than frequently encountering irate customers in a job.
Does the company EAP have a role in reaching out, helping these workers, and in effect, claiming the high ground associated with this area of behavioral risk and exposure that can affect a company's bottom line?
I say yes. And it fits the EAP core technology perfectly.
Violence in the workplace, verbal assault, morale issues, turnover costs, team degradation, employee-victims blowing off work the next day and calling in sick (aka "taking mental health days"), physical illness, and lower productivity -- all of these metrics can be adversely affected by a poorly managed "customer aggression intervention education program" in the workplace.
Never heard of such a program? You have now. I think you should consider starting one.
This is fertile ground for EAP work. There is plenty of research on the impact of aggressive customers and the consequences of their behavior on employee wellness. But there are few programmatic intervention approaches run by those with behavioral health knowledge and experience.
Frankly, hopes of the employee self-referring to the EAP are not really going to cut it as the only way to deal with customer service stress. A more proactive approach is needed.
I am developing a tip sheet on this topic and will make it available to you soon, but at least for now, let's discuss some of the ways employees can cope with this common workplace issue of customer service stress vis-a-vis the angry customer, and bit about the EAP role.
Customers Can Turn on Employees
Customers can turn on employees, dehumanize them, and treat them with hostility because they represent the organization to which their fury is targeted. An employee representative is the company or business. Without customers seeing employees in this fashion, they can't act out successfully. This gives a strong clue to intervention - humanness. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 1 of 3 ]
A recent study released this past summer found that consumer bargain hunters, for example, treat store clerks "as less than human." It's almost as though they go into "a zone" that turns employees into objects. Here's the study.
You can assume there are customer service employees who, after dealing with an irate customers, desire nothing more than to drive home, jump back into bed and hide under the covers. These workers are your target audience for offering additional support from the EAP.
Add value to your EAP by developing referral funnels that spot these workers, discover their needs, and turn them into thankful clients. This is truly "value-added" EAP at its finest.
Help employees discover the tricks of the trade for dealing with angry customers. Here are a couple ways to counsel these employees so they develop more resilience and are able to help themselves face hostile customers.
This is a powerful awareness, and like the other tips that follow in this post, helping employees "reframe" their experience is critical in order to help workers feel more empowered.
Because it’s so stressful for the person on the receiving end of the hostility, many flustered employees mistakenly try to end confrontations a bit too quickly in order to ease their own discomfort associated with the behavior of the customer. This is a tactical mistake. But, of course it is understandable. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 2 of 3 ]
Remember those counseling interview courses or social work interviewing courses you took in school? You undoubtedly learned about the levels of empathetic response that professional counselors use to help clients feel heard. This is an excellent model of communication that customer service employees can also learn. And you can teach it to them.
Learning the levels of empathetic response will be fun learning and it will also be appreciated as a way of helping employees remain calm and keep their cool when customer aggression ramps up and the pressure is on.
You want to help employees develop better reflexes and actually relax in the face of customer agitation. Teach them to slow down their breathing and listen intently without fear -- help employees become fearless customer service honey badgers as they maintain eye contact with their customers.
Apologies can reduce the customer service employee's stress, as well as the customers'. Help employees learn the art of an effective apology because it goes right to the heart of what has upset the customer.
For example, a customer who is displeased about an undisclosed $10 service charge is more likely to be angry about feeling deceived than about the fee itself. Help employees understand that this is the crucial link to address. Addressing this anger specifically and empathizing with it will be powerful. [Suggested EAP Resource for customer service 3 of 3 ]
Remember above when I discussed the "levels of empathy" that you may have learned in professional counseling courses in college? Draw on this material. It is a good place to practice these skills. Here are the levels in response to the above. You may have to create your own examples, but follow this model below and you will do great.
Issue: "Customer is angry and shocked at a $10 service charge."
Empathy 1: "Don't blame me."
Empathy 2: "I can't do anything about it."
Empathy 3: "Sorry you are just finding out about this."
Empathy 4: "Your reaction to this charge justified."
Empathy 5: "I must feel blindsided and taken advantage of by this."
This reflection and clarification assures the customer that the employee is concerned about the problem and will help the customer avoid further misunderstanding that may incite anger again. This is the part of the proof that things are going to get better.
- She is valued.
- You have a plan.
- She won’t be abandoned.
- You will be accountable and available for follow up.