Lately, if you read the news or follow social media, it might seem as though the entire world is just itching for a fight. The most popular of these articles and videos highlight people behaving badly in all sorts of situations. From the war in Ukraine to our own country’s social and political divisions, right down to daily interactions between customers and staff, there is a distinctly “uncivil war” being waged all around us every day.
People are fed up with a lot of things right now, and these same folks will be walking through your front door sooner than later. Dealing with angry customers is never fun or easy, but you can get through these encounters by de-escalating the situation and focusing on the common goal of getting the customer what they really need.
When conversation becomes conflict, the first thing we need to remember is to stay calm. Even when the customer comes at you with a bad attitude, your own needs to remain in check. Some people thrive on conflict, bullying others to get their way, or even to feel superiority over others. “Ken” and “Karen,” full of themselves and emboldened by the media coverage of people mistreating workers, actually want you to get down in the mud with them. Someone (but most likely not Mark Twain) once said, “Never argue with a fool. You won’t change his mind, and bystanders can’t tell which of you is the fool.”
Instead of getting drawn into a shouting match (and giving them control of the situation), redirect the conversation back toward getting to the root cause of their complaint. Let them tell their story (they do love to hear themselves talk), but keep them on track. Don’t interrupt them, and be an active listener. If their complaints stray from the actual issue, asking relevant questions can help focus them back on the problem you’re trying to solve with them. It also shows that you’re interested in them and their concerns.
Don’t play the “blame game.” As you work through the issue at hand, it will probably become clear where the misunderstanding or fault lies. Being accusatory toward the customer will only widen the gap you’re trying to close, and blaming a store policy (or another employee) only creates mistrust in your company and staff. If the problem is a result of your mistake, admit your error, and work toward correcting the issue to the satisfaction of the customer and your company.
If the situation is the result of the customer’s error, be compassionate in your efforts to explain what you suspect went wrong with the previous situation. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid, so avoid negative “YOU” statements. “YOU gave me the wrong information” or “YOU installed the part incorrectly” may be completely accurate statements, but they don’t need to be phrased this way. Sometimes, (politely) repeating the situation in the customer’s own words will be enough to make their error clear to them, while establishing that you are both in agreement.
Finally, make every reasonable effort to fix the issue. If they simply wanted to vent or complain, they’ve done so, and you’ve made the best of the situation, calmly and quietly so as not to cause a scene. If they need to return or exchange eligible merchandise, process these transactions politely and efficiently. If they still require additional advice, parts or services, do your best to address these needs. If you have the knowledge and authority to resolve the problem, DO IT!