Angry Customers and Scared Employees by Jim Johnson

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Have you noticed how today’s consumer has changed over the years? I’ve been in retail banking for 15 years now. I’ve been noticing how angry they have become (I’m generalizing here). What used to be a call, letter, or visit questioning a business practice has now evolved into rants, cursing, and/or filings with the Better Business Bureau.

There is a spirit of “you vs. me” and I’m not entirely convinced that we (the business) have brought it on ourselves. Folks are very quick to blame and assume the worse. If they don’t get their way, they resort to personal attacks – thinking this will force them to get their way.

How are you helping your team cope and manage these very difficult situations?

1. Support them when they get this kind of call. If they bring this type of a situation to you, listen to them. Don’t blow them off. These calls create stress and a “newbie” may or may not have the tools ready to handle it. They need your experience, your advice, and your calm.

2. Help them create a response plan. The response should be based on facts. In other words, don’t make stuff up! I’ve seen that way too often. A new employee gets backed into a corner by a screaming customer, and soon that employee is fabricating “facts” that are far from true. The customer then takes this new info and makes things even worse.

The response plan should focus on listening to the complaint and then offering solutions. Help your team by getting them to focus on facts and not emotion.

3. Sit in on the call. If you can, take the time to sit in on the difficult call. This is a great coachable moment! Your team member will appreciate you being there. If things escalate out of control, you can take over the call.

4. Know when to fold ’em. There are rare times where it is necessary to “fire” the customer. No matter what you do or say or give back, they are angry and unreasonable. They threaten, bully, and become perverse. It’s time to cut the relationship. They can take their business elsewhere.

Will they tell others this has happened? Yes. Will others be influenced by them? Maybe. Maybe not. If their rants with you are common, it’s likely that those who know the ranter better know this even more. Blow-hards aren’t widely respected.

5. Debrief after the event. When your team member has successfully handled a tough call, talk with them about what went well and what did not. Teach. Coach. Listen. Encourage. Calm. This will make the next call easier and take the fear factor away.

It can be rough sailing these days with angry consumers. It’s your job as a leader to help your team navigate these periodic stormy seas. Your team member wants to become better at handling difficult circumstances. Your team member and your company will be the better with your investment of development.

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