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How to Deal with a Hostile Customer

Aug 18, 2007
Any job which involves customer service will, before long, involve a few unpleasant encounters with at least one customer who has a problem about something. There is a notable difference between customers who have an understandable complaint, and those who seem to just seem to have a personal problem.

Some complaints will have merit. For instance, if something was defective or missing. The chef made the wrong order by mistake, or you brought one too few items to the table. The purpose of this article is not to diminish the importance of expecting certain services to be done in a satisfactory manner. But inevitably, some people will cross the line. Anyone who has ever worked in a service-related position will have many stories to tell about people who threaten legal action or try to get people fired. Many companies even offer training videos and seminars that explains how to effectively handle verbal abuse from customers.

Remembering these rules will help you get through the situation with both your dignity and your sanity intact, while preserving as much goodwill for the company as possible.

Body language actually matters, for purely psychological reasons. When the customer is complaining to you, do not cross your arms. It is perceived as a message that you don't actually care about what the customer is saying, even if you don't really mean that. If the customer picks up on the idea that you have dismissed their complaint as petty, you're going to be in for a bumpy ride. Many managers even advise that you keep your arms at your sides while the customer speaks to you, because then you are not creating a subliminal barrier between the customer and yourself.

These things seem so little and minor, but have two friends help you by letting you each tell them something, where one keeps their arms open and the other folds their arms in front of them. You really do get the feeling that the person with the arms folded is blocking you out and they don't understand you!

Eye contact, even though sometimes it is unpleasant and scary, is also a helpful tool. If customers get the feeling that you understand what they're trying to convey, they are more likely to discuss their problem with you in a calm, rational manner.

At the very least they will understand that you are trying to see their point of view. Though it might sound like a simple tactic to appease them, a few head nods as they explain their situation can also do wonders. This is not something that you should overdo. People can tell when you're just trying to make them stop talking, and that might be pretty obvious if you look like you are nodding too much.

The customer service training that many employers provide also suggests that you take notes. This is only in the case of time and circumstance permitting, as obviously you wouldn't be able to pull out a notepad and start scrawling if you're standing at a cash register and the lineup behind the irate guest is in danger of turning into an angry mob at a moment's notice. It is more likely only something to do if you know the customer's issue is extremely complicated or it is something that you're going to have to relay to someone else later on.

Be calm and be quiet. It might not be easy, but you will have an easier time if you don't talk too much during the interaction. It may be tempting to give some of these people a taste of their own medicine, but don't. You will feel better for about five seconds, then the customer will renew the attack. People are not going to give up until things are fixed to their satisfaction. Snapping back at them will inevitably make things worse every time. Shouting matches are always a bad thing; they tend to attract the attention of everyone else in the general area. You will not want that kind of attention, especially not from your manager.

That being said, it's also not usually a good idea to stand there and say absolutely nothing. This is because it tends to make people feel as if you either don't understand their problem or that they're not going to get anywhere by dealing with you. If they're complaining, chances are they want something from the company.

But what do you say to such a person, when their anger has transcended the boundaries of good taste and common sense? In this case, short sentences like "I see," and "I understand," can work wonders. Repeat what the customer has told you. It makes them feel like they have been heard. This has has the power to calm some very irate people down. Sometimes they will even surprise you and apologize, later!

The last thing to remember is, don't take it personally. Some inconsiderate people will think they can mock you for making an innocent mistake or even insult your intelligence. Some people can be downright rude, but you have to remember that they're angry at the situation, and you are just a bystander. Get used to all the usual tactics of the rude customer: they might yell, they might scream, they might throw a fit, and they frequently might vow never to patronize your place of employment again and threaten to see that you lose your job.

They are probably not actually mad at you, especially if they're complaining about a wrong order or something similar. Many innumerable factors could have contributed to this situation. Chances are that you're just the person who happens to be taking the flack. Your co-workers will understand that it's not fun. People will always have complaints, however, and until people stop having complaints, there will always be people who let their emotions get the better of them.

All you have to do is resolve not to be one of them. And by all means, make it easy on yourself; if at all possible, have another employee or a manager take over for you, especially if you feel your emotions getting a rise out of you.
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Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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