How to deal with difficult/challenging customers/clients
(Just thought I'd share with you an essay that I've been working on for the past week or so. I started doing it after a few people asked me about the difficult customers we face and how we deal with them. It's also in response to the utterly useless training that we've gotten in the past and I fully expect that said training is across the board. This is what we face, and hopefully you'll find solutions within this on how to deal with some of the more challenging people you'll face on a daily basis. I'll be sure to do follow-ups, so feel free to ask questions or seek clarification. It rambles a bit, but hey, let's face it, it'd sound better in a training enviroment with hand-outs and role plays.)
There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s be upfront from the beginning: this will take time. Dealing with difficult and challenging customers/clients is a day to day proposition and one of the more stressful aspects of any job involving person-to-person service delivery. Each time a customer walks into an office environment the potential for conflict is there. The majority of the customers/clients that are serviced will generally be decent enough people, they will be polite, they will want questions answered and problems solved and will be content to allow the process to run it’s course. These people may get agitated at the system but they manage to control their emotions and suppress any desire to lash out for any number of reasons – they might have done so in the past and not gotten what they wanted, they might just not have it in them to be impolite and aggressive. Conversely a small portion of any service delivery industries clientele will display signs of aggressive behaviour for their own reasons and will lash out at the first point of contact, usually counter staff. These are the people you will meet along the way in this project and hopefully we can both identify the warning signs and offer up solutions to deal with such people successfully. Always keep in mind, despite what anyone might want to say at the time a difficult customer/client is not dealing with you on a personal level, they are dealing with a system that they neither understand nor accept. It is not personal.
So just what constitutes a difficult customer/client? Despite what people might want to believe, or propagate, a difficult customer/client is not a person who has difficult needs, those are common and, at times, fairly easy to deal with. If someone walks into your office with a series of questions, or needs, that go beyond what is offered up as a valid service then the solutions are beyond your control. They’re either serviced by a different person with a higher level of authority/delegation, or they’re referred to an entirely different department. More often than not they’re able to be serviced by using whatever customer service resources or internal scripts that are on hand. If you know your job and have been doing it for say, more than three months full time, then you should have a good idea of where to send such people. The classic example would be if someone walked into the office wanting money because they’ve just been robbed. Our department can offer some assistance for rental, but nothing for food. Thus we’d send them to a department such as Centrelink for immediate assistance and then to any number of areas that offer assistance such as food vouchers, transport tickets and the like. Those customers, while they can appear to be difficult, aren’t any more challenging than the next person, if you know your job.
It’s the challenging people who are the difficult ones. These are the people who, for whatever reason, find it nearly impossible to communicate with the world at large. They might have some form of illness, mental or physical; they could suffer from some form of psychosis due to circumstances either within or beyond their control. Drugs are a good place to start here – a hardcore drug addict at the street level is nearly impossible to deal with. They have a short attention span and the more they hear the word ‘no’ the angrier they can get. Some people’s problems are entirely their own doing and those people find it frustrating to learn that, due to their own ineptness of dealing with life, they now find themselves in a hole that has been dug by their own shovel. They get confronting as they generally shift the blame in order to avoid taking any form of responsibility.
“It’s not my fault, it’s yours (or someone elses),”
is the common phrase you’ll hear. Then there are the manipulators. These are the people who believe that they can make anyone do exactly what they want, as long as it benefits themselves, by sheer force of will. They’ll refuse to take no for an answer, especially if the no signifies failure of their behalf. And then there are those people who take some form of amusement in badgering people, attacking them and using them as their own personal punching bags, mentally, verbally and, at times, physically. Those are the ones to watch for.
A note to remember. If someone starts screaming and yelling about how they’re going to beat the living suitcase out of you then it’s not a time for worry – they generally won’t do it. Be cautious, but watch for the person who gets angrier and angrier and then grows quiet. The cliché that it’s the quiet ones you have watch is a genuine truism. They’ve gone past the screaming stage because they know it’ll do them no good. By this stage they’ve realised that they have two options: walk away or hit someone. More often than not they see sense and choose the former, but, at times, they decide on the latter as there’s nothing left to lose. The loud ones will scream, make a lot of noise, slam things and often throw stuff, but they rarely commit actual physical violence, and there’s a reason for that, which we’ll come to down the track.
