What I Wish Everyone Knew About Getting Angry Customers to Back Down


Anger Can’t Be Ignored.

We’ve all chosen to not dignify a person’s absurd comment with a response, or perhaps you’ve stepped over a toddler sprawled on the floor in a tantrum, letting them scream. Dismissing fits of anger can be a healthy response in some situations – unless the infuriated person is your customer. Let me unpack this.

Psychologists talk about what they call the Communication Chain. The Communication Chain says that when a person puts out a verbal message, they expect a response to that message. That first message is a link in the communication chain. If there’s no response to the link, the chain is left unlinked or broken.

Now, we know that we have two different parts of the brain that serve two very different functions. The right side of the brain is where we feel emotions – like fear, joy, dread, shock, and love. The left side of our mind is the logical side. This is where we perform tasks that have to do with logic, like science and math.

So back to our Communication Chain – if you have a customer who expresses concern, frustration, or anger and you don’t acknowledge it, that is, if you ignore the rage, you break that chain, and this break forces customers into the right side of the brain where they may become more intense or challenging.

You don’t want an upset customer to operate from the right emotional brain. Because if they do, they’re likely to be more talkative, irrational, and far more intense.

You want your customer coming to you from their logical, rational, and calm left brain. If you link the communication chain by just responding to the customer’s anger, you keep the customer from getting stuck in the right brain.

Here are some things you can say to respond to anger without getting pulled into the drama.

Continue reading “What I Wish Everyone Knew About Getting Angry Customers to Back Down”

What’s Your Customer’s Panic Question?


After three weeks in the hospital, we got the news that Dad would be released and that he would go to a rehab center eight miles away. Mom called me frantic, “He’s so weak, I have no idea how I’ll get your dad into the car to take him to rehab.”

In my customer service workshops, I improve the customer experience by challenging employees to consider, “What else does my customer need to know?” And then meeting that need without the customer having to wonder, fret, or even ask.

If you’re a hospital case manager, and you’re telling a 71-year-old spouse that her husband needs to check in to rehab tomorrow, what questions might the wife have? The name and address of the rehab facility, indeed. An estimate of how long rehab will last, sure. She’d also need to know how she’s going to transport her husband to the facility.

It turns out Mom had been stewing in fear of how she’d get Dad to rehab for several hours before she called me. She knew Dad couldn’t walk – he could scarcely stand at that point, which is why he was going into rehab – to learn to walk again. “Mom, the rehab center will send a van to transport Dad from the hospital to their facility. All you’ll have to do is make sure Dad’s bag is packed and ready.” On the phone I sensed mom’s anxiety fall off her, like a sack of onions.

Answer Your Customer’s Most Pressing Questions Before They Panic

Continue reading “What’s Your Customer’s Panic Question?”

3 Steps to Reducing Stress and Escalations With Customer Service Teams

Smiling beautiful African American woman working in call center with diverse team

Back in my call center days, I paid a consultant a wad to tell me to, “Give your employees time after each call to debrief with their co-workers, and create a culture where they can turn to each other for advice and guidance for how to navigate a tough call.” Here are the top three things my consultant advised me to do immediately to achieve the goals she set for me.

1. Create a spider web type layout where all of your employees can see and interact with one another at once.

2. Encourage employees to place callers on hold while they seek advice from the team on how to manage tough situations.

3. Build in time after calls for employees to cool-down after a particularly grilling interaction, and to talk the situation through with colleagues.

I took the consultant’s advice, and here’s what happened. Continue reading “3 Steps to Reducing Stress and Escalations With Customer Service Teams”

Take Challenging Customers From a Boil to a Simmer Using the Reframe Method (Step 2 of My De-escalation Strategy)

Reframe.001When you need to pre-empt an escalation in aggression with a customer, reframe the conversation using the three steps politicians and CEOs use for damage control and to control the message.

Explain: Continue reading “Take Challenging Customers From a Boil to a Simmer Using the Reframe Method (Step 2 of My De-escalation Strategy)”

Start. Stop. Continue — Three Powerful Words for Goal-Setting, Process Improvement, and Self-Improvement.


I end all of my customer service workshops by asking participants to write down three words. Start, Stop, and Continue. Then I invite them to reflect on the day by jotting down:

One thing they will START doing based on something they learned in the training

One thing they’ll STOP doing because they’ve discovered this thing is not useful, or it’s holding them back

And one thing they commit to CONTINUE to do because I know everyone is already using techniques that work well, ideas more profound than what I could teach them.

My Start, Stop, Continue activity is a goal setting and reflection exercise in one. By reflecting on the day and successes, and setting goals, my workshop attendees are more likely to adopt and apply their insights, and this makes my training more effective.

But I also use Start, Stop, Continue as a 360-degree feedback tool, and a process improvement instrument. Here’s how you can use Start, Stop, Continue for self-improvement and process improvement. Continue reading “Start. Stop. Continue — Three Powerful Words for Goal-Setting, Process Improvement, and Self-Improvement.”

Things That Happen When You Go From Employee to Supervisor


I got my first management title when I was twenty-six years old. The person I’d beat out for the position had been with the company 26 years, and in one hiring decision, this woman, who wanted my job, become my direct report.

She’d been with the company since before I was in kindergarten. And now I was her boss. Nobody said my new management job would be easy.

And it was not. Easy, that is. Managing a person old enough to be my mother, was just one of the challenges I faced in that job. I had peers who resented me leaving the familiar flock and joining management. I was seen by many as too young, too inexperienced, too favored – based on my education.

When I look back at the decision that took me from employee to boss, and all that followed, I realize I did several things right. I made lots and lots of mistakes, but I managed to do some things right. Here’s my story. Continue reading “Things That Happen When You Go From Employee to Supervisor”