A customer is a very difficult creature to deal with.
Sometimes it’s a nice old lady, asking questions with an apologetic smile. Sometimes a cheerful student looking for the cheapest offer. A young woman with a toddler sleeping in her arms.
And sometimes it’s Sauron, bloodthirsty, wanting to eat you alive.
One call from a rude customer can spoil your whole day and kill your job satisfaction. One comment, even one word can make you want to leave everything behind and become a jolly shepherd in New Zealand.
So, here are a couple of tips on how to survive a rough day. But before we get to dealing with rude customers, let’s talk about one sentence that you probably hear all the time.
The most overused words of comfort
During my extremely short customer service career, I’ve managed to meet all kinds of rude customers. I had this bad luck aura which was directing all upset customers to my receiver, so almost every day was as entertaining as eternity in hell.
To make matters worse, back then, working in customer service team meant working in call center. I couldn't hide behind the live chat screen, I had to suffer on the phone, listening to people shouting at me. (By the way, if you don't want to be treated like a customer service cannon fodder, tell your leader to test LiveChat, 14-day trial for free).
It would have been nice if my managers could help me somehow but they were too much into numbers. So, what have I heard all the time?
Don’t take it personally.
People, you should really stop saying this to your agents.
If someone tells me that my job performance is awful, this is personal. If someone tells me that I’m not professional, it’s personal. If I’m told that I’m not trained well or I’m bad mannered – it’s still personal.
I’d say even more: some rude customers vent their anger on customer service agents by trying to get personal.
That’s exactly why it hurts so much: because the stuff they’re saying is not like “oh my, the company you’re working for is not very trustful, is it?”. They rather say: “you stupid ignorant, what is your company paying you for!”
How could I possibly not get it personal?
So please, stop saying it. There are more effective tricks for helping you to go through bad events.
“Easy to say!”, one would say. “How could I remain calm during an apocalypse?”
Actually, if you deal with a rude customer, your human right is to feel upset. I’m not telling you to feel peaceful while you're in the middle of a shitstorm. In fact, you can feel all emotions you want! There is just one important rule: don’t show your feelings to the customer.
Most of upset people get even more angry when they see that the other person is also upset. For that reason being calm and respectful is not only a matter of being professional, it’s also in your personal interest.
Take as an example this Reddit story of McDonalds worker. He came across a customer who, after buying a meal, started to yell at him because he did not say "thank you" and he did not smile. Maybe everything would end differently if not the fact that the representative did not bite his tongue.
I asked her, probably too emotionally, how she thinks yelling that at me is going to make me feel? And she just gets even more infuriated that I even spoke back to her and yells at me more.
Here's the moral of this story, as long as you don’t want to deal with an infuriated person, you need to give the impression that you're calm. That also means that if you want peace, not war, you should never argue.
Being neutral might be very difficult, especially at the beginning, but once you are more experienced with what you do, it will be natural for you. And I tell you: it’s a great shield against rudeness. It adds +10 to your rudeness immunity.
This one is very important but also very sticky.
When you apologize to a customer, it’s a small gratification for them for the stress they had. It should make them feel that you understand what they’re going through and should calm them down a bit.
Here's what good apology is about accordingly to Jason Fried and David Hansson's book, "Rework":
A good apology accepts responsibility. It provides real details about what happened and what you're doing to prevent it from happening again.
Above words make sense when there is no doubt that the problem is your company's fault.
However, there is a danger that once you start apologizing for something that is not company’s fault, it’s like admitting that you're to be blamed.
In such case, the best solution is to say: “I am very sorry that you feel this way” or “I am sorry you are not happy with our product”. It sounds neutral and means that you don’t apologize for something that happened to the customer (since it's not your fault), you say that you are sorry for the way the customer feels.
Showing empathy and good manners can turn the worst situation into a story with a happy ending.
Solve the problem
This one might be painful, especially when a customer is a pain in the butt. But since you’re working in customer service, you have to try to help every single customer, regardless of what you think about them.
Another thing is that if you don’t find the solution for a rude customer, he or she is going to get back, probably even more upset. You definitely don't want that!
So, listen to the customer and think about how you can help them. If you don’t feel like you’re empowered enough to do something for them, don’t hesitate to call your supervisor.
Remember: the quicker you solve the problem, the faster unpleasant discussion will end.
And you will be able to relax more quickly.
Have a quick, intensive walk
I know, it’s easy to say “relax” when you’re a bundle of nerves. But there is one solution that really worked out for me: a very intense walk.
Even a 20-minute walk increases happiness. Once our brain starts to release endorphins, they start to protect our body from the stress and gives the "feel good" rush. That's the theory, but does it work in practice?
When I was having a break after a very difficult call, I was leaving the building and taking a long walk. I was forcing myself to focus on everything but the work and trying to enjoy the day.
It wasn't easy at first, but I learned how to clear my mind. I quickly noticed that when I was coming back, I was much calmer and more cheerful!
So, try this on your own. Pretend that you’re not going back to the office and think about future plans. Have you decided what to do with your next holidays? Did you like the latest episode of the “Vikings”?
I’m sure that when you’ll be back, you'll see the bright side of life!
Don’t let them rule your head
Working in customer service means that you meet rude customers all the time and you’re not going to avoid it. There is one thing though you can do to not let them rule your head: you need to understand who are the villains spoiling your days.
There are no monsters in human skin, there are no malicious and evil creatures. There are just people. Some of them are tired and frustrated, some of them are unhappy and are venting on others.
Maybe someone just got information that his mother is sick, maybe someone else just lost their job. They are people with normal, human emotions and sometimes they don't behave reasonably.
This is exactly the reason why you should not feel bad.
Customers are the same people as you and they are not always right. Don’t let them control your emotions and turn your day into a nightmare!
If you let them having an impact on your life, you won’t make anyone happy. Customers won’t care about it, it won't make a difference to the company you’re working for and the only person who will be suffering will be you.
Don’t make that happen!
It’s all about the mindset. Even if you don’t like my bits of advice, you will find tricks that will help you to strengthen your “rudeness defences”.
Maybe you can read a bit about Fish! Philosophy and see the bright sides of your work. Or maybe you will find something you'll love in How Not to Hate Your Job post? There are many tips on how to manage stress at work and some of them might be ideal for you.
And once you will master them, you’ll see that there are no bad people. There are just people with problems. Even Sauron can be just a person who is having a really bad day.
And that’s nothing you couldn’t deal with.
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Cover photo courtesy of EbR1 via Creative Commons.