The first type I’d like to explore is the ‘right men’, those people who like to believe that they can manipulate any situation and bend people to their own will. You’ll spot these people very easily. They wander in, confidently, refuse to make any serious eye contact and say things such as,
“You can do this, so go ahead and do it.”
“You don’t need to get anyone to authorise this, just go ahead and do it.”
“I know you can do this.” (although you'll be thinking, 'You don't know any such thing', refrain from saying it)
You can attempt to convince them until your face turns black from lack of oxygen but it’ll fall on deaf ears. In their minds they know your job better than you know your job as they’ve read a fact sheet or two and they have no problems telling you how to do your job. I’ve found that a lot of these people exhibit classic examples of passive/aggressive behaviour. They can range from being contrite;
“Please, you have to help me,”
Through to the aforementioned;
“You can do this, so go ahead and do it.”
They feel bad, they’re at the end of their rope and if they can’t make you see their own light then they want you to feel sorry for them. Very simple and easy really. They rarely get angry, but they will tell you, if they don’t get the result that they desire, about how they’ll take the situation further, complain to either your head manager (they’re not interested in your immediate line manager), the minister in question, the media or the ombudsman. They love to tell you how they’ll go to the media to ‘break this thing right open and lift the lid on this garbage’. It’s all bluff. They have nothing in the tank and deep down they know that what they’re asking for can’t be done, but they try it anyway because there’s an outside chance that someone will cave in and give them exactly what they desire.
They’re not that hard to deal with. You can ignore them (hey, works for most) or just say things like;
“I hear what you’re saying and I fully understand what you’re asking for. However even if I wanted to do this I haven’t got the authority to do it, so I’ll have to get someone else.”
However the customer won’t want to hear this because they know that the next person will see right through them and veto their demands. They’re hoping that the first point of contact is a clueless pusher of pencils. If the first point of contact makes a mistake and gives them something they’re not entitled to then the customer has won. Handball this type as soon as it becomes feasible to do so, but make sure you give a very detailed account of any conversation that you’ve had with them because this type of customer will most certainly lie to the next person and say things such as;
“The person I was speaking to said that you’d be able to do this.” This is despite the fact that you’ve said no such thing. The passive/aggressive manipulator lives in their own plane of reality and everyone is lying but themselves. Remember that and you’ll soon be able to spot them and easily deal with anything they have to offer.
There is a variation on the above though and they can be a bit more tricky. Those people are manipulators because they want to deny any responsibility. They’ll rant and rave about how unfair a situation is and they’ll work themselves up into a state and then begin to inform you that whatever has happened isn’t their own fault, it’s your fault and yours alone. According to this customer/client you are the reason why they’ve not paid any bills or rent. You’re the reason why they’re being cut off or evicted because you can’t see the sense in their argument. It’s down to you and you alone. No matter what you say to this type of person it’ll fall on deaf ears unless you tell them that they’re right, it is your fault and as such you’ll re-instate their services. Don’t fall for it. If someone refuses to accept responsibility for their own actions then nothing you can say or do will help them. You can attempt to reason with the person and give possible solutions but ultimately they’ll refuse anything you have to offer if it involves them having to own up to whatever they’ve done. Deflection is the name of this game, shifting blame onto other people. I once had a classic example, which I wrote about, whereby a person spent a fair bit of time arguing with me about being evicted. It was my fault she was being evicted and she proceeded to inform me that she’d bring her young children into our offices so that she could show them the person who was (unfairly) throwing them onto the street. Despite my efforts to have this person see that the reason she was being evicted was due to there being no rent paid for over eight months she insisted that this was all my fault. You can’t win. As soon as someone tells you that what has happened is your fault and not theirs, end the conversation. You’ll never get that person to see reason until they have their own epiphany and accept responsibility for their own actions. This person will also attempt the bluff of complaint. Call the bluff, especially if you’re in the right, but ensure that you notate everything.
