The whole room was jolted into high alert by shouting at the front desk.

“I don’t care what you say this just isn’t good enough.” The angry gentleman yelled at the stunned assistant. With a few added expletives he demanded that he speak with the manager. “Now!”

Even before the pandemic, scenes like this were increasing across most sectors. Post lockdown, they are even greater. Staff are challenged by these outbursts. Some businesses might even want to trespass such customers, but that may unnecessarily lose future sales, and be a high-cost solution that adds even more stress to the situation.

What drives aggressive behavior?

The simple answer is emotion.

Emotional regulation is something that we all learn as we mature, but it requires effort. Toddlers don’t have much emotional regulation when they throw tantrums, but it happens with stressed adults, too. Increased stress in the world has led to more emotional outbursts. Resilience, on the other hand, is the ability to bounce back under pressure and maintain equilibrium.

What can you do when you are faced with an angry and upset customer?

The best response is counterintuitive. That is: acknowledge the other person’s emotion. The stressed-out person wants you to ‘get it’ that they are upset, distressed, annoyed, frustrated, etc.

What stops us acknowledging their emotions?

When someone shouts at you, you feel attacked. Your rational brain shuts down. Your emotional brain goes into fight, flight or freeze mode to defend yourself from this perceived attack.

Can we change?

You can get yourself out of the ‘war zone’ and back to serving the distressed customer. The simple although challenging thing to do is take a BATH:

B is for Breathe. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering ‘rest and digest’ rather than ‘fight/flight’. This goes a long way to helping you calm down. Deep breathing also gets good quality oxygen to the brain which otherwise has been hijacked by the emotional brain.

A is for Acknowledge. First, acknowledge your own feelings without judging yourself. It’s understandable that you feel scared or annoyed or powerless. However, you don’t have to act on those feelings, just acknowledge them to yourself.

Next, you want to acknowledge their feelings – out loud – without judgment. Naming feelings is one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself and for the other person. To name them is to tame them.

T is for Think. Think what else might be going on for them. It’s unlikely that anything you have done has generated this amount of emotional expression in them. There are probably many life stressors that cause them to be so upset. It’s not just about you.

H is for Hit the reset button. You need to let go of this incident and this person when they leave. The next customer will most likely be just fine. Remind yourself of the good people who love you and the good things in life. Later, when you get a chance, you might need to debrief with somebody who can listen and accept you – but in the meantime, hit the reset button, and carry on.

These four steps seem very simple and yet they are a challenge. Smart managers provide staff with training to deal with upset customers. Increased customer loyalty, plus reduced health and safety risks from stress (and even possible physical attacks), can provide good returns on such training investment. Thriving Under Fire has specialized in online and face-to-face training for over 20 years.

Contact us if you want to know how to get training in managing angry customers, challenging colleagues or furious family members. We offer face-to-face and online training to fit in with your situation. Call John for a no obligation chat.