It has been said that the customer is always right. I suspect most of us know this is not totally true. In his book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters explained that whether your customer is right or wrong – in their mind they are right and you lose if they walk away. Some unhappy customers are easy to deal with and we do our best to make the situation right for them. Every once in a while, you will encounter that toxic customer who has difficulty managing their anger and who feels justified in totally going berserk, treating your customer service representative to a barrage of yelling, cursing, and insults. As a heart-based leader, you must ask yourself – “To what extent am I willing to go to maintain this client?
Here are some thoughts to help you manage this situation –
- Hire the right people. There are some people who are naturally outgoing, gregarious, and positive. They seem to be able to handle controversy without becoming overly affected. People who are shy, anxious, or easily offended may not be the right person for this job. Be sure you prepare each new employee candidate by being honest about what they may face in the job… even if it is only occasionally.
- Set boundaries. We know that unhappy customers can sometimes be unpleasant to serve. However, as a leader, you need to have guidelines for what acceptable client behavior looks like. I worked in a facility where a particular client would often call in angry. I believe he thought he could get more from the customer service representative if he was aggressive and abusive. He frequently used words that I won’t print here and insulted her by calling her stupid, etc. Her manager told her (and the customer) that he would no longer tolerate the behavior and that if it continued she was to inform him that she was offended and hang up on him. I believe she hung up on him several times before he adjusted his behavior.
- Provide excellent customer service training. There are several great customer service training programs available, or perhaps you will want to develop one specific to your organization. Teach your employees how to respond quickly and politely to your clients’ needs. Be sure they know what options are open to them to resolve the problem. Include role plays with real situations so that they will know what to expect and have practiced how to respond.
- Have a solid recovery plan. Usually, when customers are yelling, it is not your customer service people who have created the problem. They DO have to fix it… but wouldn’t it be great if the problem had not occurred at all? Provide feedback to your engineering, operations, sales, or fulfillment teams. Work to eliminate the problems before they make your client angry.
- Be prepared to step in. When a customer becomes too obnoxious for your customer service representative to handle, you (or a more experienced customer rep) should be willing to step in and take over. HOWEVER… before you step in, always ASK your customer service rep if they need your help. To simply step in and take over may convey that you don’t trust them to handle it. Be willing to offer your support. Don’t leave your employee struggling if they need help. Don’t allow any client to abuse your employee.
- Provide post call support. After a difficult call, your employee may be stressed. They will probably be at their best if they have opportunities to release the stress. Here are some ideas –
- Give them your ear and a moment to vent.
- Thank them for doing a difficult job well.
- Give them a 10-minute break to take a walk, etc.
- Consider having a quiet room where they can meditate for 10 minutes.
- Debrief the call if it was recorded. Remember to provide coaching, not criticism.
Is your customer always right, even when they exhibit abusive behavior toward your team? As a heart-based leader, part of your job is to protect your team. Standing up to an abusive customer will elevate you to hero status.
I hope these ideas help you protect your team! I look forward to talking with you again in May! Please drop me a line if you have questions or if you would like me to write about something specific. Until then, I’m sending you heart hugs!