Another type that’ll come in and take a shot is the one who’ll deny everything. They’re closely related to the person who refuses to accept responsibility; however this person will outright deny anything that’s put in front of them. You can ask them if they’ve had a previous service and they’ll say no. If you show them a previous debt then they’ll deny that it’s them. In a way they’re more dangerous than the person who refuses to accept responsibility as the denier will go as far as to deny that they are who they are (if that makes sense, and to anyone who’s dealt with a denier will know exactly what I said). Where they can get tricky is that they can, and often do, go under a different name or subtle variations on their own name. However they’ll deny even being on the planet, let alone being in your office. When shown the evidence though the denier will accept responsibility, to a point. If it means entering into an arrangement in order to gain further assistance then they’ll do so, but not without a series of complaints about the unfairness of the system as a whole. Bear in mind that once they have what they want they’ll happily break any arrangement and deny that they did so. Another service provider did it. They’ll enter into as many arrangements as you can set but remember, they’ll deny that the previous arrangement was broken and insist that any debt has been long repaid.
Have a quick read of these excuses.
“My bond was claimed because of my cat.”
“I got thrown out because of my ex-wife, who split from me about a year ago.”
“I got thrown out because the landlord fried my computer and I refused to pay rent until he fixed it.”
“I got thrown out because my ex-wife hooked up with another guy.”
“My bond was claimed because my ex-landlord still won’t pay for my computer to be fixed and he contacted my current landlord and they got together to throw me out.”
“I got thrown out because I told the landlord that the rent was too high, so I adjusted it and for some reason he got angry at me.”
“My bond was claimed because I couldn’t pay rent because I was saving up to enter a custody battle with my ex-wife over our cat. I also needed the money so I can take the cat to California and get him cloned.”
No responsibility, just excuses. If you haven’t already guessed these excuses all came from the one person, over a period of approximately eighteen months. There was more, lots more, but these were the cream of the pack. Our friend in this example was even evicted from one of the more notorious boarding houses the state has seen, for being a disruptive influence. As the said boarding house used to cater exclusively for ex-prisoners (just released) and like minded people, it seemed amazing how these people found him to be disruptive. How was he disruptive? Easy – he used to spin yarns all the time and big note himself. Standing five foot one and weighing in at about 75 pounds (soaking wet) he’d tell the other occupants that he was a rich man with connections in high places and was just marking time with the scum he was forced to live with until he was ready to leave. After a while he grated on them so much that they gathered forces, held truces and had him removed, just to shut him up. Considering that some people who lived there at the time had done serious gaol time for shutting people up permanently, I think he got off light.
The point is that everything was somebody else’s fault, not his. No matter what happened someone else was to blame, from his ex-wife to his cat, to ex-employers to both current and ex-landlords. He’d present at the counter and insist that he be given the full service and that he didn’t have to repay any claimed bonds, or enter into any agreement because he was going to dispute the charges. As he was constantly off and on Centrelink entering into an arrangement was futile as the arrangement would only be broken within a fortnight. Then it’d be Centrelink’s fault.
When people such as our friend present the best thing to do is to keep focus. You know they’re not telling the truth, but what you need to realise is that they can’t come out and simply say;
“The bond was claimed because I stuffed up.”
That’d be an admission of culpability. That can’t happen. There’s an easy excuse as to why; our friend is the fantasist. He lives in his own fantasy world and displays classic examples of delusion and paranoia. There are enemies everywhere, from outside the door to under the bed. No-one will listen to him, let alone help him. Despite the repeated assistance he was given we were still the enemy. With this in mind serving the customer is easy – you’re not his friend, you never will be his friend. You are against him, like the rest of the world. The only way to service this customer is to be utterly business like. Don’t engage in any casual conversation, keep the focus and keep your mind on what you need to do. Unless you can wipe away all his previous troubles (all of which he’ll deny, and he will complain about you to anyone who will listen, from the minister to the media) you are of no use whatsoever to him. He won’t get angry, or abusive, but he will attempt to force his will upon you in a classic display of passive-aggressiveness. Don’t buy into it. Merely book the guy for an appointment and say;
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do, so I’m going to book you in so someone with a higher level of authority can assist you.” That may sound cold, but it will do the trick, for in this type of customers mind you are cattle and finally you’ve acknowledged that you are of no help whatsoever.
