You Have to Acknowledge a Customer’s Anger. Here’s Why.

A common mistake I hear customer service professionals make when I perform quality checks is ignoring the customer’s expression of anger.

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There is something known as the communication chain. When people communicate, they expect the person they are communicating with to respond or react…this response is a link in the communication chain. A failure to respond to communication leaves the communication chain broken.

For example, If I open a customer service training with “Good morning!”…and the audience is dead silent, they’ve broken the communication chain. And that leaves me feeling awkward, perhaps embarrassed. I’d have the uncomfortable feeling that the workshop would not go well, based on the lack of acknowledgement.

If a customer expresses anger and we fail to respond to it, the communication chain is broken and the customer feels like they are not getting through. The customer might become even angrier and more difficult, as they are resorting to whatever it takes to feel heard and understood.

Continue reading “You Have to Acknowledge a Customer’s Anger. Here’s Why.”

What Aikido Masters Know About Handling Difficult People That You Don’t

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I’m sitting at my desk reading feedback from my recent Verbal Aikido workshop. The workshop was: “What Aikido Master Know About Handling Difficult People That You Don’t” As you know, much of what I teach is focused on how to most effectively deal with difficult customers. So, for this special online training event I taught my clients how to deal with extremely difficult customers. I call these customers collectively The Consumer Vigilante. Here’s what one participant had to say about the training:

“We have seen versions of this before but I like that you are updating and refreshing these webinars. Sometimes seeing them refreshed or in a different format or something, it may help things click with some of the reps. I think with the climate we are in and more customers being stressed out than ever, we are having more and more challenging customers and our reps need the ammunition to help them and help themselves otherwise it makes the job so much harder. I can’t wait to get the recording of this to make this one a required webinar where we will sit down and talk about it afterwards as a team.”

Deb Riley, Former Consumer Affairs Supervisor, Ahold USA

In the training I explained that today’s consumers are impatient, savvy and relentless. Some customers, the consumer vigilantes, will stop at nothing. I walked my audience through the toll difficult customs are taking on employees and organizations:

  1. Extremely difficult customers are putting serious stress on employees. This stress is bringing down morale and inviting burnout.
  2. Difficult customers cost companies money! The time it takes to deal with unhappy and extremely difficult customers is taking time away from your best customers and resulting in a poor customer experience because staff can’t deliver the best service to the best customers.

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Screen shot from my Verbal Aikido rehearsal

I shared thoughts, stories, perspectives and research to inspire my audience to take a more focused approach toward handling difficult customers. And then I presented a powerful solution to handling difficult customers, the consumer vigilantes of the world: What Aikido Masters Know About Handing Difficult People That You Don’t 5 Aikido Principles for Creating Calm, Defusing Anger and Moving to Closure with Difficult Customers.

If you missed the big event, you can still purchase the training video. Your training includes: Unlimited viewing within your organization with no expiration Rights to download and save webinar video Rights to incorporate webinar within your Learning Management System (LMS) What Aikido Masters Know About Handing Difficult People That You Don’t 60-minute video on-demand video training $299 per organization Purchase

4 Verbal Aikido Tactics Every Employee Who Handles Difficult Customers Should Be Using

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The following editorial was written by one of Myra’s clients, Insurance Consumer Affairs Exchange (ICAE), following Myra’s Verbal Aikido Training at their annual conference in Newport Beach.

Myra Golden (Customer Experience Designer) states that customers are more savvy now than ever before.

Myra Golden, Customer Experience Designer, author of Beyond Wow, and a noted expert on customer service, shared with the group her insights and techniques on the concept and delivery of outstanding customer services.

Difficult customers—yes, they exist

Ms. Golden opened by noting customers are more savvy now than ever before.  Although this sounds like a good thing, the net result is an increase in stress for consumer services professionals.  How much of an increase?  Well, according to Newsweek magazine, the stress level of consumer services professionals is comparable to that of air-traffic controllers and police officers.  In short, the role of consumer services now ranks as one of the 10 most stressful jobs in the U.S.

Golden shared stories and a new vocabulary* with the group.  Sometimes, she noted, difficult customers can be categorized as the consumer vigilante.  These consumers are determined to force corporations—via the consumer affairs professional—to give in to the consumer vigilante’s demands—reasonable or not.  This means the consumer affairs professional must develop a response plan.

OK, what is the solution?

Golden uses the concept of verbal Aikido—a response plan that stresses non-resistance, harmony and assertiveness.   She encourages customer service professionals to recognize each spends more than 50 percent of their time on the dissatisfied customer—meaning the customer for whom nothing will be right (even if nothing was really wrong).  That focus creates a huge drain on resources for those customers who have a solvable issue.  The dissatisfied customers, or consumer vigilantes, need to be recognized as such and placed in a strategic “customer recovery plan.”

