We’ll no doubt all have times when we’re required to deal with an unhappy or aggressive customer. Although it can be unsettling, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact on your own wellbeing, and that of your colleagues and other customers.
Remember that your employer will have their own guidance, including specific policies and procedures on what to do if you’re confronted with an aggressive or otherwise difficult customer. In addition, these tips will help you to maintain control in challenging situations.
- Remember that the customer is a human being with their own problems. It can be hard to remember this when someone is shouting at you, but it can help to consider the reasons for their anger. Perhaps they are experiencing other issues in their life at this particular time. For example, someone in their life may have recently died or their child could be seriously ill. Granted, a difficult life experience doesn’t excuse anyone to treat others badly, but keeping other factors in mind may help you to reframe the situation.
- Don’t take it personally. Always speak about the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. If a customer does use personal insults or offensive language during the interaction, it’s essential to ask that they refrain from repeating such language to avoid causing further offence. Remember that the customer doesn’t know you and is most likely misdirecting their frustration at you, instead of recognising that they are unhappy about an in-store experience or product they’ve purchased.
- Stay calm. Trying to argue with an angry person is like trying to push water uphill. If they are using offensive language or being verbally abusive, by all means, calmly remind them that their approach isn’t appreciated but don’t expect them to back down. In fact, responding in any tone other than one which is calm will only escalate the situation. Let the customer know that you are there to help them and that you want to help them.
- Override the natural tendency to push back. When we feel defensive or vulnerable, we’re more likely to push back without thinking. Take some deep breaths and stay conscious of the control that you’re showing.
- Empathise. It can often help to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Echo the source of their frustration and show that you understand their position and situation. If you can empathise with a customer’s problem, it will help to rationalise the issue and potentially calm them down. You don’t have to agree with their perception of their problem but you can let them know that you understand what they are complaining about.
- Become conscious of your tone. If confronted by a customer who is speaking loudly, purposely respond in a lower tone and watch the pace of your speech. This is a conscious choice and will help them to settle down even if they’re unaware of it. It’s pretty difficult to continue shouting at someone who is replying in a calm and measured way.
- Respond as if the world is watching. You might be in a one–on-one situation with a customer but pretending that the exchange is being recorded for the whole world to see can help you to step outside and maintain control. It can also help to take the client to a quieter area of the store to avoid other customers becoming drawn into the discussion. This is particularly important if it relates to issues about in-store experiences such as queues at till areas and stock availability.
- Regardless of the outcome, let your line manager or supervisor know about the incident. This isn’t about covering your back but is to ensure that your manager or supervisor isn’t caught by surprise if he or she gets a phone call or email from the customer or head office at a later date. Be sure to detail the steps that you took and the resolution you offered.
- Let off steam. We can’t just expect people who have been shouted at to walk away from the exchange and get on with their day. Ask your line manager or supervisor for time to step away from your duties so that you can go for a short walk, get a coffee or tea, take some deep breaths…whatever you need to do be able to return to the job as relaxed as possible and carry on with your day.
Additional resources you may find helpful: