How 1 employee stopped a customer riot.


I was shopping up a storm in a leading Tech store recently and whilst waiting for my turn at the people staffed checkout, a customer ahead decided to entertain everyone in ear shot with his views on single use plastic bags.

It began when the frontline employee asked Mr Customer if he would like a bag for his purchases. Mr Customer used his outside voice to declare there were more important things for businesses to concentrate on other than what type of bags they offered their customers.

In Mr Customer’s opinion, plastic bags weren’t an environmental problem in Australia and businesses should care more about what customers care about like prices, service, poor shop layouts, inadequate parking and (ironically) queues.

Mr Customer was VERY passionate, and he was in danger of being tackled by the growing queue of waiting customers if he didn’t pack up his soap box and head off to spread his wealth of opinions elsewhere.  

What drives customers to behave this way? Was Mr Customer aware or unaware of how he we coming across? Did he care? Was this the first time he was given the chance to vent his views? Was he aching for human connection? Was he a serial opinion sharer with “trapped” frontline staff?

Mr Customer’s reason is not the reason I am sharing this story.

I am sharing to highlight a frontline employee who behaved professionally in what could easily have become a big problem.

The frontline employee did 3 key things:

 1. Listened with respect. She did this by maintaining eye contact with the customer and nodding to confirm he had her attention and she was truely listening to what he was saying.

2. Neither agreed nor disagreed. She did not reply or respond positively or negatively with what Mr Customer was saying. She neither challenged nor encouraged, she listened – with her eyes and her ears.

3. Helped the customer to move along. She thanked him sincerely for his perspective and wished him a lovely day as she invited the next customer to the counter.

What was also impressive about how this employee behaved was that she didn’t belittle Mr Customer after he had gone. It would have been easy for her to shake her head, roll her eyes or let out a big sigh and share her opinion or discomfort with waiting customers (who were rolling their eyes and sighing).  

This talented frontliner served the next customer just as professionally as the last. She is a true Customer Service Professional.

No-one is born with the skills to manage tricky customer situations professionally; it takes soft skill training and on the job practice.

Share the above 3 soft skill steps with your team and then step back and let them practise. Practise grows confidence and the combination of soft skills and experience, makes for a professional frontline which gives a business a remarkable reputation.

Contact us if you want to create your own team of Customer Service Professionals.

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