This is another great career topic that transcends any specific industry. No matter where you work or what you do, you will inevitably face a member/client/parent/customer/sponsor who is PISSED off. And guess what? They want nothing more than to scream at YOU. Here's some tips for how to deal....
1. The customer is not always RIGHT, but they always deserve to be heard and respected
Yup, I said it. The customer is NOT always right. In fact, there are times when they are very, very wrong. They missed a deadline and have a lame excuse. Or they read the event description incorrectly and thought we were in Paris, France not Paris, Kentucky and want a full refund. Whatever the case, there are many times when the customer is 100% bonkers.
With that being said, whether THEY are wrong or the fault is with the company, we still need to remember to treat that person with respect and courtesy. Providing consistent customer service, regardless of how much this person is screaming in your ear, is a valuable skill to learn. Most of the time, the customer is just VERY confused, and in turn, very frustrated. So, set the tone that you are here to help and walk them through it. Ensure them that you can clear up any confusion. (And resist the urge to call them a moron. Maybe that goes without saying?)
2. Don't throw anyone under the bus, especially your team members.
This is something I find to be of utmost importance. One of the reasons I love my job and the people I work with is because they are awesome at this. If I told a member something incorrect, and then that person called my boss a month later and is upset, my boss would never say, "Sorry that was Kali's fault, she gave you incorrect information." We never use a team member as a scapegoat. It's important to appear to members and clients as a unified force who stands by what each other says.
So, even if the client is angry, you can "back" your coworker if they were correct. Obviously, you still remain courteous and understanding, but you ultimately repeat the correct information given by your coworker until the (hopefully) see the light. If the client is angry AND your coworker was incorrect, then you absolutely admit that the organization made a mistake and apologize. But, you say "Yes, I apologize for that mistake on OUR part." Accept the fault as a unit. Never play the blame game with your team.
3. Be willing to take the fall when it doesn't do damage.
In some cases, the customer is clearly wrong, but if the issue is minor, you can take the fall. Especially if it will lead to a quick fix and calm their anxiety. If it's a very minor issue, don't waste your time battling with them over semantics. Just apologize, and move forward with a solution. Sometimes it's hard to put your pride aside (when you know you're right), but remember, this isn't personal. It's not about YOU. It's about providing quality customer service and being a good representative for your organization.
4. Patience is a virtue. Explain HOW and WHY. Then explain again.
My strategy when dealing with an angry client who is clearly confused is to explain the details/process/rules in a couple different ways until they start to understand. Patience is difficult, but it's key. You have to first listen and let them get it all out (without interruption). Then you can attempt to explain the process in a variety of ways. Most of the time, once they start to understand where they were wrong or confused, they will start to lighten up. However, there will always be clients who refuse to back down and all you can do is be understanding while they let out their frustration. Just remain patient on the phone. Don't let them "see" you sweat.
5. The email that makes your blood boil: Wait 24 hours to respond.
Sometimes an irate client doesn't communicate with you in person or other the phone. There may be a day when you open your inbox and BAM! You're hit with a 7 paragraph rant-fest at 8 a.m. Monday morning. Trust me when I say, this is most likely going to happen more than once in your career. And trust me when I say, it's most likely going to get you fired up. The best thing to do is read it thoroughly, then flag it for later. After having several hours to calm down, draft up a response. Make sure to take your personal emotions out of it. Always have a fellow staff member read the response before sending. They can give you a third party perspective and help edit in a way that is professional and appropriate.
6. Get over it.
Honestly, this can be the hardest part of it all: the aftermath. It can be easy if the issue is strictly about a work procedure. However, sometimes the customers play dirty and you may feel that you were attacked on a personal level. Those encounters are hard to shake. But it's really important to build that bridge and get over it. For the sake of your own sanity, this is a must. As long as you've reached an understanding, provided a solution, or simply agreed to disagree, then move on! Housing any negativity is just going to hinder you from doing your best work.
It may take a happy hour with friends coupled with a 30 minute rant, a glass of wine with a good rom-com, or a 5 mile run while listening to Avril Lavigne. Whatever your de-stress method of choice, just let it go.
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You will always face adversity in your career. And you will always have to fight the tendency to get upset or lash out. Try some of the tips above the next time you have someone yelling in your ear. Handling it with grace and professionalism not only makes YOU look good, but it makes your organization look good. And that's something any boss can certainly appreciate.