Join Jeff Toister for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding our natural instincts, part of Working with Upset Customers.
- Have you ever been told to not take it personally when serving an upset customer? It seems like that bit of pithy advice has been going around forever. Unfortunately, this is something that's easier said than done. That's because we're hardwired to take it personally. When we encounter an angry or upset person, taking it personally is an instinctive behavior. Let's take a moment to explore this natural instinct and then I'll show you what you can do about it. Encountering a dangerous situation triggers what's called the fight or flight response.
If you were walking down the street and you suddenly see a snarling, barking dog, the fight or flight response kicks in. Instantly you decide whether to confront the dangerous dog or try to get away from it. The fight or flight response doesn't just happen in the face of physical danger. Psychological threats can trigger it too. A person who is angry, unpleasant, or even insulting can naturally make you want to argue with them or get away as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in customer service, we can't do either.
Let's look at how the barista's fight or flight response is triggered by an angry customer. - (sigh) (clears throat) - Yeah, can I help you? - Yeah, you guys screwed up my drink order again. I was here two days ago and you did the exact same thing. I asked for four pumps of vanilla. You gave me like maybe two. - Well, it's not my fault your drink got screwed up last time. I wasn't even here two days ago so. - Whatever, you're here today.
Four pumps of vanilla. How hard can that be? - You may have noticed that the customer used the word "you" to refer to the coffee shop employees in general. But to the barista it felt like a personal attack. The fight or flight response instinctively kicked in and he immediately became defensive, which of course made the customer even angrier. The key to avoiding this instinctive reaction is to recognize the symptoms as soon as they begin. To help you do this, I recommend downloading the Fight or Flight Symptoms Checklist.
Think about a recent encounter with an angry or upset customer and identify the symptoms you experienced. A few common symptoms include flushed face, increased heart rate, and tunnel vision. Some people say they can feel their blood boiling when it happens. When you experience these symptoms, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge the instinct and stop yourself from acting on it. This is really hard to do in person or over the phone since the communication is happening in real time.
There's never an excuse to lash out at a customer when it's via written communication such as email, chat, or social media. In those situations, you have a built-in moment to pause and take a deep breath before responding. Let's look at what happens when the barista notices the fight or flight response kicking in and catches himself before he acts inappropriately. - (clears throat) - Hi, may I help you? - Yeah, you guys screwed up my drink order again.
I was here two days ago and you did the exact same thing. I asked for four pumps of vanilla. You gave me like maybe two. - Well, I'm sorry we didn't get it right but I'd be happy to remake it for you and add more vanilla. - Yeah, I just don't understand why this keeps happening. Like four pumps of vanilla, how hard can that be? - Yeah, I know, I completely understand. I'm actually a peppermint person myself. Can't get enough of it. This was a vanilla latte, right? - Did you see that subtle pause? Once the barista recognized the fight or flight response symptoms, he caught himself and quickly refocused on helping the customer feel better.
He was able to maintain his focus even when she continued her verbal confrontation. It might help to go back to that old advice from moms everywhere. Think before you act. If you can do this, you can take action to help the customer feel better. We'll talk about some of those specific steps later on in the course. It can sometimes seem unfair to have to keep your cool when a customer is angry or upset. I try to look at it a different way. When a customer is upset, try accepting the challenge of helping them feel better.
It's not easy, but you will know you've done a great job if you succeed.
- Listening with empathy
- Helping the customer be right
- Preserving the relationship
- Learning from angry customers
- Passing along complaints
- Replacing trigger words