Anyone who has spent any time in retail or in customer service has likely seen
the darker side of human nature when someone forgets their manners and is, shall
we say, less than respectful.
Something primal happens to the human psyche when their needs have not been met
and they are overwrought and out of patience. Grown humans can revert to the
emotional state of the average two year old. Keeping this in mind can be the key
to resolving customer issues and keeping or restoring the peace.
Don't Take It Personally
You never know what a person is carrying with them on the inside when they walk
into your place. Whatever they perceive to be a point of irritation could just
be their personal last straw after a day of things going wrong, not eating on
time or being over tired, which means your or your staff member ends up being in
the path of their boil over. This is not an excuse for poor behavior, of course,
but keeping it in mind could help you keep your composure while trying to
improve the situation. Just remember that it might not actually have anything to
do with you or your business. We have all had bad days and can use that
experience to empathize.
If a customer offers criticism of any kind, try to ignore the tone of the
message and focus on their ultimate point. It is important to realize that even
though you might not like the way they are speaking at least they are telling
you what is wrong, when many customer simply will quietly decide not to come
back without ever expressing the reason for their dissatisfaction.
Whether the customer has a legitimate complaint or is just flat out wrong,
validating their situation or their state of mind will help lessen their
irritation and hopefully get them to calm down a notch. If they are very angry,
you can validate this by saying, "Sir, I see that you are upset, I am sorry that
this situation has upset you." Once you let them know you understand that they
are frustrated, and seem sympathetic, they usually will become willing to work
with you on a resolution. You can also thank them for expressing their
frustration so you can learn from it. This tells them you are listening.
No matter how hostile the customer is behaving, telling them to calm down will
probably further upset them. Validating as described above is the first step of
venting their steam.
Do not match their tone of voice. Not only will this escalate the situation to
an even more angry exchange it might offend your other customers witnessing the
interaction. Keep in mind they will remember how you handled yourself. Never
loose your cool. Sometimes repeating back the customer's complaint in a calm
tone will signal to them that you understand the problem and want to work to a
Avoid using the words "I can't" or "we can't." These are negatives. Tell the
person you would like to find a resolution and perhaps offer some kind of a good
will gesture for their trouble. This does not mean you have to hand them the
store, but a percentage off their bill or a free item might appease them. This
says you value them as a customer and could be enough to calm them enough to be
Do not tell the customer they are wrong and do not speak condescendingly. It is
true the customer may not have any idea what happens behind the scenes at your
business (or even what they are talking about) but treat them with respect. Even
if you feel they do not deserve it you have to set a good example for your staff
and make the situation easier on your other customers. Trying to restore peace
as quickly as possible should be your ultimate goal.
Making Jokes - While this might work in many scenarios, if your customer is
truly upset making a joke might not be well received in the moment. It might
make them feel as if you are making light of a situation that they consider
Stay Professional - Keeping your cool and focusing on resolution is never out of
line. You might not be able to please everyone but handling yourself well will
keep the respect of everyone around you.
Eye Roll - A big no-no. Very disrespectful. Make sure you and your staff keep
your facial expressions calm and neutral.
The Customer is Always Right
The old adage holds true but it is not really meant to be taken literally.
Anyone who has spent any time in an open-to-the-public business setting knows
better! The spirit of this adage is really what is important. The customer in
question walked into your shop willing to spend money and support your business.
This makes them a valuable commodity. Resolving the customer's issue quickly and
to their satisfaction benefits you in the long run. If possible, you can retain
a customer - if not possible, you can restore peace, set a good example for your
employees, and hopefully keep your other customers' collective faith in you.
It is wise to take good care of yourself and your staff. Make sure everyone on
your team is fed, watered and has a nice quiet place to take breaks away from
the busy shop. Encourage them to stay calm if they get a hostile customer let
them know how to handle it. Support them after an incident and talk out what
transpired. Learn what you can and be open to their suggestions and emotions.
They may need to decompress. Ask them if they are okay and offer them a break.
Lastly, never criticize an employee in front of customers!