If You Find COVID-19 Is Making Customers More Hostile, You’re Not Alone.

As some companies begin phasing back into office work, employees are worried. They fear to be in intense interactions with frustrated customers. They fear they won’t be able to diffuse anger and de-escalate.

These are the top concerns I’m hearing from clients about re-opening:

Front-facing employees worry about potential fallout when they tell customers masks are required for entry.

Customer service employees are seeing a rise in hostile reactions as customers wait on hold for eighteen minutes or more.

Everything from water filters to sewing machines, to masks, is back-ordered. Customers are frustrated or angry when they get vague tracking details that merely read “approved.”

Stressed frontline employees are becoming short and defensive with customers.

Prepare your frontline to create positive conversations and preempt escalations using the three keys that I’m guiding my clients to deploy in these stressful interactions.

One. Clearly explain the situation. 

How: Explain the issue. Here are some pointers for explaining the problem:

Be brief – No preamble, no fluff, no excessive apology.

Be assertive -not passive, not aggressive/defensive.

Be confident in your delivery.

“You will experience a significant delay in order processing and shipping due to the tremendous increase in order volume. We are, however, doing our best to fulfill orders as quickly as possible.”

“With the spread of COVID-19, online shopping continues to rise dramatically, and we are experiencing a variety of supply chain disruptions and delays. Also, fulfillment center operations have shifted to implementing increased cleaning and sanitation protocols and prioritizing orders for household, safety, and medical essentials. As a result, our order processing timelines have been extended.” 

“Our shipping and delivery date expectations will show longer than you usually expect.”

“Yes, I did place you on a brief hold to deal with my three-year-old in a tantrum. You may even hear my dog. Please be patient with us as we adapt to this new normal of working from home.”

“I can see your point on that. Yet, our COVID-19 policy requires a mask for entry.”

TWo. Recognize how the issue impacts the customer.

Why: Recognizing the customer’s concern helps you preempt escalation and move the person from the emotional right-brain to a focus on resolving the issue.

How: One sentence to recognize the inconvenience:

“We want to get your filters in your hands as much as you want them.”

“I realize not having a shipping date is frustrating for you.”

“I know this delay throws off your entire day/schedule….”

“I realize this puts you in a bind.”

“This is no more acceptable to us than it is to you.”

Three. Manage expectations.

Why: To protect the customer relationship, you must seek to prevent further disappointment by establishing what you can realistically achieve.


Be transparent

Avoid assumptions

“We know this is inconvenient, but yes, you will experience a significant delay in order processing and shipping due to the tremendous increase in order volume. I’m not able to give you a ship date, though I anticipate knowing more by the middle of next week.”

“We have a team working on a re-opening plan. We do not have a date for opening, and we are not making projections at this point.”

Need more help with de-escalation?

As a certified Master Crisis Prevention and De-escalation Instructor, I have the expertise to guide you through the COVID-19 stressful encounters you’re sure to have with customers. If you need help with preempting escalations and de-escalating intense interactions, visit my blog, where I have dozens of tips for creating positive conversations with customers.