Dealing With Difficult Customers

We’re currently writing a workshop for how to deal with difficult & aggressive customers/colleagues on the shop floor. It’s amazing to see the psychology of how the brain interacts when it’s under threat or dealing with a flood of emotion in any number of different scenarios. It poses the question, is there a right way to handle a customer complaint?

We’ve all got lots of examples of what happens when things don’t quite go to plan, you say the wrong thing or someone reacts to your comments in a way that you didn’t quite expect. So, what is the right thing to do in those pressure cooker moments?

What should be the number 1 objective? Keep the customer happy? The safety of your team? The integrity of your business?

Of course, there’s probably never a 1 box fits all to any of those but it makes you think. What would you do? What do you do? What is the example you set for your team?

I recently had reason to challenge a decision of a Company that I wasn’t happy with, each time I pushed back I got the company policy repeated to me. I’m sure that the person I was interacting with wasn’t deliberately trying to be difficult but that’s how it felt at the time. Each time I got the reply the same line was repeated. Of course, most of us know that there is usually an escalation process, you just need to find it. Sure enough I did & the response I got this time was exceptional. So why was that?

Can you ever test for these situations when you are recruiting an employee? Should this ever really be an important factor? After all, isn’t there a whole host of important factors to consider, creativity, collaboration, trust etc.

So, what happens when the answer you give to the question is no? What causes the relationship to break down & for the situation move from amicable to aggressive? Well we’ve studied the iceberg, we’ve looked at the amygdala, we’ve even gone back through Maslow. The single most important factor that we can see is that firstly you must remain calm. Calm enough to really give yourself time to try & establish what is or isn’t about to happen next. Of course we’re not suggesting you run for cover but it’s important to understand that the next thing that you say will likely direct the tone & outcome of what is about to happen.

What we do know is that once the amygdala is activated the body is then flooded with adrenalin & the urge to enter fight or flight mode almost instantly. Amygdala hijacking can happen in milliseconds even before the rational part of the brain has had chance to understand what is happening. So that’s why a large part of any customer service training needs to cover these critical topics as opposed to the standard platform of The Customer is Always Right as long as it fits in with our ‘Policies’.

When you talk to people about the Iceberg theory, we understand that everyone has things happening in their lives & you don’t have any clue as to what this is or to what extent it’s impacting on their mood, their thinking. Either way, most people are unaware that once your body is full of adrenalin from the brain, that emotion will remain in the body for at least 20 mins before your rational thinking returns. 20 minutes. Think about that, time it. Feels like forever right?

In the same way, we looked at how managing your time better can also help with limiting your chances of being on the wrong side of the amygdala hijacking. Remember the 4-box grid for determining whether your tasks were Have to Do, Like to Do, Delegate or Bin. The alternative we use is to wrap it into Balance, Burn out, Crisis, Irresponsible. It certainly adds more purpose & urgency around planning as we can all relate to those feelings.

Of course, when you start to look at the impact of drink or drugs that’s a whole different workshop altogether but in essence the principles are the same.

When you think about how you feel when you’re about to make a purchase of something (obviously not the weekly grocery shop, or then maybe that too!) there’s excitement, joy almost relief in some cases. So how does it go so wrong so quickly to take us from one extreme to the other? Why can’t we (as sales people) recognise it quicker so that we can resolve it? We should be able to do this fairly easily if we can just remember to stay calm. Don’t panic, give yourself time to breathe & assess the situation around you. You can do this in a matter of seconds just by pausing before you reply or respond. One of the most important responses should be deciding what you can do for your customer rather than what you can’t. Nothing turns a conversation upside down quicker than telling someone ‘no’. Then it becomes, in my experience, almost a battle of will, of principle. And before anyone says you can’t say yes all of the time, I understand that however if you haven’t read a recent article about a purchase of an Apple MacBook from John Lewis in the UK you’ll understand that they seem to build their reputation on doing just that.

That said I do believe that remaining calm & actually listening to what the person is saying to you (not necessarily how they are saying it) can usually be the key to finding the correct way forward. Listen first to understand is a critical factor in getting to ‘yes’.

So how do we reach this pivotal but seemingly impossible space of harmony, respect & trust between sales & service? Well, emotional intelligence or being emotionally intelligent is the perfect place to start & certainly something that we at Clifford believe every person in every business should understand. Why? Well that’s a great question!

Here’s Daniel Goldman’s take on it:

  1. Know your emotions.

  2. Manage your emotions.

  3. Knowing what & how to motivate yourself.

  4. Recognising emotions in others.

  5. Managing relationships.

It’s beautifully simple yet not as straight forward as you might think & not because of managing emotions in others, yet actually knowing your own emotions, accepting that you do have them along with trigger points that set them off is a particularly difficult place for most of us to get to. There are your unconscious biases to take into account & that’s not an easy subject to talk about either. After all, understanding Social Competence isn’t a very light topic however, once you have the ability to manage your own emotion you’ll find it that much easier to deal with it in others too. We’ve lots of great content on it so if you’d like some light reading just get in touch & we’ll gladly send it on.

#difficultcustomers #customerservice #sales #service #communication #listening #bias #emotionalintelligence #emotions #leadership #management

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