This is as good a time as any to pause and bring up some important points. Always notate. Generally if someone walks into your office and asks where the toilet is then don’t bother. If it’s a routine enquiry then the choice is yours, especially if you get busy. However if it’s a problematic situation/customer then make sure you notate what happened and what was said, especially what you said to them, in minute detail. It helps the next person, and if they are going to complain then ultimately it’ll help you in the long run. If you’re busy then jot the details down on a piece of paper and return to it as soon as you’re able. Notations are the key, because if someone brings it up further and complains, and there are no notations of the encounter, then the complainant’s view of events will more than likely be the one accepted. Get into the practice of notating events as they happen. I can’t stress that strongly enough.
One thing you’ll hear during any initial training in service delivery is the word ‘ownership’.
“Take ownership of the call/conversation,” you’ll be told. What you won’t be told is exactly how to take ownership, or what it means. Allow me to fill you in. Taking ownership means taking control. If someone is screaming then taking ownership can range from attempting to diffuse the situation to walking away to pressing duress alarms and calling either a manager or security/police. Standing there like a mute, stunned mullet means that the customer/client has ownership, and that’s something you don’t want. They’ll call the shots. Take control of the situation the best way you can. When it comes to phone conversations taking ownership is easy. You warn the person as such;
“If you continue to speak/act like that then I’ll terminate this call.” Say that twice, the third time say;
“I have warned you about your behaviour, now I have no choice but to terminate this call. Goodbye and have a nice day.” Then simply hang up. There’s no need to argue. When it comes to the phone you have complete control from start to finish (that is unless the person calls and blows a shrill whistle from the start, then all you have is burst eardrums). On a counter you can simply walk away. Let them scream, a person can’t argue with themselves for too long.
The next person we’ll deal with is the outright aggressive screamer. This is a dangerous person to deal with as they’re often very unpredictable. Normal people can turn feral at the drop of a hat. I remember one person who’d come in and be as happy as can be, joking and laughing and generally an all round nice guy. One day he didn’t get the answer he clearly wanted and went right off. He began to shout, bash the counter and began to issue all kinds of threats, all the time using some of vilest language you’re likely to hear. Even the presence of more staff didn’t deter him, at one stage he invited four of us to come outside for a good old fashioned bashing. Invite declined. Simply put they want to scare and intimidate you. They believe that, as everything else has failed, fear is the only answer; if you are scared enough then you will cave into their demands and deliver the service they desire immediately. They don’t want you to be happy, they are angry and generally miserable, and they want you to be angry and miserable. The bulk of the time they will present as males and will attack females. They exhibit the classic signs of being Right or Alpha Males and as such the need to dominate both the situation and the other person over-rides any commonsense. They cannot differentiate between right and wrong as they see themselves being totally in the right (they have been wronged) and you are wrong, no matter what you do (you are the machine and the machine has wronged them). Again, you cannot win this debate; the Alpha Male will always tell you where you are wrong and will again insist that they know how to do your job better than you do.
There’s several ways to deal with these people, again it comes down to taking ownership. You can attempt to calm them down. The following I’ve all used and have all helped at different times;
“I'm not speaking to you like that so please don’t speak to me like that.”
“If you continue to shout then I’ll have to leave the area and then you’ll get no assistance at all.”
“If you continue to behave like that then I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“If you continue to behave like that then I’ll have no choice but to call the police.” All of those responses have worked, with varying degrees of success. One thing I have learnt, and I learnt this well before I came to work where I do, is that a lot of people at the street level that act like this have very good reasons to want to avoid any contact with the police, so once you mention the police they’ll either calm down or leave, generally slamming doors and/or screaming as they go. I had one person verify this to me as such;
ME: “Look, if you keep going on like this then I’m going to call the police.”
CUST: “Shit man, don’t do that. I got active warrants!”
