What Do Hostile, Angry Customer Interactions Look Like?

What Do Hostile, Angry Customer Interactions Look Like?

This is an excerpt from If It Wasn’t For The Customers, I’d Really Like This Job: Stop Angry, Hostile Customers COLD While Remaining Professional, Stress Free, Efficient, and Cool As A Cucumber.

In this book excerpt we describe what angry customer interactions are like. The first step in learning to deal with angry customers is knowing when you are under “attack”

It helps you understand what angry interactions with customers are like, and highlights the fact that they take a toll, stresswise, and job satisfaction wise on most customer facing staff.

What kind of difficult customer interactions are we talking about in this book? What do they feel like? What happens? Let’s take a quick tour.

It’s break time at the bank. Marie and Jack, both tellers, sit sipping coffee in the break room. Jack looks at Marie’s tired face, and notices she seems pale, and tired.

Marie, what’s up? You look exhausted.”

Marie answers, “I didn’t get much sleep last night. You remember that big guy who came in here and yelled at me because his check bounced. I couldn’t get what he said to me out of my head, I was so infuriated. I kept thinking of what I should have said to him, or what I could have said, but I really wished I’d just told him to F*** off. Anyway, I didn’t get much sleep.”

Jack replied. “I’ve wanted to do that too, but you know where that would lead. Probably get fired. I can’t figure out some of these customers. They make mistakes, blame the bank, and then yell, scream, and insult us personally, like we intentionally messed up their accounts. You know, if it weren’t for these customers, I’d really like my job.”

Meanwhile, just next door, at Obie’s Deli, Jane stands behind her counter, taking food orders from a line-up of customers – customers anxious to get their food and make the most of their break time.

“Next”, Jane says, and the next customer steps up and just stares at her. She doesn’t say anything – just glares. “Yes?”

Jane says, “What can I get you today?” The customer looks ready to explode, face red, fists clenched. She reminds Jane of a frustrated four year old about to fling mashed carrots against the wall, but Jane keeps that thought to herself.

Finally the customer speaks. “What the hell is wrong with you people? I don’t know if you are stupid or what, but I came in yesterday and I asked for a sesame seed bagel with plain cream cheese. That’s s*e*s*a*m*e seed, not poppy seed.” The customer spells it out letter by letter as if Jane is an idiot.

Jane says, “Something was wrong with your order?” “Damn right. Don’t you get it? You gave me a poppy seed bagel and it’s not the first time. I know Obie, the owner of this dump and I’m getting on the phone, and if it’s the last thing I do I’m going to get you fired. If you don’t know the difference between poppy and sesame, you’re just too stupid to work anywhere. You probably don’t know who I am, but…”

The customer goes on and on, and while she talks she looks back at the audience of other customers, like she’s on stage. The other customers stare at their shoes, or stare at their watches, because all they want is to get their food and get out of there.

Jane freezes, like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. Not a clue what to say or what to do. Her hands shake a bit, as if she’s been threatened physically, her body automatically pushes adrenaline through her – essence of the fight or flight reaction.

Over at the Kugel Manufacturing Company, there’s a meeting going on. We see Jennifer, the Vice-President of Operations pacing from corner to corner in her oak paneled office, and Jack sitting in a chair.

Jennifer says, “Jack, let me get this right. Yesterday you got a call from Bob telling you that he had to stop the assembly line because he didn’t have the parts you promised, right?” Jack nods. “And you basically told him to get stuffed? He told me that you were unhelpful, rude and disrespectful, and you refused to rectify your mistake. That’s not acceptable, Jack. Will you explain all this to me?”

Jack responds. “Jennifer, that’s not what happened at all. Bob called me swearing and yelling, and threatened to come to my office and not leave until he got his parts. I tried to explain the source of the problem to him, but he didn’t hear a word I said. I offered several solutions, but nothing was good enough. I don’t think he even cared about the parts. He just wanted to wail into someone. I TRIED to resolve the problem. The next thing I know he’s running to you. I don’t need to be treated that way.”

The meeting continues for over half an hour but, for Jack, it seems like days.

Sound Familiar? Angry Customer Interactions Happen For Most Employees

If you deal with customers, whether paying customers (external customers), or internal customers like Bob, you KNOW these situations. You’ve been there. You ARE the employee, Jack, or Jane, or Marie.

It doesn’t matter what industry or business you work in. It could be a hotel, restaurant, lawyer’s office, accounting practice, call center, or hospital or doctor’s office. There’s no sector where you won’t find difficult, hostile and challenging customers.

Sometimes you can feel for the hostile, or angry customer. Things go wrong. Things take time. Mistakes get made. After all, you’re not only an employee of some organization dealing with customers, but you are also a customer yourself. You can almost understand why someone treats you badly out of frustration. Almost.

Other times, you can’t be sympathetic with a hostile customer or client because you know that nothing you’ve done, and nothing your company has done, is wrong. No mistakes on your part.

You also know that customers make mistakes, and sometimes try to blame you. They forget things, or don’t read what they need to read. Some try to pull “fast ones”. They expect miracles. When they don’t get miracles, they strike out. Since you are handy and available at the time, they strike out at you. Handy for them, hellish for you.

Regardless of why the customer is angry, and regardless of who is “at fault”, nobody deserves to be abused, yelled at, threatened or insulted. That you deserve to be free of these things doesn’t make it so. People will still act badly.

Since you will encounter these situations, and you can’t completely avoid them, what you CAN do is learn to handle them so they don’t take up huge of amounts of time, stress you out, ruin your day, control your emotional well-being, and basically drive you nuts.

Consider some realities about difficult customer service interactions.

You do not control the broad factors that contribute to customer impatience and volatility. You can’t change society, you can’t change expectations, and you can’t do anything but your best, often within a flawed company system, to meet those higher expectations.

The problem is that you still bear the everyday challenges of customer service in a difficult time.

You end up paying a price, particularly if you don’t have all of the available defusing hostile customers techniques at your fingertips.

Who Pays The Price? And How?

Of course, companies that deal with hostile customers, and fail at it, pay a price. Angry customers go elsewhere. They consume valuable time for companies, particularly if they end up speaking to managers, then the district managers, vice-presidents, and so on. Time is money.

Angry and dissatisfied customers also tell their friends of their bad treatment, and it is much more costly to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one.

That’s all true. But it’s the employees (that’s you, probably) on the “firing line” who have to deal with the stresses, great and small, resulting from contact with angry, frustrated customers. Those customers eat up YOUR time. They interfere with your ability to serve other customers who are also impatient. The more aggressive customers can be so upsetting to deal with that you take them home. You let them “rent space in your head” even after you leave work for the day.

You pay that price. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn defusing skills so the price you pay is minimal, even when dealing with the most difficult customers.

Author: Robert Bacal

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