9 Ways to Protect Employees From Angry Customers

Receptionist fielding complaints from an angry customer.

Frustration can work in your business’s favor. After all, if you can provide the solution to someone’s frustration, you’re well on your way to making a sale. But when you can’t solve that problem immediately, or when your solution comes at a higher price point than your customer is willing to pay, frustration can quickly turn to anger.

When customers get angry you have a lot to lose: their business, your reputation, even the safety of your workers and your other customers may be at risk. That’s why it’s so important to have a policy in place to help protect your employees from angry customers.

The nine strategies outlined below can help you protect employees from agitated customers by creating a calmer, safer work environment where your employees feel equipped to de-escalate tense situations.

1. Recruit Job Candidates With Interpersonal Skills

Make sure your job listings and recruitment process focus on interpersonal skills, including diplomacy, customer focus, and effective communication.

In today’s economy, where word of mouth has more power than ever, a negative review outlining a fraught customer interaction can prevent potential customers from taking a chance on your business. This makes a recruitment strategy that values soft skills essential. The right team with the right attitude can be the difference between success and failure. Once you’ve recruited the right team it’s your responsibility to protect employees from angry customers and provide a safe workplace.

2. Encourage Effective Customer Interaction

Make effective customer interaction part of your employee training, including management training. Teach your employees the following customer service best practices to diffuse tense situations:

  • Allow frustrated customers to vent. Sometimes if you give patrons the opportunity to explain how they feel, the situation will often resolve on its own.
  • Listen to frustrated, even angry, customers with an attitude of empathy. Remember that they have a problem or desire, or they would not have come to you. Anger is often simply a result of the frustration that comes with not having that need met as quickly or easily as they’d hoped.
  • Try to accommodate reasonable concerns, even if that means offering a discount or refund.
  • If you can’t solve your customers’ problems, try to help them find solutions elsewhere, even if it’s by referring them to your competition.

3. Institute a Conflict Resolution Process

Work out a standardized process for your employees to follow when customer relations become tense. Consider including some of the following techniques in your process to help keep frustrated customers from becoming angry:

  • Have employees introduce themselves by name, ask the customer for their name, and then use their name in conversation as they work on ways to solve the issue.
  • Have workers employ reflective listening by repeating what has been said to them in their own words in a calm manner.
  • Get as much information as possible about what situation the customer is trying to solve, what they were hoping for, and how their experience with your business is falling short of that.
  • Ask “how can I help?” and then help if you can. If you can’t resolve the issue on the spot set up a time to get back to them.
  • If you can’t help, be honest.

4. Provide Channels for Customer Complaints

Your customers should have an easy time alerting you to issues. Nothing makes a customer become frustrated quicker than having to hunt to find someone to help them solve their problems. Make sure customers have multiple channels they can use to register complaints and resolve their problems.

Avoid overly complicated automated phone systems, and make sure users can easily find contact information on your web site. Once a complaint is registered, get back in touch as quickly as possible.

5. De-escalate Tension Before It Turns to Anger

It’s natural to become provoked when we come face to face with angry people—or hear an angry tone of voice over the phone. Even an aggressively worded email can set us off. That’s because we are hard-wired to respond to aggression with a fight or flight response.

To counteract this impulse, train your employees to set pause on tense interactions. Placing angry customers on hold allows workers to take a step back, consider customers’ goals, and come up with possible solutions. As your employees work to solve tense situations, they should:

  • Avoid negative language.
  • Thank customers for bringing issues to their attention.
  • Apologize for whatever has gone wrong, even if it’s simply the fact that they are having a frustrating experience.
  • Break the problem into manageable parts and explain steps they’ll take to solve the problem.

6. Document the Situation for Future Reference

Protect employees—and yourself—by documenting interactions with angry customers. These scenarios can help your employees learn how to deal with similar situations in the future. It can also serve as background information in case the customer comes back with future concerns, or if the situation escalates to the point of litigation.

7. Offer Your Employees Self-defense Training

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you are not going to be able to satisfy the customer. Some people are simply unreasonable. You need to make sure that your employees know that you are on their side and have their back when they interact with angry customers.

Make sure they know that if a customer begins yelling or threatens them, they can and should ask them to leave the premises as soon as possible. Other options include contacting onsite security or the police.

To make your employees feel equipped to face any situation, you may want to follow the lead of industries like airlines and hospitality, by providing customer-facing employees self-defense training, either on site after work hours or by paying for lessons at a local organization.

8. Increase Employee Satisfaction

A workplace filled with happy, highly engaged workers doesn’t tend to be one where you are likely to find angry customers. Incentivizing performance and providing adequate skills development can help create a sense of satisfaction and a pleasant atmosphere where your customers will want to spend time, even when they don’t find what they’re looking for.

9. Make Safety Part of Your Employer Brand

A safe workplace is a top priority for today’s job seekers. Once you’ve instituted a training program focused on conflict resolution and a process for diffusing tense interactions—keeping frustrated customers from becoming angry ones—make it a point to incorporate these accomplishments into your employer brand and use your safety policy as a recruitment tool.

Learn More Ways to Promote Employee Safety and Improve Your Employer Brand

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