What to do when a staff member "loses it" with a customer

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With 25+ years of experience managing and training customer service staff, I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to the reasons why an employee has "lost it" with a customer. One example that comes to mind was a staff member who told me in no uncertain terms, that a particular customer (we will call him Mr Customer) simply didn't deserve her smiles let alone her help because he was a giant sized #!%khead.

Upon further investigation, my staff member shared that Mr Customer had been demanding and impolite on 3 occasions over the past month and during the last interaction, she told Mr Customer that if he didn't like the effort she made for him, maybe he should go elsewhere. (Different and less polite words were said to Mr Customer).

Mr Customer did go elsewhere....to me, the Customer Service Manager.

After an in-depth chat with the employee and the customer, apologies were shared and a truce was called and everyone was left feeling much more satisfied; nearly everyone. I was left wondering what I could have done to have averted that crisis. What signs did I miss that my employee was reaching boiling point with a customer? Why didn't she tell me sooner? Why didn't she ask for help?

I learned 3 very important things from that difficult experience;

1. The most competent customer service employees need support and feedback.

The employee in question had been a consistently excellent service provider, until she wasn't. I had mistakenly thought her many years of professionally handling the good, the annoying and the difficult customers with ease, would always be the way. I took her skills for granted and this left her with nowhere to turn when she was feeling overwhelmed. She felt the pressure to always be excellent and didn't want to let me or the team down. She soldiered on until she eventually lost her cool. It was bound to happen.

Tip: Regularly provide every employee feedback on their service skills. Feedback to customer facing staff is as like sunshine and water for flowers - vital for growth and helps to keep their heads up.

2. Customers may not always be right or pleasant and your staff need to know how to handle those situations.

In this scenario the customer was correct about the poor behaviour he received, but in the lead up to this he had made unjustified demands and used bullying tactics to get his way. The staff member didn't know how to handle this type of difficult behaviour.  She remained polite and ignored his demanding ways and hoped Mr Customer would apologise..... or never come back.

Tip: Customer facing staff need to be empowered with the skills to deal with difficult and demanding customers in the first instance. Without those skills, difficult interactions can elevate into a situation where the staff member loses their cool.

3. Customer facing staff need to know it's OK to vent and when and where to do it.

Accepting that some customers may communicate their needs with little or no respect for your staff, is a reality of business. Staff need the skills to handle those situations but they also need the time and space to "shake it off" afterwards.

Tip: Provide a break out area; a place where staff can privately vent their frustrations to you or a trusted co-worker. In more serious cases, access to professional support such as Employee Assistance Programs may be required. Sometimes just a cuppa and chat will be enough, but the key is to make it OK for staff to vent - and it can help you identify training opportunities.

If you want help educating and motivating your team to provide great service to all customers; the good, the challenging and the down right difficult contact Lightbulb Training Solutions today.

By Cate Schreck - Service Excellence Coach and Author of "The A -Z of Service Excellence".