How To Train Your Employees To Deal with Unruly Customers
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How To Train Your Employees To Deal with Unruly Customers

How To Train Your Employees To Deal with Unruly Customers

Today businesses are operating within a set of unconventional circumstances, with two obstacles nearly all businesses in all industries have in common: staff shortages and supply chain issues. Both are significantly contributing to why overall customer satisfaction is at its lowest point in 15 years.

Customer rage seems to be at an all-time high. We all are hearing and seeing an increasing number of stories of customers becoming unruly, disrespectful, and displaying both verbal and physical abuse in industries such as airlines, hotels, and restaurants. First off, I want to be clear: any type of abuse toward employees is totally unacceptable and should be met with the firing of that customer. Hopefully, in most cases, we are talking about a small minority of customer scenarios.

Expect customers to overreact. As a result of the increase in anxiety, uncertainty, and business rules, we can expect that most customers are on edge and more easily annoyed. Therefore, we need to train our employees on the following.

1. How it is rational for customers to be irrational

Human anxiety has dramatically increased over the past 2 years. Many people are walking time bombs and triggered much more easily than ever. In any era, no customer enjoys being governed by company rules and policies. Think of how much these rules have increased today: “No mask, No entry”; “Must stand 6 feet apart”; “Must have proof of a negative Covid test”; “Must be vaccinated”; “Use hand sanitizer,” etc. The list goes on.

Caution: These examples are not an open invitation to share your personal or political beliefs on any of these topics, nor am I judging companies that are enforcing these mandates. I am just demonstrating how businesses have had to increase their rules to their customers – and how customers might respond.

2. How to avoid empathy fatigue

Empathy fatigue usually occurs in industries that constantly deal with customers who have high emotional pain, like funeral homes, behavior therapy, or oncology. However, in today’s world, every business is dealing with customers who have high stress and anxiety levels. This can cause employees to feel emotionally and physically drained, which leads to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others. This is why, as leaders, we must constantly be helping our employees reenergize, rejuvenate, feel appreciated, and understand the critical role they play in their customers’ lives. This not only results in customers feeling better, but also in your employees less likely feeling burnt out.

3. How to avoid customers becoming upset

So many situations that fuel customers becoming upset can be avoided by keeping a few key strategies in mind. First, the majority of customer challenges come back to how well we manage each customer’s expectations.

Recently, I had two identical dining experiences at two different restaurants. One left me extremely frustrated, while the other was pleasant. I was furious with the first restaurant experience because we waited an unusual amount of time for our meals to arrive. When I asked our server, she said that they should be right out. I responded agitated, “Please just box them up and bring the check.”

The next time we went out to dinner, both the hostess and server said they were currently short-staffed in the kitchen, experiencing abnormally longer times to get the meals out to the tables, and that they were extremely sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. I responded, “I totally understand, that’s okay. We are perfectly fine enjoying some wine and in no hurry.” The food eventually came and we enjoyed it and left happy. When I thought about it afterward, both restaurants delivered our food in about the same amount of time. However, because the staff at the second restaurant was transparent and apologetic, it made us extremely understanding.

Second, it is not what we say, but how we say it. Employees can become robotic and come across almost rude when telling someone they must be wearing a mask or adhere to whatever policy or rule it is they must enforce. I know it gets old for employees to keep reminding customers, but that is what customer service is all about.

4. How to defuse and de-escalate when customers become upset

It is key that all your employees know how to properly react and handle a situation when a customer is inconvenienced and potentially upset. The key is that training must be easy to remember, effective, and easy to implement. I have seen dozens of different protocols. My favorite, which is both easy and effective, is called L.E.A.S.T.

  • Listen – Give your customer your complete attention. Listen for the real reason the customer is unhappy. Never interrupt. Maintain eye contact and nod as the customer is speaking. When it is your turn to speak, speak softly.
  • Empathize – When we listen and think from the other person’s point of view, their message becomes much clearer. When we understand the customer’s plight, the importance of every interaction becomes crystal clear.
  • Apologize – Let the customer know how genuinely sorry you are that the situation happened. The customer is not always right, but never make them wrong.
  • Solve – Do your best to solve the problem right there on the spot and make them happy. Take personal responsibility for solving the problem; act as an advocate for the customer. Be 100% positive the customer is completely satisfied.
  • Thank – Thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention and giving you the opportunity to make it right. Thank them for their patience and for being a loyal customer.

John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: December 13th, 2021

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