 

Myra discusses her verbal aikido approach in the 2-minute video below

 

About the plan

A customer-recovery plan empowers consumer affairs professionals to understand how to create calm; how to work with customers; how to reduce complaints; and how to create a positive conversation. This is done by:

Understanding the issue is not always the issue—many consumers will accept a mistake, but will not accept if the mistake is not quickly and fairly handled.   Therefore, to determine how best to handle a complaint, consumer affairs professionals are encouraged to:

Know what the customer’s expectations and perceptions are—by asking questions to get all details possible, and

Have a consumer recovery plan ready to create confident, assertive (not aggressive)  responses to address the consumer vigilante.

Strategically calm the consumer by:

1. Acknowledging emotion

Golden points out that anger must be recognized as such or it will escalate into a bigger problem.  Consumer affairs professionals who show genuine concern and acknowledge the consumer’s anger are better equipped to handle issues.  Golden urges the path of non-resistance to create calm from within—thereby inspiring a spirit of calm in the irate customer.  Consumer affairs professionals, rather than feeling defensive, need to use comments such as: “I hate it that you even had to make this call.” “I can understand how frustrating this is.”

2. Relate and respond in the here and now

Consumer affairs professionals are not expected to know everything.  Even stating uncertainty for the next step is an OK response.  This response shows the professional as one who does not make assumptions and who treats the consumer as an individual.  By allowing the consumer to be treated as an individual, with individual emotions and feelings, consumer professionals can work with the consumer without escalating any negative—and avoiding  lock up.  Comments such as, “I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do,” have been known to unlock doors and save consumer relationships.

3. Harmonize

Active listening with a complaining consumer enables consumer professionals to obtain more and necessary information to help structure a lasting solution. Consumer professionals are encouraged to control the pacing of the conversation by asking questions and learning more—about the situation and the consumer.  However, Golden cautioned, take the cue from the customer—a bottom-line customer just wants answers—therefore asking lots of questions may result in a negative encounter.

4. Lead

Once control has been established, it’s the consumer professional’s responsibility to move the customer to closure—meaning the emotion has been reduced and the rational has been re-instated.

Golden expresses how asking three back-to-back, close-ended questions can help diffuse a situation.

Golden notes this return to the rational as a “magic wand” that can be invoked by asking three relevant, closed-ended, questions, back-to-back.  Why?  Well, the relevant, non-repetitive, and genuinely necessary questions will force angry consumers to shift focus from emotional to factual information.  In forcing this shift, consumer services professionals can lead the consumer toward a solution.  For the insurance industry, suitable questions include:

•    The first thing I need from you is….
•    In case we are disconnected, what is your number?
•    Name of your insurance company is…
•    What is your claim number?
•    Can you give me the exact date of occurrence?

Apply the skill

The consumer professionals attending were challenged to adopt, adapt, and apply the concepts reviewed to the insurance industry (whether regulator or carrier).  As a group, two strong ideas were generated to enable consumer affairs professionals to calm down the attack.  These included:

  • Associating the irate customer with someone you know to help establish your empathy.
  • Providing job shadowing opportunities to see the other side of the fence to help understand issues—so have producers work with consumer affairs professionals or invite a regulator in for a real-time visit.

Finally, all participants were encouraged to identify activities to commit to start doing, stop doing, and will continue to do.  Golden noted this written commitment with all aspects of our lives would help empower change for the better—at work, home or play.

For more information regarding the Insurance Consumer Affairs Exchange (ICAE), including membership, please visit their website.

 

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Review the full workshop outline for Myra’s Verbal Aikido Training here or talk to Myra about bringing her Verbal Aikido training to your company or conference.

What I’m doing this morning

Espresso for Writing

The drink: Ethiopian espresso. The scent: pumpkin spice candle. The music: Reggae. The scene: My home office. The task: Run-through for a keynote I’m delivering in Scottsdale.

I’m working from home while contractors install my new wood floor. (I’m pretty excited about my new floor.)

The tools and the men are too loud for me to hold conference calls. And I can’t leave to go out and meet with clients. So I’m using the time do a run-through for a keynote I’ll deliver in a couple of weeks.

I titled my keynote:

Dealing with Screamers, Schemers and Other Difficult People

Using the powerful martial art Aikido (合気道 aikidō) as a benchmark, I will give my audience strategies, tactics, and psychological insights for dealing with demanding, irate, and unreasonable customers.

My approach for this keynote is “serenity and maturity” versus “punches and power” as the most effective method for creating calm and reaching resolution.

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This is what my audience will walk away with:

  • The psychology of anger – Understand what is going on in the mind of your angry or scheming customer
  • How to strategically encourage calm with angry people using 5 principles from Aikido
  • You cannot ignore a person’s expression of anger – find out why you MUST assertively acknowledge a person’s anger
  • The critical importance of reflecting back the upset person’s intensity – and how to do it gracefully
  • Holding your own with difficult people: How to say what you mean and mean what you say— without being mean
  • Word-for-word (assertively powerful) phrases for what to say when a person is yelling or cursing at you

I can’t wait to deliver this keynote!

