Saturday, May 30, 2020
HomeTalking Tips Have you trained your staff to handle abusive customers?

Have you trained your staff to handle abusive customers?

In a world where the customer is always right, customer service representatives are often subject to down right abuse. I find most people who deal with the public are ill-equipped to handle the difficult. No one should have to suck up abusive behavior and when handled strategically, the customer service representative can use these challenging situations to create customer satisfaction, while maintaining their professionalism and personal dignity.

Here are seven principles to empower you to better manage a customer who is being difficult or even downright abusive.

See it as a challenge. The first order of business is to get your head in the game. Instead of reacting to this person who is pushing your buttons, see this as an opportunity to sharpen your people management skills. After all, as a professional the more skillful you become the more valuable you become. Assume this difficult person is a secret shopper sent to see how capable you are in your job. If you are able to perform with professionalism and grace, maybe even get them to smile, you have enhanced your skillset.

Don’t take it personally. If someone is angry, rude or condescending it probably has everything to do with who they are and has nothing to do with you. Why take it on? Some things you must learn to let run off your back with no attachment.

Understand people. A reactive angry response is often the result of feeling powerless, depersonalized or unimportant. When customers feel as if there is a wall between them and the establishment they act accordingly.

Check yourself. Are you inadvertently fueling the fire? There are numerous things that customer service people do to exacerbate situations. In typical customer service trainings, employees learn about the company policies and are quick to use them as their shield against the unhappy customer. “That’s against our policy” is a catch phrase that make one feel as if they have been dismissed. One of the worse things you can do is become bureaucratic with someone who is angry. In fact, even if you work in public service for the government, this tactic is not the best if your goal is to make the client feel as if they are receiving good service.

Remain calm but stay engaged. I witness it during practice sessions all the time. Team members mistake calm behavior for disengagement. They believe the goal is to not lash back in instances where someone may be displaying rude behavior toward them. However, they become cold and choose to ignore the person which only makes them angrier. The mindset is, “You’re yelling at me? See if you get served today!” This is passive-aggressive behavior, which simply is undercover aggressiveness. Stay engaged, the goal is to be helpful.

Pull down the wall. The ‘you against us’ is common feeling among customers. This is based on the premise the company will always look out for themselves first. The customer should feel like the company is there for them. This comes through in the way the staff communicates. Your attentiveness, the words you use, your eye contact, a smile and open body language help your patrons to know you are on the same side.

Address the emotion. Here is where empathy must kick in. The worst thing an employee can do is try to ignore the emotionally charged customer’s antics. Lack of training and experience may cause a customer service rep to hope the behavior will stop if they simply ignore it. However, acknowledging the customer’s emotion can work wonders. For example, “Mr. Smith, I can tell this is extremely frustrating for you, I’m sure if I were you I would feel the same way, let me see what I can do to help”. Make a human connection by naming the emotion you see being displayed. It conveys to the customer, you ‘get them’. When people feel understood, they calm down.

Typically, how you say what you say is increasingly more important. However, when employees communicate in a way that is cold, terse, unhelpful, defensive or passive, they in many ways are the ones creating the abusive response.

If you would like training for your staff that extends beyond typical customer service training, contact us today.


  • Kim Welcome is the CEO of Influential Voice. A communication trainer and coach, she assists businesses and professionals to achieve their goals by helping them to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills. Contact: or call 242-225-9013.



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