ME: “Then calm down and let’s see what we can do for you.” It worked. Mind you I heard that he got arrested later that week, so it’s only a matter of time. (As an aside, if you wander into our offices and use our phones to sell drugs, guns or line up other deals, then don’t cry to us when the police visit. I won’t tell you how it happens, but here’s a clue, if you’re doing something illegal, so out in the open, again it’s only a matter of time before you get caught.) Whatever actions you take do not engage the aggressive customer/client on their level as you will lose. Verbal abuse is the lowest form of fisticuffs and the person who screams and swears the first has lost the argument/discussion/debate. It’s as simple as that really. If you have a customer/client going insane in front of you then the odds are excellent that nothing you say or so will pacify them to the point of being able to execute your duties. Forget AQUA* or Pumpkin**, just do your best to diffuse the situation and end the conflict. This can mean physically stepping away from the counter (and, as such, the customer/client) to ending the encounter by leaving the area you’re in. You can’t argue with yourself and once the area is empty then the rager will generally leave, especially if you’ve informed them that you’ve called the police.
Calling the police can be a good bluff. At times all you have to say is that you’ve called them. The customer/client will say;
“Bulls*it, I’ve been watching you and you’ve not used the phone.”
If that bluff is called then respond as such;
“I used my duress buttons. Rest assured they’re on their way right now.” That’ll do the trick.
Avoid entering into any argument. I can’t re-enforce that enough. A lot of people who like to scream and threaten others, especially in this day and age, have limited social and educational skills. There’s a great cliché, ‘never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with their years of experience’. It’s also impossible to argue with someone screaming, “You f*&king c*&t!!” on your own terms. Avoid using terminology or detailed words/explanations. By saying to someone;
“Under our terms and conditions, your actions are utterly unacceptable and anti-social. As such this conversation will be terminated and any further encounters with yourself and our organisation will be monitored to the fullest extent of our own personal surveillance.” When people are angry all cognisance generally goes out the window. Hearing words that they don’t instantly understand just inflames the situation. Pick your words carefully. Conversely saying;
“Oh, get f*&ked you f*&king idiot,” won’t help you either, although it will be more easily understood. As such walking away is the only real way to remove yourself from the conflict and bring about a suitable resolution. Again, notate.
The worst example of a customer that you’re likely to get is the outright violent one. They’ll come into the office already in a bad mood and you’re only going to make things worse. The things to remember here may at first appear to be contradictory, but they will make sense: it’s nothing personal and they customer hates you and everything you stand for. How that works is simple, to the violent customer everything has been taken away from them. They have been reduced to almost nothing and it’s the fault of the machine, society at large. They can’t find the one person who has done this, again paranoia comes into play (it’s also not a great surprise to learn that the majority of the violent customers suffer from some form of drug addiction), thus they attack the machine. To them you are a Borg drone to their own personal Picard. You are faceless; you are not a person in any way, shape or form. You are a voice behind a counter, a desk or on the phone. You cannot help the violent customer unless you have a magic wand and can wave all their troubles away and place them down on some tropical paradise with everything they’ve ever desired. There’s only way sure fire way to deal with the violent customer: get out. Remove yourself from the situation totally. Find safety and either press the duress buttons or have a fellow staff member contact the police. Do not engage them beyond asking them to leave, and even then be wary, as asking a violent customer to leave is admitting that you’re only going to add to their problems and make their life even more miserable (the violent customer can exhibit traits of all the difficult customer/clients: anxiety, fantasist, denial – the lot). The violent customer doesn’t want to attack you personally, they want to attack the system and you are the physical manifestation of that system. Don’t be fooled though, if they are raging to the point of violence then you are in trouble unless you can handle yourself, and even then you have to be willing to lose your job and be liable for a lot of money if you dare defend yourself and injure the violent customer.
Violent customers are almost always male, but females can, and do, become violent when they need to do be. The signs that a customer is about to become violent are easy to spot; they’ll stride into the office, not walk, but stride. They’ll stand and mutter to themselves and move from side to side, foot to foot. They’ll sigh loudly and if you’re taking too long loudly say things such as;
“Oh, for f&^k’s sake, hurry up.”
