Our Top Tips for handling Challenging Situations with Compassion
In any workplace, it's inevitable that difficult situations will arise. For employees in a customer-facing role, dealing with a challenging customer interaction can be particularly stressful and potentially harmful to productivity and morale. The coronavirus pandemic followed by the ongoing cost of living crisis has driven a rise in staff abuse and is particularly concerning within healthcare and local government settings. In 2021-2022, anxiety, stress, and depression accounted for 20.4% of all sickness absences within the NHS, whilst more than a quarter of officers and councillors say council colleagues have experienced abuse from members of the public.
Navigating difficult situations at work can be very difficult, especially when the customer is upset or angry. Even experienced customer service staff can find it difficult to stay detached and unaffected by ongoing emotionally charged or confrontational conversations.
Repeated exposure to difficult customers can cause chronic stress, which can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. Workers may also experience burnout, which is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress.
Additionally, dealing with difficult customers can affect a worker's job satisfaction, morale, and productivity. It can create a negative work environment, which can lead to higher levels of absenteeism and turnover.
In this blog post, we'll highlight some key tips for dealing with challenging customer conversations and how they can be applied in real-life scenarios with customers.
Remain Calm and Empathetic
When dealing with an upset customer, it's essential to remain calm and empathetic. Try to put yourself in the customer's shoes and understand their frustration. Use a calm tone of voice and avoid becoming defensive or argumentative. Building a rapport with the customer and helping them feel more comfortable expressing their concerns can help to de-escalate the situation and make it easier to find a solution that meets the customer's needs.
Active listening is just as important in customer service as it is in conflict resolution between colleagues. Let the customer express their concerns and frustrations and try to understand their perspective. Acknowledge their feelings and show that you are actively listening to them. This will show that you care about their problem and that you want to help. Try to acknowledge the customer’s feelings and emotions without judging or criticising them and ask open-ended questions to clarify their needs and expectations.
Keep your communication professional
When you're communicating with the customer, keep your language professional, friendly, and respectful. Your behaviour reflects your employer or business, and it is always good to be mindful of your actions and repress any impulses to take the difficult customer's behaviour personally. To manage professional communications, keep an even tone and positive demeanour that shows your customer that you're open to the feedback they're giving. For example, you could make eye contact and/or use their name when responding.
Ask for support
In some cases, you may need to ask for support from another co-worker or manager. Calling on support can help you in some situations to solve a customer's problem or answer their questions. Let a customer know that you are bringing someone else into the conversation who may have a better perspective or has more authority to solve their problem. For example, you may want to bring a manager into the conversation if a customer is demanding more than you're qualified to give for the inconvenience. Sometimes customers appreciate this extra step as it reassures them that their concerns are being heard by someone who can make larger decisions on how to move forward.
Find a Solution
The of diffusing a difficult customer situation is to find a solution that works for both the customer and the company. Try to offer solutions that address the customer's concerns and work within the company's policies and procedures. This may require some creative problem-solving, but finding a solution will ultimately lead to a happier customer and a better reputation for the company.
Protecting your mental health and wellbeing
Navigating difficult situations with customers is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be detrimental to your mental health. It’s important for employers to provide support and resources for workers who deal with difficult customers regularly. This can include training on how to handle difficult situations, access to counselling or mental health services, and opportunities for breaks and time off to manage stress.
Our ‘Handling Difficult Situations with Compassion’ course equips you with skills for navigating conflict with customers. These skills not only benefit the employee's work life but can also translate into their personal life as well.
Request training for your organisation here.