This is a free excerpt from the Defusing Hostile Customer Workbook. While the book is written for use in the government context, you'll find that the techniques, principles and tactics explained within are applicable to customer service and angry customers in any context or sector.
In this introductory chapter from Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook, we discuss the difference between working in the private and public sectors, and how to use this workbook to improve your defusing hostility skills.
What's Happening Out There?
A casual observer of our society might conclude that we are becoming more aggressive, more abusive, and less tolerant of frustration. As a government employee you probably wonder what the heck is happening with people. It appears that angry, hostile and abusive behavior is increasing, and government employees have become convenient targets for the frustrated and angry.
Severe situations are occurring more often hostage takings, threats of violence, and even physical violence are increasing, although they are still rare. Verbal abuse of employees is on the rise, and while we don't see this kind of abuse reported in the media, it is becoming more common. For those in adversarial or regulatory roles with respect to customers, verbal abuse is often an everyday occurrence.
Even worse, this trend is likely to continue.
The Government Context
There is no question that government staff work under different constraints than those in the private sector. You may be in an enforcement position, obliged to identify breaches of legislation or government regulations. You may be in the position of determining financial benefits for people that will have an effect on the wellbeing of those people and their families. Or, perhaps you work in an administrative job within a department that carries out tasks that annoy the public.
Government departments have far more impact on people's lives than, let's say, a Zellers, or a Canadian Tire. As such, those that work in government operate as magnets for hostility, both from direct customers, and from the media. These days, each city seems to have a selfappointed champion of the people who "investigates" government decisions. Government "bashing" has become a favorite pastime of both print and radio journalists.
Apart from being under the microscope, you don't have the flexibility of private sector employees. While WalMart can take the position that the "customer is always right", your customers are not always right, and you can't always meet their requests without breaking the laws you may be charged to enforce. You probably can't give money back, or replace a product if the customer doesn't like it. Often you can't forward their comments and suggestions to ministers and deputy ministers. In a bureaucratic hierarchy, the policy makers and decision makers are not easily accessible to government employees that deal directly with the public.
It's a tough situation. The public seems to want more even though staff and other resources are being cut. Chances are that your customers have to wait longer to receive service. Or, your department may no longer offer the service that customers expect. Or, you now charge for services that used to be free.
It certainly appears that angry, hostile and abusive
behavior is increasing, and that government employees have become convenient
targets for the frustrated and angry.
The public doesn't like it, and they are taking it out on you.
Who Pays The Price?
We all pay a price. Employees on the "firing line" have to deal with the stresses, great and small, resulting from having to deal with angry, frustrated customers. Angry customers can eat up lots of organizational time and energy, particularly when they decide to climb the organizational ladder with their complaints. Employee safety can be threatened by angry customers. It just isn't fun, and it's no laughing matter.
You CAN Do Something About It
It may seem you can do little to defuse the anger and hostility of customers. It seems to be set off by the smallest things, and above all, it seems unpredictable. But the truth of the matter is that employees can do things to defuse the anger and reduce abusive behavior. People can learn to act in ways that reduce this kind of behavior, and ensure that they don't do anything that will result in an unpleasant situation going ballistic.
That's what this book is about. It was written to help you deal more capably with hostile situations so you can reduce your stress levels, protect your time, reduce the occurrences of crisis situations, and enhance the reputation of your organization.
You should know that it takes some time to learn how to deal with these situations and it takes diligence and effort, but it isn't hard. Most people can learn the defusing skills, and put them into effect. Our goal is to become practiced in defusing hostility so it becomes second nature, so that effective defusing responses replace less effective ones.
Using The Workbook
The material in this book is drawn from a number of sources, not the least of which is the experience of several thousand public sector employees who have participated in my seminar called Defusing Hostility Customers.
The book you are holding will provide you with a better understanding of angry behavior, and will present a number of strategies and tactics you can use with hostile people. Most chapters include exercises you can do to "practice" the thinking skills needed to use these strategies and tactics. We have provided answers for many of the exercises so you can evaluate your own progress. These can be found in Appendix A at the back of the book.
Keep in mind that many of the exercises can have several "right answers". While your answer may be different than the one provided at the back of the book, it may not be "wrong".
So we recommend the following:
• always read the relevant chapter in this book before trying the exercises that follow each chapter.
• do the exercises! You will learn and retain more if you actually write out your answers to the exercises.
• read only a chapter or two at a time before doing the exercises. We suggest that you read a chapter, make some notes, then do the exercises for the chapter. Don't overload yourself. Retention is best if you do a bit at a time.
No course or learning material can tell you exactly what to do in each individual situation. We must be clear that each hostile situation is different, and that you must use your own judgment to determine what you ought to be doing. There is no magic solution, no cookbook approach that works each time. This book includes tactics and techniques you can use, but you must decide when and how to implement the techniques when the time comes. I can't do that for you.
You can get better at it, and reap the benefits. There are few things more satisfying than successfully dealing with an angry customer so they leave relatively satisfied.
Important Note On Safety
It is important, very important, that you consider safety as a bottom line. Your safety and the safety of other staff, customers and members of the public is paramount. There will be times when it will be impossible to defuse someone, particularly if he or she is prone to violence, or mental instability. While I can sit at my keyboard extolling the virtues of gentle approaches to defusing hostility, you must always be concerned with safety, and must do what is necessary to keep everyone safe. Always err on the side of safety!