“F*&king government departments.”
“How f*&king useless is this c*&t?” All the good stuff. When you serve them they’ll generally open the conversation with the words;
“Now look…” or;
“I’m gonna tell you something and you’re gonna shut up and listen.” Those are danger signs as the customer is taking control immediately and setting the agenda.
The violent customer will often sweat. Sweat can be due to a number of factors, from rising agitation to a drug situation. The violent drug addict is always a problem as often they will feel no pain nor will they fear any consequence of their actions. They will attack to cause maximum hurt. If you spot the violent customer sweating and become agitated then seek assistance and/or remove yourself. This can be done by admitting that you are of no use whatsoever and then going to find someone who can help. The easy was is to say the following;
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do a lot with this problem, it certainly is a pickle (avoid words such as ‘prickly’, because the violent customer will hear that as you calling them a ‘prick’) so what I want to do is get my manager out here and have them sort it out. I’ll be right back.” The key here is to get all of that out without allowing the violent customer to interrupt. You have taken control; this way you can safely leave the area and escalate the issues as is appropriate.
Do not attempt to engage the violent customer in a shouting match. When the violent customer begins to rage say nothing. Simply look at them and watch for signs of a physical attack. Allow them to rage out and hope that by doing this the attack will be all verbal and not physical. If you attempt to engage them in any form of an argument you will lose as the violent customer (who is always right) will lash out in a physical attack. To that end ensure that you remain standing and are at all times out of reach of the violent customer. Do not lean into their space, stand well away. Make sure you are near both your duress alarms and a suitable exit. Make sure all surfaces are free of objects that can be picked up and thrown. Get ready to duck. I have seen violent customers raging out while another staffer has placed objects such as staplers and/or pens within range. A pen to the eye can cause a lot of damage, but that should go without saying. Gently, and quietly, remove all such objects, pick them up, idly play with them and move them away when you put them down. Do not antagonise the violent customer by making a fuss of the removal of these objects as this will make a bad situation far worse than it needs to be.
Some of the violent people are fairly easy to spot in their own right. During one memorable encounter a particularly violent customer decided to announce his intentions as soon as he walked through the door. He entered the office with a baseball bat and slammed it down onto the counter with the words;
“Does that get your f*&king attention?” There was no need to state the obvious answer;
“Yes,” instead I remained calm and said;
“It’s gotten my attention but it won’t help you get any issues resolved. If you leave your bat at the door then we sort out whatever problem you might have, otherwise I’m going to have to call the police.” Amazingly enough the violent customer saw the logic in this and walked back to the door and threw his bat outside. Once we’d engaged in conversation he confided in me that he felt he’d been ignored in the past and was attempting to head off any potential problems by getting straight to the fight.
Which is also as good a time as any to bring up another valid point. When you’re dealing with a difficult customer/client you have to be aware that while you’re dealing with that person on a one-on-one basis, often for the first time, they, and to a degree you are also dealing with everyone that the customer/client has seen since they first walked through the door. Hence you’re seeing a person who might have only had good experiences; conversely you could be dealing with a person who has only had bad experiences. On the other side of the coin you’re also dealing with their perceptions on the quality of service of your organisation. A customer might come into the offices and not get the services that they believe they’re entitled to, as such you’re dealing with a refusal with reasons that either never existed, or do not correlate with the realities of the situation at the time or the present service. The history of the person that you’re dealing with will always be a factor to the service that you’re currently offering. A series of bad experiences can easily taint a person and as such make them more prone to increased anxiety and violence. Again, it’s nothing personal; you are a representative of the machine that has ground the customer down (in their own view).
The more extreme of the violent customer is the customer that explodes. This can cause more stress than a customer walking into the office screaming and slamming as the explosive customer causes surprise. The violence is sudden, intensive and powerful, the positive to all of this is that the violence usually does not last for long and the customer will more often than not show a genuine remorse for their actions and will often apologise.
