Watch Out for Customers!

  • Breaking News: Customer tries to get freebie AGAIN!vintage newsboy
  • This just in: Reports say number of cranky customers on the rise.
  • Business Bulletin: Customers are clueless.
  • In the News:  Customers the highest cause of stress in service professionals.

As humans, we tend to focus on the ‘bad stuff and forget about the good stuff or the normal stuff.  When an anomaly happens, it makes the headlines. Big, bold letters and dramatic language sell papers, encourage clicks and create huddles around water coolers.  Just think of all the headlines and intense media coverage last month regarding the safety of air travel.  The loss of life is tragic.  I cannot begin to imagine the depths of pain and suffering felt around the globe because of that. Too often though, that’s where we get stuck. We forget about the millions of people who got on a plane and arrived safely at their final destination.

I see this same perspective in the service industry.  Sharing stories about unreasonable, cranky customers is common.  Some people go on and on about the cranky, rude, or “out to get a freebie” customer. After a while, they start to perceive all customers as cranky, rude and out-to-get something.  Their attitude towards customers tends to bring on more stress than the actual customer.

Yes some customers will lie to get freebies from you. Some are crankier than others.  As for clueless – the customer isn’t the expert. They’re not supposed to be, so don’t expect them to be.

Here’s an idea.  Instead of sharing stories about the “bad’ customers, share stories about the good to great ones. Count how many good to great customers you serve in a day instead of how many ‘bad’ customers.  Focus on the many positive customer interactions, instead of on the small percentage of cranky, rude and out-to-get something people.  You’ll be happier, and when you’re happier, your customers are happier.

Do this on a regular basis and in no time, you’ll be watching for the customer instead of watching out for the customer.


How to Make a Negative Customer Moment Even Worse

It’s 4:00 pm. The phone rings.  I don’t recognize the name on call display, consider not answering but at the last minute, just before it kicks into voice mail, pick up.

Amy’s on the other end of the line.  Her aunt’s car is gone.  It’s been towed and she needs rescuing. Tomorrow morning she leaves home for an entire year.  I’m grateful for one last opportunity to be a hero.

The drive to Osborne Village is short. Amy and her friend are waiting on the street.  I pull into a side street, they run over and hop in the car. We’re on the way to the towing company.  Amy’s hoping the car is there.  When she discovered the car gone, she called Dr. Hook.  Here’s her description of what happened:

“A nice lady answered the phone. When I told her I think my car got towed, she asked me for the licence plate number.  She checked in the computer. They didn’t have it so said she would transfer me to the other Winnipeg towing company.  They weren’t as nice there, mom.  They just said the name of the company really fast and when I asked if they had my car, told me to come to their lot.  I don’t even know if they checked to see if they had it.”

We got to the lot and no, they didn’t have the car.  The person Amy dealt with in person was much more helpful than the person on the phone and suggested we go back to where the car had been towed from as it may have just been moved.  Long story short, after driving around and not finding it, trying to file a police report for a potentially stolen car (that in itself was much more difficult than you would imagine) it turned out the car had been moved … to the other side of Osborne, three streets over and six blocks down.  The towing company without the car in the lot had moved the car.  They provided the police with licence plate information and location on the cars they moved so when people called to report their car stolen, they could be told where it had been moved to.  I’m not sure why that information wasn’t provided to the corporate office.

In the end, it was another great example of how important the person who answers the telephone is for your business reputation.  The person at Dr. Hook started with a pleasant greeting. She asked Amy for information and when she knew they didn’t have her aunt’s car, she knew where to direct Amy’s call.  Unfortunately, that company didn’t manage that customer touch point nearly as well.  The greeting was abrupt.  There was no offer of assistance. Just curt directions on location and in the end, a wasted trip to a lot with no car.

Based on the number of people being dropped of on the same street I dropped Amy off when the car was found, this is a familiar scenario.  What a great opportunity to turn a frustrated customer into, if not a happy customer, at least a slightly grateful customer. The customer knows they messed up and that’s why they were towed.  Compassion, empathy and a solution to their problem will be appreciated.

Oh .. and lesson number two .. don’t park in front of a No Parking sign!


Five Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

When I ask customer service professionals what they like about their job, a lot of them mention the people they serve and work with. When I ask them what they don’t like about their job, a lot of them mention … you may have guessed it … the people they serve and work with!

By far the majority of customers and co-workers are relatively easy to work with, but not all, and unfortunately, it’s the tough ones, the negative ones, the sometimes downright mean ones, we tend to remember.  It’s these negative customers or co-workers that, if we are not careful, get into our heads and bring us down.

“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” ~Shirley MacLaine

There are some people who seem to enjoy spreading discontent and negativity.  Their personal mission seems to be, “How many people can I make miserable before I call it a day?”

When faced with these individuals, what are some things you can do to avoid getting sucked into their vortex of negativity?  Here are some ideas for you:

Resist the urge to judge.

You don’t know their life story.  You don’t know the day they just had.  Perhaps this cranky, negative person in front of you is normally quite a reasonable, friendly person, but for whatever reason, their bucket is empty. All they have left is cranky negativity.  I’m guessing each and every one of us has had a moment we wish we could take back, a moment when we knew we acted badly.   Perhaps this is their moment.

Focus on what you can control … your response.

