How to masterfully manage difficult guest interactions while maintaining the relationship – and your cool.
Without a doubt, handling angry customers (or coworkers) is one of the most difficult parts of anyone’s job. Tense interactions invoke both physical and psychological responses in us that can make a tough situation worse if we don’t handle them appropriately. And our reactions to those moments can leave a lasting impact on guests’ repeat visits, our reputation at work and even our business’ standing in the community. Bottom line, it’s a big deal and one that you need a plan for – before the next difficult situation arises. To do it right means not only putting all the pieces together into a well-rounded approach to service recovery, but also being ready for the tough times with these five tips.
1. Remain calm.
Easier said than done, but nothing escalates a tense situation like acting out of heightened emotion. It’s natural in a difficult situation for your heart to start racing and your adrenaline to start pumping. In these moments, take a deep breath to help calm yourself. Then, determine if the situation is still safe for you. You should at no point fear that you will be physically harmed and, if you ever do, it’s critical to get a manager or security officer involved. Most of the time, our guest just needs a bit of extra grace in the moment and if you’re calmly responding with confidence, you’re more likely to begin diffusing the situation and recovering the experience.
2. Find your empathy (and practice it).
Empathy is the key to most interactions and the more you can build your ability to feel it for others, the more successful you’ll be in nearly any environment. Remember that your guest is most likely not mad at you, personally, but at the situation. Perhaps they feel slighted, devalued or taken advantage of. Think back to the last time you felt that way as a customer. How did you respond? Can you understand why they’re upset?
It’s not essential that you agree with the complaint, what’s important is that you understand how they feel and communicate that you’re there to help. Ask yourself, “If I were this guest, what kind of person would I want to talk to?”
Consider this extreme case: imagine that you thought you were double charged for an item and you flew off the handle demanding the issue get corrected immediately. You yelled and carried on and took out all your aggression on the perpetrator of the misdeed. Then, let’s say you learned you’d read your receipt incorrectly and have made a mistake. Woops. How would you want to be treated in this situation? Wrong or right, you’d want to be treated with respect, understanding and a genuine desire to help. That’s all your guests want as well. Try to put yourself in their shoes, understand how you might feel in the same situation and act accordingly.
3. Listen, listen, listen.
Listen with your ears, eyes and body language. Keep sufficient eye contact, nod and respond appropriately and maintain an open body position to convey you’re completely engaged. Most angry guests really want to feel heard so be careful not to interrupt. Allow them to give you their perspective without getting angry or defensive. Once you have a complete picture, replay the need in your own words to show your understanding. Doing so will help the guest feel like you were open to hearing them out, further reducing the emotion of the situation and allowing them to be more receptive to your recovery steps.
4. Act swiftly.
One of the biggest complaints in customer service is the perception that the person we’re talking to doesn’t care and isn’t going to do anything about our concern. If we take too long to act we can lose credibility and control of the situation. Ever have a person roll their eyes at you and demand to see a manager? Most likely it’s because you didn’t assume control of the situation which caused them to lose confidence. So be quick to engage with a guest when there’s an issue. In fact, always be on the lookout for guests who are beginning to look confused or frustrated and head off any difficult situations before they escalate. As soon as you realize a guest has a concern, make eye contact, get engaged and tell them with your verbal and nonverbal cues, “I can absolutely help you with that.” Language emphasizers such as “absolutely” and “definitely” boost the listener’s confidence in your ability and generally will begin to diffuse tension.
Once you understand the situation, think creatively to try and solve it. Often it’s just replacing an item or ticket or fixing a transaction error. Assure the guest that you can help them, and try to resolve complaints using language such as, “I’m sorry this has happened. What I can do is replace your item and then how about I give you all some passes to come back and enjoy our other attractions next time you visit?” Positioning the solution this way helps guests feel like you’re on the same side, and you’re invested in their guest experience. Always try to give them a sense of what you can do for them vs. focusing on the negative. And, of course, finish every interaction by thanking them for their feedback and their business.
5. Shake off any lingering negativity.
The effects of a negative guest interaction can impact the rest of your shift and those around you. If you’re feeling anxious or upset after a difficult interaction, it might be wise to get your position covered while you take a moment to collect yourself. Over time, negative emotions that linger can become baggage that weighs down other experiences with guests, teammates, even our families.
Sometimes, especially after a tough interaction, a change of scenery, an impromptu dance party or a few moments of silence can help us get ready to return to our guest service best – and our best is what every coworker and every guest truly deserves.
Have other tips for dealing with angry guests? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter.