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Customer Anger Your Employees
Feel the Pain What You Can Do about It
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

    Imagine this scene for a moment: A customer has yelled at one of your best employees at the tunnel exit for a full 10 minutes, or, you know that one of your longtime customers caused the very problem she wrote a scathing complaint letter about. And the list could go on.
    The fact is the customer is not always right. And the fact is that angry customers can cause untold stress and anxiety among your employees. In worst-case situations, employee morale can suffer and your employees' productivity can plummet.
    Here are 10 top employee gripes about customer incivility - and what you can coach employees to do when confronted with unjustified customer anger:

1. Why does that customer get mad at me?
Solution: Direct employees to invite customers to complain to management about the problem. How? Make a simple complaint form available
at the cashier's counter or any
other location where customers can comfortably fill it out.

2. I hate being yelled at.
Solution: Develop a consistent approach to each type of customer anger. A customer complaining about wash inadequacies, for example, might receive an apology and a coupon for a free wash. A customer making a complaint about damage to his vehicle might be offered a sit-down meeting with the manager or owner. Train your people to respond the way you want them to.

3. After I deal with that customer, I feel like I'm going to explode.
Solution: Give your people the opportunity for a debriefing. As a matter of policy, ask employees who encounter difficult customers to see you afterwards. Let them verbalize the problem. An especially difficult customer confrontation? Offer a cup of coffee or a half-hour break.

4. I just can't seem to please that customer!
Solution: Suggest to your employees that they allow angry customers to decide what will make them feel better. This does not mean customers will dictate the terms of the solution - especially if your approval is needed - but it gives employees a way to get customers talking.

5. No matter how baseless the complaint seems, I still feel terrible.
Solution: Encourage employees to depersonalize these encounters. Role-play the verbal techniques and bodily expressions that help foster a spirit of objectivity and ease. More than a few organizations teach their people how to turn confrontations into theatre, with employees serving as actors when they deal with hostile customers.

6. I'm just not sure what to do when someone starts jumping all over me.
Solution: Give your employees specific procedures they can follow when confronted with hostility. Procedures can include specific questions,
completion of forms, or firm reassurances about company policies.

7. I don't feel adequate to deal with that customer.
Solution: Invite your employees to refer problem customers to you, to a manager or another employee. Being able to pass thorny problems along gives your employees a tremendous sense of security.

8. Does anyone else really care about the distress livid customers cause?
Solution: Whenever an employee encounters customer hostility, ask him or her to complete a "customer dissatisfaction" report. This simple act helps provide employees with an outlet for their frustration - and gives the car wash management an opportunity to consider the problems that do arise.

9. Dealing with a fuming customer is the worst part of this job.
Solution: Make it one of the better parts of the job by providing employees with rewards whenever they constructively deal with a
customer's anger. Remember: Even simple thanks and praise are examples of rewards.

10. I feel like the only person in the world who has to deal with that nasty customer.
Solution: Invite employees to team up with peers whenever they encounter antagonism. Positive morale often begins with teamwork.

    Customer anger exists. Nothing you say or do will make it go away. But helping your employees cope with anger - and even creatively address it - will go a long way toward easing their frustrations. Best yet, it might even give your customer-relations efforts a welcome boost.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr. is a Rochester, NY-based freelance writer.


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