First Friends: The X-Men Show Product Managers How To Communicate More Effectively With Angry Customers

First Friends: The X-Men Show Product Managers How To Communicate More Effectively With Angry Customers

“First Friends” is a short story from Classic X-Men #2 that moves a pair of popular X-Men from awkward acquaintances toward best of friends. In the process, this story sheds light on how product managers can communicate more effectively with angry customers.

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We’ll reveal key plot points from this 35 year old short story as we explore the therapeutic side of product management. And we’ll do it all in 12 panels or less. You have been warned!

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A recent immigrant from Africa, the mutant superhero Storm (real name Ororo Munroe) soars over New York City with plans to meet up with one of her new acquaintances, Jean Grey.

Both women are feeling isolated: Ororo because she’s a stranger in a strange country, and Jean because she’s recently retired from being a superhero and uncertain what to do with her life.

Classic X-Men launched in 1986, reprinting the “All-New, All-Different” era of the X-Men which began in 1975. The reprints often had backup stories, like this one that fleshed out the X-Men’s personalities and relationships.

Jean suggests they hit the town and update Ororo’s wardrobe. During their shopping trip, a thief nabs Jean’s purse. He flees into the subway with Jean and Ororo in pursuit.

But Ororo stops short at the subway entrance, frozen by claustrophobia. This aspect of her character won’t be revealed in the main X-Men series for many issues to come.

Jean catches up to the little thief. But a sudden influx of people disembarking from a train catches her off guard. As their thoughts flood her mind, Jean loses her grip and the thief disappears into the crowd.

Jean rejoins Ororo above ground, furious that Ororo hadn’t helped her. She gets an unwanted mind flash of the reason why Ororo didn’t join her. Jean apologizes to Ororo for her angry outburst… which provokes an unexpected response from her new friend.

Ororo is called “Storm” because she can control the weather. And when she’s unhappy, the weather conditions reflect her mood if she’s not careful.

Above the city, Ororo and Jean argue over Jean eavesdropping on Ororo’s thoughts.

Both women explain their perspectives.

Ororo takes Jean’s words to heart. She apologizes, and disperses the stormy weather.

Then together they approach the subway entrance to start to help Ororo overcome her fear.

“An angry customer – like the darkness – like the future – is unknown and terrifying.”

One of the most intriguing, and potentially off-putting, aspects of product management is engaging with customers who are unhappy with your product.

When customers share their strong feelings to you, if you’re not ready for it, you may feel like Jean does, just overwhelmed by their thoughts. Or you may react like Storm does, running away from darkness or even striking back at them out of self-preservation.

But what we really need to do in those situations is listen.

According to research from Esteban Kolsky, only one out of 26 unhappy customers will file a complaint; the rest churn silently.

This means, in a strange but real way, every time a customer is complaining to you, they’re actually providing you with a gift. True, it’s a gift potentially wrapped in thorns and thistles, but a gift nonetheless. Because underneath all that noise, there are likely ideas that will help inform your future roadmap and deliver even more business value to other customers who are unhappy, but silent.

This means, in a strange but real way, every time a customer is complaining to you, they’re actually providing you with a gift. True, it’s a gift potentially wrapped in thorns and thistles, but a gift nonetheless.

– Chris Cummings

So give the customer your full attention. When they’re done, restate their concerns to be sure you’re addressing the right issue, and ask questions to make sure you’ve understood their concerns correctly.

Once you’re sure you’ve understood them, show that you understand why they’re upset, so you’re aligned empathetically, and present possible next steps. After those are agreed, take action according to the timelines you’ve established together.

Engaging angry customers may feel a bit like entering a dark portal to the unknown, but getting beneath the anger and into the insights wrapped within is critical to future product success.

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.
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