I've never been one who loves 'serving customers', I'm a far greater fan of being on the receiving end of good service. So when I received a request from one of my team members to return a phone call from a man who wanted to speak to "someone in charge", I had a feeling I may need to brush up on my 'how to deal with difficult customer' skills.
When I called the customer he asked me if I had read the email. Of course, I had to clarify which of the thousands of emails sent to and from our company each day he was referring to and he identified a recent piece of marketing correspondence.
Once I had it front of me, he demanded, "Well, can you see a problem with it?" When I said "No" he huffed and referred me to a sentence that had the words "employee's time". He confidently advised me that there shouldn't be an apostrophe.
Initially I was dumbstruck that somebody would waste their time ringing up about an apostrophe, but once I regained my speech I politely advised him that I believed the wording was correct. It was the time belonging to the employee and therefore the apostrophe indicated a possessive noun.
Twenty minutes later there was no reasoning, no other issues and no winning. He accused me of not being able to see the error as it was an "Americanization of grammar", I didn't realize America had its own apostrophe system. When I told him I wasn't from the U.S. he accused, "You've got an American accent!"
The conversation continued its decline and he asked that the situation be escalated to the CEO as he, incorrectly, believed that an apostrophe was not supposed to be in an email.
Temporarily falling into little girl mode I thought, 'I'm going to get into trouble', which I thankfully realized was ridiculous.
I hung up feeling extremely frustrated. It was like being bound and gagged, as I believed I wasn't able to express myself because I was representing a company that I was consulting for and didn't own. What I really wanted to say was, "I'm going to end this conversation as we're not getting anywhere. I'm sorry if you believe the grammar is incorrect, but it's not, so let's agree to disagree and not waste any more of each other's time. Goodbye."
This guy was nothing compared to previous customer conversations I experienced when owning a plus-size fashion business with my best friend, Ivana. We held fashion parades throughout the city and one day I received a phone call from a woman complaining about one of our models. "I can't believe you let a size 26 woman on the catwalk. I was embarrassed for her as she strutted her stuff, looking so confident. She was obese and had rolls of fat. I'm her size and I'd never look that happy and confident wearing clothes."
How do you respond to that? She was obviously displacing her insecurities onto our confident model and Ivana handled it perfectly, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but we're often commended for using beautiful women who represent all body sizes".
It was overhearing Ivana's response that I learned "sorry" wasn't an apology, but a statement of understanding the complainer's feelings.
Fortunately, Ivana had extensive experience in customer service ranging from: clients who loved her work as a web designer until they received the bill, to her stint as a customer service representative at a health care company where she took a call from a lady complaining how painful it was to remove her sanitary pad, the cause? Let's just say, she wasn't facing the adhesive side towards her underpants. Or, how about the diabetic who complained that a sugar substitute she used to bake a cake caused her blood sugar levels to skyrocket. When they asked how many slices she ate, she admitted to eating the entire cake. She obviously forgot about the carbohydrate component.
As I gladly escalated the apostrophe issue to the CEO's secretary it got me thinking, is it OK to accept unreasonable behavior from a customer because you don't want to jeopardize the reputation of the firm you work for?
If customers have legitimate complaints they have a right to be assertive, but not aggressive or rude. I felt trapped because I wasn't clear on the company's policy for handling these situations, so in reality, I probably tolerated a lot more than was necessary.
Does your company have a policy that outlines when it's OK to say, "Enough is enough" and you know your actions will be supported?
What about those in front-line positions, who may frequently deal with unreasonable people, you've got to ask, "How does this affect me psychologically and how can I avoid getting fired when protecting myself against clients I really want to tell to take a hike?"
Maltreatment should not be tolerated by organizations, so if there's no complaints handling policy, ask for one to be created that is fair to both the customer and employee. Remember, we may be workers, but we're not whipping boys (or girls)!
>> How to handle this situation <<
** Mind **
You're frustrated, angry, hurt, insulted. You need to remember that a customer's unreasonable behavior is about them, not you. They don't know you, you're just the person at the receiving end, it's not always fair, but you need to let it go. Take a moment to close your eyes and sit quietly. Start with three deep breaths and on the fourth breath and out release the negative feelings and words that were a result of the unpleasant incident. On each breath in, imagine cleansing air coming into your body. Repeat this process until you feel lighter and less tense.
** Body **
Attack creates tension, so it's important that you literally shake it off. The best thing is to get up and go for a walk. Make sure you don't dwell on the situation as the scenario deserves no more of your time. Put the whole thing in perspective - no one is hurt, life is pretty good and people have moods which you don't have to take on.
** Spirit **
You may be thinking, "Why do I get the nasty ones?Ask yourself what lesson you can learn from the experience. Did you learn not to take on others' emotions, did it give you the opportunity to practice assertiveness, or understand that 'sorry' doesn't always mean an apology, just that you're sorry they feel that way? Did it make you consider how nice, or not nice you are, when you give feedback? Are you a little more aggressive than necessary and, now that you've been on the receiving end, you're considering changing your approach in future?
Gain strength from the situation.