I’m going to go check in on the contractors. If your team could use help with dealing with difficult customers, you may want to check out my programs here.

 

Verbal Aikido: A strategy for handling difficult customers

Two young women dressed in kimonos bowing to each other

In my live Verbal Aikido workshops, I demonstrate the martial art Aikido and offer it as a strategy for diffusing anger. I began teaching this unconventional approach to managing conflict after having my breath taken away as I watched Steven Segal effortlessly defeat his opponents without violence or aggression in half a dozen of his movies. Aikido is a non-violent martial art that never meets force with force and can be applied to conflict situations with demanding, irate or unreasonable customers. (I’ve personally used Aikido in situations with customers, employees, and co-workers.) Using the principles of Aikido, you too can diffuse anger and demonstrate fantastic control over all aspects of verbal attacks.

People using “verbal aikido” can respond to heated situations directly and assertively without being pulled into the drama of the battle, and they can lay the foundation for win-win resolutions that maintain the customer’s loyalty – even with angry customers. Here are 6 Aikido principles that will help you more effectively respond to anger.

1. An Aikidoist strategically calms down the attack. This is done by both the use of relaxed body posture and open hands. Verbal attacks from irate customers also need the same calming strategy. In Aikido, the master will step aside rather than confront the attack. This takes power and speed out of the attack and allows the master to stay centered and calm. When you respond to your customer with “Clearly, we’ve upset you and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” anger begins to dissipate. You’ve addressed the anger directly and non defensively, and you haven’t been pulled into the drama of the attack.

2. Aikido never meets force with force. In fact, there are no direct attacks and very little striking or kicking. When dealing with angry customers, it is natural to respond to attack with an attack. If the customer yells, we escalate our voice. When the attack gets personal, we become defensive and less willing to work with the customer. While we may feel justified in launching our attack because we’ve been attacked, we must realize that a defensive (forceful) response only escalates the original problem. Let’s learn from the Aikido masters and not attack back defensively. Instead, we will respond carefully and strategically.

3. Aikido emphasizes quick, decisive movements that are designed to use the attacker’s force against him. This is done through evasive movements, body shifting, and leverage. Taking this to a verbal level, you’d take a customer’s intensity and sense of urgency and use that to your advantage with a reply like: “No question, we’ve messed up. Getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” Instead of letting the customer’s intimidation tactics negatively impact you, you turn that energy back at the customer by pacing his actions.

4. Aikidoists blend with their opponent’s energy. In Aikido, this looks as if you move toward your opponent and then change places with them. In a verbal attack, blending with your customer is finding common ground with the customer. You can blend with your angry customer by listening with a sincere intent to understand their pain, frustration, and needs and then responding with empathy. The knowledge you gain from listening to your customer becomes your force and positions you to redirect the energy in a productive direction. Once you’ve blended with the customer, that is, once you truly understand the customer’s situation, the attack can be neutralized and redirected.

5. Aikido students learn to turn with their opponent’s force and let that force go past them. When we respond to angry customers in this way, we’re able to keep our cool when customers get hot. We don’t get caught up in the emotion of anger. Instead, we allow the customer to express his feelings, and we don’t take comments personally, and we don’t allow our feelings (anger, rejection, offense) to control our responses.

6. An Aikido Master never seeks to kill his opposition. When we transfer this principle to customer service situations, we realize that our goal is to never hang up on a customer, blow a customer off, or “fire” a difficult customer. Our goal is to find more diplomatic ways to communicate and reach win-win resolutions.

7. In Aikido, all opponents are considered partners. Think of your angry customer as your partner and let this mindset direct you to use interactive dialogue to work with your customer to solve the problem. Try to not resist or coerce your “partner.” Work with your partner, talk with your partner, and seek solutions that benefit the customer and the company.

Applying the principles of Aikido to challenging situations with unhappy customers allows you to maintain composure and control, and efficiently diffuse anger. The next time you’re faced with a demanding customer, why not go Steven Segal…you’ll have fun and you’ll be amazed how productive you’ll be!

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How to Lose a Customer (and your business) Over 8 Dimes

One of the top reasons customers state for leaving a company is a problem was mishandled.  Frontline employees need to be trained to respond to problems with a sense of urgency and to do everything possible to satisfy a customer.

Yesterday I had lunch with my sister, and we experienced a little issue with a discount. The situation could have been easily handled in like 2 seconds. But the restaurant employee just wasn’t equipped to handle exceptions. Watch this video and learn what NOT to do when it comes to customer problems.

Note: Two months after I recorded this video, the restaurant went out of business. They had a strong reputation in our community for delivering poor customer service. No doubt, customer service was a part of the reason they no longer exist. Customer service matters.