Spotting the explosive, violent customer/client isn’t easy, but the warning signs are there. For a start the customer will be told answers that they don’t want to hear; they may have already stated how much they’re in debt and you have just told them that they’re incurred further debt. The explosive, violent customer will grow silent as their brain processes all of the facts being told to them. They may exhibit signs such as a whitening of the knuckles or a tight mouth. They’ll often shift from foot to foot and become more physically agitated, and will often then stand upright and move away from the counter area as if removing themselves from the area. Do not be fooled by this, they are moving away to allow themselves more room to lash out. They may look away and feign boredom; again, this is a warning sign as this is the brain processing the information given. They may ask such direct questions as;
“So, you’re saying that I’m f*&ked then?”
“Let me get this straight. You can’t do anything about this?”
“So because someone else f*&ked up, I’m going to have to pay for it?” (I expect that you're getting the hint - like others they'll shift the blame and not take responsibility) Avoid answering such questions with definite articles. Do not say either yes, or no, unless the negative (in this case the word ‘no’) is the actual case. If there has been a mistake and someone asks;
“Let me get this straight. You can’t do anything about this?” and the answer is;
“No, I can do something about it.” Then that’d be the only time to answer the direct question with a definite answer. Otherwise answer those kinds of questions with open ended answers such as;
“That’s not what I’m saying, I might not be able to assist you, but I can find someone who can.”
“Well I’d not go that far. Let’s see what we can do.” Keep calm and keep in control and you might be able to deflect the explosion from happening. Focus on what can be done, not what can't be done.
Isolate the customer from other people. Explosive customers need very small triggers when they reach the explosion stage. As such another person in a queue who might interject can see the explosive customer erupt if only because they cannot focus on two things at once. Believe it or not but they are trying to keep all their focus on what you are telling them. With another person needling away it breaks their concentration. Do not isolate the explosive customer into a room alone – if you need to take this kind of a customer into a private room always have back-up.
In short, if the customer does explode into violence then you will not be able to move for the sheer shock factor. Do not allow co-workers or anyone else bluff you with comments such as;
“Oh yeah, when they go off I just tell them to bugger off,” that doesn’t happen. The violence is sudden and brutal and will stun you into immobility. Allow the shock to rise, the sooner it is out of your body the better, keep control and again remove yourself from the situation.
We’re almost done, only a few more types to cover. The penultimate type is what I lovingly call the Badger. The Badger will come into your office, and/or phone, at least three times out of every five calendar days. It’ll be something simple that they want, they may be in line for a transfer, or for a service that has a waiting time, but they can’t go through the day without thinking that something might have happened, hence they’ll come and check anyway. They’ll phone on the days they don’t bring a physical presence into the office environment, and will often do both within a matter of hours. I have dealt with people via the phone, given them an answer, only to again see the person three hours later and give them the exactly same answer as before. The Badger likes to wear people down through attrition. Check their case notes, they’ll often be filled with complaints as they’ll complain about the standard of their service as much as other people complain about them. They want to break you down, again by sheer force of will, and force you to give into their desires. They may want a service that isn’t available, don’t be fooled, they’ll insist that you can do this and that you should.
As the Badger gets frustrated they will exhibit signs of behaviour that is consistent with other types. They will become verbally abusive. They will be explosive. They will attack. They will also become very remorseful though at the end of it all and will apologise because the last thing they want is to be banned from the office environment – after all the office is a large part of their lives. When the Badger isn’t in the office, they are phoning. They will be planning their next moves, poring over policies and agonising about the people within the office. They know people by their first names, they know them by sight. They know everyone’s direct phone number and will come into the office to phone people. It’s no use telling the Badger that a person they want isn’t available, they have two options open; they will wait it out and/or phone that person at random to see who answers the phone. You cannot ignore the Badger as they will not allow you to. They will walk past and insist that you drop everything and serve them, no matter how many people are in any given queue and no matter whom else you might be serving. The Badger demands your fullest attention because the Badger knows who you are, and the Badger knows you know exactly who they are in return. The Badger knows you are not their friend, but they know that you’re familiar with them. The Badger isn’t rude to other people intentionally; to the Badger those people do not exist hence the Badger cannot be rude. Their problems are minor and trivial next to the Badger. The Badger’s problems are major.
If the Badger is on a waiting list of any kind then the theory is that if they show up enough times then the waiting list will be eliminated because of two factors:
1. They are in the right time at the right place. They have turned up at that magical moment when the stars have aligned and they will get their service.
2. You will give them exactly what they want because you’ve become sick of seeing their face day in and day out and just want to be rid of them.
Don’t be fooled. By giving into the Badger you have given them carte blanch to go further. Say you give in and allocate the Badger with the first property you can unload. The Badger will accept it but then turn up day in and day out to complain about the neighbours, location, anything really in order to effect a transfer and begin the process all over again. Put simple the Badger has no real life outside of the complaint that they are dealing with. The Badger is content to play the waiting game for as long as you want to, because the Badger is in need of attention and by attending the office each and every day, having people say;
“Oh, hello Badger, I’ll just go and see if I can find ____,” the Badger can feel that people do know who they are and that they are considered to be important. Much the same as the Stockholm theory the Badger and yourself will eventually grow used to each other and will address each by first name only. To the Badger you are as close to a friend as they have, you give them the attention that they desperately seek and desire. Do not be fooled, the Badger doesn’t like you anymore than you like them; the Badger tolerates you as you tolerate them. It is a symbiotic relationship in the Badger’s eyes; you are assisting the Badger as much as the Badger is assisting you, no matter what the reality of the situation is.
The Sook can also pose problems. The Sook will present to you in a highly distressed state (not to be confused with someone who actually is highly distressed) and will cry, wail and throw a tantrum in order to garner some form of sympathy;
“Oh, poor dear, let’s give them what they want to cheer them up,”
Don’t be fooled, it’s all a cunning ruse. If given what they want the Sook will walk out of your office and instantly cheer up knowing that by crying they have achieved their goals. The Sook is a pain. They will hang around the office, preferable at the most visible part (read: counter/service delivery area) and will do anything and everything to ensure that they are noticed. They will use an entire box of tissues if need be. The most extreme example of the Sook is a person who will start off sniffing, move on to full blown tears and end the encounter by passing out on the floor. Again, don’t be fooled. They want you to break your organisations rules. You may assist the Sook but it might be at the cost of your own position.
And here’s the rub. If you do cave into any of these people and go against your policies then none of the people you assist will care. Better to be helping the masses than the vocal minority. The bulk of your customers will be genuine people, in need of assistance and they will appreciate it. There is an expression that surrounds any form of service delivery, ‘we reward bad behaviour’. You don’t need to believe this, nor subscribe to it. Reward good behaviour and allow the bad behaving people to go elsewhere. At the end of the day you’re offering a service. It isn’t a given that any one person will be eligible for any service you offer, so if you’re being abused for trying to help someone then make a choice; do you continue to help them and be abused for your efforts, or do you escalate the issue and move onto the next person, who will appreciate the time, effort and expertise that you’re putting in? For a lot of people the choice is a simple one. By rewarding bad behaviour you’re setting a very bad example and you enable the person to believe that their bad behaviour is the only way to obtain satisfaction and good service. A lot of the examples I’ve cited here are easily defined; they are bullies. They like to make other people’s lives miserable, generally because their own lives are miserable. The best way to beat a bully is by not sinking to their level, to rise above it all and become a better person than they are. If they choose the life of a bully then so be it; that’s their choice. It all comes down to making choices, you can choose not to serve them, you can choose not be part of their misery. Alternately, and this is an important fact to remember, the person on the other side of the counter can choose to behave and not be a bully. Service is a two way street, you offer the service, they accept. If they want to be a bully about it and abuse you then you can elect to remove that service and tell them to go elsewhere and find satisfaction. This will frustrate them. While you don’t want to become petty and humiliate the person, if you do this well then they may just see the errors of their ways and learn from it. An apology is fine, but the ultimate goal is to turn the bully into a decent person for the next time they walk through the door and ask for assistance because the next time they walk through a door you might be on the other side of the counter.
*AQUA: acronym standing for;
See previous post.
**Pumpkin: the practice of mentally altering any swear word used to the word 'pumpkin'.