When a customer freaks out


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While waiting for a flight the other day I watched a very stressed passenger freak out on an airline representative. The passenger’s behavior was embarrassing and completely unacceptable, and of course I couldn’t help but watch to see how the agent handled it.

Overall she did a great job, but at the same time I saw things she could have done better. I know you don’t have people freak out on you very often (thank goodness) but here are a few tips to remember when it does happen.

1. Remain calm. Okay, as calm as you can. It is easier said than done, but getting aggravated just doubles the drama and pretty much guarantees things will get worse.

Don’t take it personally. The passenger was screaming that she was going to get the agent fired, but the real issue was that she missed her check-in time and her seat was given away to another passenger. If whatever situation hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t even be involved.

2. Don’t blame the customer. The goal is to calm the customer and address the issue. When we inadvertently blame a customer for what happened they become more defensive. The customer might have messed up, or doesn’t want to follow the policies, but making it about them will only make matters worse.

3. Say you’re sorry. As I’ve written and said many times, saying you’re sorry doesn’t mean that you or anyone in your store have done anything wrong. You’re simply expressing regret that the customer is upset. That’s something I didn’t see the agent do, which only made the passenger freak out even more.

4. Keep the focus on finding a resolution. As obvious as that sounds, it doesn’t always happen. Extremely upset people have a tendency to keep going back to the issue and reiterating how much they’re upset. When the passenger screamed for the fiftieth time how upset she was I expected everyone at the gate to yell out, “We know!” One thing the agent did very well was that every time the passenger did that she responded, “I understand that. Now let’s work on getting you to your destination.”

5. Bring in another person if it gets too personal. This poor agent wasn’t going to do anything to escape the customer’s wrath. When she finally realized that, she had another agent step to handle the situation. At that moment the passenger completely stopped freaking out. It was like someone had unplugged her. There might just be times when an owner or manager needs to ask an assistant or associate to work with the customer. I know that some owners/managers may not agree with that approach, but I’ve personally used it twice to bring resolution for a very unhappy customer.

6. Last but not least, don’t accept unacceptable behavior. I thought the agent showed great restraint with the customer who was freaking out, but she was probably pretty close to calling the airport police. If the customer crosses a line into unacceptable behavior then you owe it to your staff, the other customers, and yourself to remove the customer. Of course if we do the first five thing listed here that probably won’t have to happen.

Let’s hope you never have to apply any of these tips, but if you do have a customer who freaks out I hope you’re able to remember to apply them.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Doug Fleener
As the former director of retail for Bose Corporation and an independent retailer himself, Doug has the unique experience and ability to help companies of all sizes. Doug is a retail and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and a recognized expert worldwide.


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