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What happens when the customer is wrong

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When people are not prepared to accept the decision of staff, there will be confrontation. In confrontation, staff are saying: “You cannot have what you want or perhaps in the form you want it”. The confronting person is saying in return: “I don’t care what you say, I want it – my way – now!”

On our conflict management courses staff frequently ask – “how can I stop this or at least prevent the customer from getting angry?” It’s as if some magic exists that can be applied to stun the customer into silence. By all means if you have some magic give it a try but in most cases the best you can hope for is to manage the customer’s anger rather than prevent it.

When someone expresses anger in our direction the feelings we experience can feel messy, unpredictable, and uncomfortable. These feeling are often compounded by our lack of room to manoeuvre. If customers are late for the theatre and we have to tell them to wait for the interval before entering the auditorium, nobody is happy.

Managing this situation effectively involves being able to manage our own emotions if customers are trying to heap their feelings of frustration onto us. It’s not the staff member’s fault that the customers are late for the show but they can be made to feel like it is.

We all know how to generate negative feelings in others. In fact we are all experts at it. Think back to a time in your life when your parents or teachers only had to say your name in ‘that’ tone of voice; we knew we were in trouble. Is it surprising that customers can make staff feel defensive when they get angry?

In certain situations staff and their organisations make mistakes but frequently, they do absolutely nothing wrong. It’s important to recognise the difference when dealing with a customer’s anger. When faced with an angry customer we should be empathic, understanding, and courteous but also work on managing the customer’s attempts to make us feel we have done something wrong.

Customers can get overwhelmed by their own feelings of frustration (theatre tickets are expensive and traffic can be awful!). On our conflict management courses we train delegates in how to slow down the conversation a little. This provides time to think, assess, and respond appropriately. If the client succeeds in getting us flustered we tend to speed up the conversation and be more reactive and defensive. If we get defensive the customer can feel justified in their attempts to transfer their feelings onto us. Staff need to understand how customers feel without getting caught up in those feelings themselves.

Keep the drama on the theatre stage; don’t let the customer force you to become part of it.



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