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."
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 ordering a drink? That could have satisfied the customer's need without taking the issue to court.
When you’re a customer service professional and your business is threatened with legal action, it can be a scary experience, but it’s important not to panic. 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 to save a customer service case when the customer threatens your business with a lawsuit.
Customer Service Lawsuit Tips
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. Most customers are likely 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. Instead, 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 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 prevents them from achieving their goal. When you feel like you have a firm grasp of the customer's situation, share your explanation with them to 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 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.
You aren't just sitting there aimlessly, nodding your head to make the customer feel better. Instead, you’re actively listening to what they're saying and recording essential details for later use. 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 wants 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 genuine. 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.
In addition, 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 liaison between your company and the customer.
When working with a frustrated customer, it's essential 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.
Most legal threats are not carried out, but, from time to time, the threat of litigation is real — that’s why you need to take each one seriously. If a customer does threaten a lawsuit, take the time to thoroughly evaluate it and its claims before any action is taken. If it’s legitimate, follow the tips on this list to ensure you’re continuing to provide the best customer experience that leaves customers delighted.
This article does not constitute legal advice. You should seek your own legal advice to ensure you follow the correct process.