In 2016, a woman from Chicago sued Starbucks for five million dollars claiming the company put too much ice in her cold drinks. She argued that Starbucks was advertising 24-ounce beverages but the ice reduced the liquid content to about 14 ounces. The lawsuit was dismissed, and the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform named it "the most frivolous lawsuit of 2016."

As humorous as this might have been, lawsuits like these are an unfortunate reality. And, as customer service professionals, we should wonder how such small customer pain points can escalate into class-action lawsuits. For instance, did a Starbucks employee tell this customer that there's a "light ice" or "no ice" option when you order a drink? That could have satisfied the customer's need without having to take the issue to court.

A variety of questions and concerns can run through your mind when your business is threatened with legal action. When you're a customer service professional, it's a scary experience but it's important not to panic. Try to relax and take a deep breath. Remember, at the end of the day the customer has a goal in mind and if you can help them achieve it, you'll have a better chance of navigating them away from legal action.

Below are a handful of ways you can save a customer service case when the customer is threatening your business with a lawsuit.

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Customer Service Tips If Someone Threatens a Lawsuit

1. Don't Panic.

The first step is to relax. Keep in mind that most threats don't reach the stage of actual lawsuits because resolving a complaint via a court of law is a high-effort and expensive process. In reality, most customers are willing to threaten a lawsuit to show how upset they are with their experience.

That being said, that doesn't mean you should completely disregard their threat. Acknowledge their dissatisfaction and follow your case escalation procedures. If you rush to a solution or freeze and panic for help, you can end up saying things that further agitate the customer.

2. Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes.

Your next goal should be to understand why the customer is upset. Once can you fully comprehend their situation, you can identify the best solution possible.

The best way to do this is to put yourself in the customer's shoes. Ask yourself what the customer is trying to accomplish and why the issue is preventing them from achieving their goal. When you feel like you have a firm grasp of the customer's situation, share your explanation with them so they can confirm or correct any details.

3. Don't Take It Personally.

The customer doesn't know you, or your story. And, frankly, they probably won't care too much to ask if they're on the verge of legal action.

So, while you should take the support case seriously, you shouldn't take the customer's behavior personally. If the customer is this unsatisfied, they may need to vent and you might be the first person that they can talk to about this problem. Stay calm and don't lose your cool; this is where your customer service body language can really make a real difference.

4. Pay Attention to Specific Pain Points in the Customer's Story.

When a customer gives you feedback, be sure to take lots of notes. This shows you're listening to what they're saying and recording important details for later use. You aren't just sitting there aimlessly nodding your head to make the customer feel better. If the customer thinks they lost your attention, they're more likely to proceed with their threat.

You can also reassure the customer by repeating details back to them using the same words and phrases they did when speaking to you. Not only does this show you were listening, but it also helps you align yourself with the customer so they feel you're genuinely trying to help them solve their problem.

5. Issue a Sincere and Authentic Apology.

When your company messes up, the first thing that the customer is looking for is an apology. They understand businesses aren't perfect, but they expect you to take responsibility when you make mistakes.

When dealing with threatening customers, your apology must be real. Customers can sense insincerity and will know if you're just going through the motions when you issue an apology. If you're authentic and empathetic, customers will know you genuinely want to make things right.

6. Ask Questions About Their Experience.

Asking the customer questions not only helps you better understand their issue, but it shows you're interested in their experience as well. By getting the customer to provide you with more information about their complaint, you may uncover a workaround or solution that you didn't see at first. And, if the complaint does turn into a lawsuit, you'll have all the details you'll need to report the support ticket to your legal department or upper management.

7. Position Yourself as a Liason Between Your Company and the Customer.

Whenever you're working with a frustrated customer, it's important to position yourself as a support resource instead of a roadblock or bottleneck. Your words and actions should be reassuring because if you come off as defensive, customers will quickly lose trust that you're trying to help them.

Instead, try to be a reassuring knowledge base for the customer that can answer questions and locate information in a timely manner. This will help you foster a productive relationship with the customer where you work towards a solution rather than pointing fingers to figure out who's at fault.

8. Provide an Effective Solution.

Just because the customer is threatening legal action doesn't mean you can't still meet their needs. In fact, providing an effective solution is probably the best way to de-escalate this type of issue. Remember, it's a hassle to get involved in a lawsuit for both parties. So, if your solution does not suit the customer, ask what would be more preferable and then decide if it's possible to provide it.

9. Seek Legal Advice From an Expert.

If your customer service team can't reach an agreement with the customer, then you may want to seek a professional opinion from your legal department or a retained lawyer. This can help you understand whether the threat is legitimate and how your team should proceed.

When a customer threatens a lawsuit, that threat needs to be evaluated before any action is taken. Most legal threats are not actually carried out, but, from time to time the threat of litigation is real. That's why you need to take each one seriously and follow the tips in this post to make sure your customer are delighted with their service experience.

For more customer retention tips, read how to reduce customer churn.

Customer First Templates


Originally published Nov 2, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021


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