As much as you might want to pull out your magic wand and make this person disappear, or at least change their behavior, you can’t. All you can do is manage your emotions and ensure you don’t react in such a way as to escalate the situation.  If you feed into the situation with emotions, they will know they’ve got you.  Truly negative people are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one.

Maintain a positive boundary.

Find your own tips and techniques to maintain your positive attitude.  Take a deep, calming breath.  Remind yourself of the positive people you’ve interacted with.  If you find yourself losing control, ask for help or excuse yourself for just a moment.

Be thankful.

People with negative attitudes have significantly higher rates of stress and disease than people who chose to focus on the positive. If someone is making life difficult for you and others around you, they are hurting themselves, just as much, if not more, than the hurt they are causing others.

How sad it must be to have so much anger, bitterness and negativity inside that the only way to feel a little bit better is to make someone else miserable.  Be thankful that is not you and make a determined effort to stay positive.

Don’t take it personally, but don’t necessarily discount the message.

Insensitive, tactless, perhaps even downright mean people sometimes have a valid point. Their delivery method leaves a lot to be desired, but don’t let that get in the way of identifying an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Bonus tip: Don’t take it personally.  Sometimes people speak with the sole intent of causing hurt, pain, anger, embarrassment.  Weigh what they have to say.  If you’re not sure as to validity or not, ask someone else for their opinion.  And if in the end, their sole intent was to hurt you, don’t let them stay in your head.  Don’t dwell on them or their hurtful words.

In the end, remember you can’t change others, but you can make your world, your work environment, more positive by becoming aware of how you respond to difficult people, by choosing to look at others with more compassion and less judgment and if you make a conscious effort to protect your positive space.

The Cost of Stress in the Workplace

  • The annual cost to Canadian companies due to stress-related disorders is $12 billion. Absenteeism due to stress has increased by over 300% since 1995. (Statistics Canada)
  • 40% of job turnover is due to stress.  (American Institute of Stress)
  • Over 50% of lost work days are stress related which keeps about 1 million people per day from attending work. (Occupational Health & Safety/National Council on Compensation Injuries – USA)

Looking at the above statistics, I have to wonder “How many customers have been lost because of stress in the workplace?  What is that financial implication?”

Stressed out leaders are not able to serve their employees to the best of their ability.  They become impatient; their focus on task completion gets in the way of relationship development.  Employees who do not feel well-served don’t provide the same level of service as employees who do feel well-served.  Lack of training, unclear expectations, heavy workloads, demanding customers and negative co-workers are potential stress triggers. People who have not learned how to identify their own stress triggers and manage their stress response simply do not provide the same high level of service as people who have.  Some people become impatient; others withdraw; others seem to become incapable of making any kind of decision and customer service suffers.

It doesn’t end there. Many stressed out employees bring their stress home with them.  Their stress strains personal relationships, increasing stress outside of work which they then bring back to work. It’s an ugly cycle that needs to be addressed.

What can you do to reduce the stress levels at your workplace?

First, start with your own well-being.  If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not able to take care of anyone else either.

  1.  Listen and respond to your own warning signs.  Vowing to “plow on through” isn’t helpful.  When you feel stress starting to build, pause and take a moment to assess the situation.   Take a deep breath, go for a walk, close the door, anything that provides you an opportunity to remove yourself mentally and/or physically from the situation even if just for a few moments. That time will put you back in control of your response, as opposed to reacting instinctively.
  2. Ask yourself “What do I have control over in this situation?” Sometimes the only thing you have control over is your response. That is still control. Sometimes, when you really think about it, you have more control than you think.  Is there something you can alter to make the situation less stressful now or in the future?  Are you holding on to a task or an action out of habit, a false sense of duty or responsibility?  Are there tasks and responsibilities you can delegate?
  3. Ask for help.  Who is in your support network?  Who can you go to for assistance, for guidance, for support? Go to them!

Learning how to manage your own stress response is important.  The next step is to take a look around to see what you can do to help others. You can’t choose their stress response for them, but you can do your part to reduce stressful situations.

  1. Know how others respond to stress. If you know a co-worker’s response to stress is to panic, frustration and eventually anger, you will be able to identify the warning signs and offer assistance before stress levels get to the point where another co-worker or customer is the recipient of a snippy remark or comment.
  2. Take a look at their workload. Do they really have too much on their plate or do they need help with prioritizing and time management?  If there is too much, can something be taken off and assigned to someone else?  Perhaps they are taking too long to complete some tasks because of insufficient training.  Helping them manage their workload helps you as well.
  3. Be clear about expectations.  One cause of stress is unclear expectations.  Does your team clearly understand what is expected of them? Are the expectations realistic?  Discuss this with your team. Ask questions and ask for their ideas and suggestions.  Listen carefully and closely to what they have to say.
  4. Have some fun.  Knowing that fun and laughter is just around the corner makes stressful situations easier to manager.  Look for ways to bring fun and laughter into your workplace.

Working in a customer service role can be stressful.  Each customer comes to your business with their own unique set of expectations and some of those expectations can be difficult to manage. Customer service professionals are expected to be bright, to be cheerful, to be knowledgeable at all times and that is difficult to do when stressed out.

What are some other ways leaders can help their team manage stress?

“Customer Service from the Inside Out” is a series of workshops for leaders looking to create work environments where customer service flourishes and includes a session on stress management.