Handling Combative Customer Encounters

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Customer Engagement
Customer Service
Invariably, customer-facing employees will have to deal with a difficult customer. In some cases, a customer is upset about a bad experience they had with a company. In other instances, a customer may be lashing out at an employee due to distress in his or her personal life. Regardless of the circumstances, it's vital for customer-facing employees to allow customers to communicate their frustrations, listen closely as to why a customer is upset, be empathetic, responsive, and considerate, and try to resolve the problem immediately if possible. And, as I was reminded last week, to handle a challenging situation professionally in front of other customers.

Invariably, customer-facing employees will have to deal with a difficult customer. In some cases, a customer is upset about a bad experience they had with a company. In other instances, a customer may be lashing out at an employee due to angujish in his or her personal life. Regardless of the circumstances, it's vital for customer-facing employees to allow customers to communicate their frustrations, listen closely as to why a customer is upset, be empathetic, responsive, and considerate, and try to resolve the problem immediately if possible. And, as I was reminded last week, to handle a challenging situation professionally in front of other customers.Last week, I walked into a Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee at the same time as a young woman. She ordered a breakfast combo ahead of me. When it came time to pay for her order, she handed the clerk a debit card. After the clerk swiped the card, he informed her that the card didn't have enough balance on it to cover her transaction. She was adamant that there must have been some error and implored the clerk to swipe the card again, which he did with the same result.

The clerk then asked this customer if she had some other way to pay for her order and she pulled out a $20 bill. The clerk informed her that he couldn't break a $20 and asked the woman if she could go next door to the Subway outlet to get change. This is when things got heated.

At this point, the store manager came over to address the situation. The customer became enraged and demanded that the clerk or another employee go next door to break the $20. After the clerk politely refused, the customer lit into an obscenity-laced tirade and stormed out of the store empty-handed.

Once she left, the clerk and store manager handled the aftermath poorly. The clerk described the nature of the situation to the manager and the two of them spent the next minute or so bad-mouthing and mocking the customer for her emotional outburst. They did so while I was waiting for another employee to prepare my coffee and there were four or five other customers seated in the store taking this all in.

The clerk and the customer should have handled the situation more professionally and discreetly. First off, one of them should have made it easier for the customer to pay with cash by obtaining smaller bills for this customer and other future customers from another local business or a bank. They didn't make much of an effort to resolve the customer's problem.

More importantly, it was extremely insensitive to deride a customer in front of other customers. This sends a bad message to customers who witnessed or heard about this encounter. Not to mention the damage to the brand should these onlookers share this incident with family and friends. Such actions reflect poorly on the brand and the company's internal culture.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION