerned) to let them mediate any situation and keep tabs on it.

Bear in mind: The user may already be having a bad day, so don’t blame yourself.

Avoid getting into arguments with users

When they insult you or Mozilla and you feel like you have to defend yourself: Don’t be offended and try to see the underlying message. Peel off the emotion and get down to the real message.

Some examples:

Example 1: Say you are troubleshooting for a user and he or she responds with a question about why Mozilla made a change about a specific feature. If the user insults you, there are several ways to avoid retaliation:

  1. You can ask the user once again about the product or the problem and remind him or her of the troubleshooting steps you have already offered as a workaround.
  2. You can also guide the user to Mozilla's Feedback Page and let him or her know this is the right place for expressing opinions about certain features and developer changes.
  3. From here on – unless the user wants to continue working with you on an objective level – you'll have to accept that he or she was not looking for help in the first place, but just wanted to complain.

Example 2: Another example is when someone uses CAPITAL LETTERS only, like “I ALREADY TRIED SAFE MODE, IT'S NOT MAKING A DIFFERENCE.”

Stay calm and do your best to address the frustration: “Sir, I understand the frustration. We use Safe Mode to eliminate any factors that may be attributing to the issue. There may be several steps we have to take to find a solution for this issue. Since it is happening in Safe Mode, we now know it's not caused by one of your add-ons.”

One last example where the conversation becomes abusive: “I have tried everything in the Cannot Download or Save Files article so please don't post a link to that. Nothing worked, not even a reset. I would try scanning my computer for malware, but I CAN'T DOWNLOAD ANYTHING. I'm pretty sure this is a problem with Firefox since I am able to download and save files in Safari.”

If it gets out of hand: Report spam and abuse to admins and moderators. Also see the Forum Guidelines section Language and Conduct for more unwanted behavior such as provocation, insults, violence, etc.


Another tool we can use to shift the focus back on the user and solve the problem is to empathize. Please do not mistake this for sympathy.

What is the difference? Empathy is sympathy without fault: It is putting yourself into the users' minds and trying to understand how they feel. Sympathy, in contrast, means simply “I am sorry, but I cannot imaging feeling that way” and shows the rift between the two. Sympathy – they cannot feel what you feel. They do not know why you are technically challenged. Empathy – they can feel the same way and they were technically challenged just like you were at one point.

For example, say you read a question like this: “I have tried everything your forum has suggested doing: Resetting Firefox, reinstalling it, turning off hardware acceleration. I just do not know what is causing these pop-ups!”

  • Sympathy: “That sucks! I am glad it's not me, my pop-up is working. I tested it and it works just fine. You may have malware. ”
  • Empathy: “If I was in your shoes I would not know what to do either. Luckily though there is a feature in Firefox that controls a list of pop-ups. If that is checked it may be something beyond Firefox, have you tried a malware scan ...”

Notice the difference there?

For Contributors Participating in the Contributor Quality Training please click here for Chapter 9

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