Are your customers struggling to come to terms with the new rules and new inconveniences of today’s (temporary) “social distancing” requirements?
Are they starting to take out their frustrations on your customer care agents? It seems to be happening just about everywhere right now.
In his recent Forbes article, Chip Bell talks about how, so often when our customers vent their anger, we have an opportunity to see beyond that anger to what’s really motivating that call: fear.
Right now, his advice strikes all the right notes. It’s a powerful reminder that each frustrated call we receive is really a sign that our customers need reassurance, they need to feel understood, and they need to know that we care about them.
Why Customers Panic…and What To Do About It
“What do you mean you are out of Purell?” the man screamed at a stock clerk in the middle of the broad aisle. “You are a giant grocery store, aren’t you? This terrible virus has been going on for a while now. You should have had plenty of stock for a product you knew would have a high demand.” The clerk finally shook free of his deer-in-the-headlights gaze, reached deep in his pocket, and pulled out a tiny half-full bottle of Purell. “This is all I have for my personal use,” the clerk pleaded. “Please take mine. You need it more than I do.” The angry customer cried.
Pandemics and calamities push life off the main road and into the ditches. As such, like a vehicle stuck in the mud on a dissolute country road, the stark reality can bring out the extremes in people. Heroes and villains come out of these settings; kindness and greed emerge from these chaotic quagmires. Like the clerk in the grocery store, customer panic is a time to demonstrate the noble side of service.
Panic is caused by extreme fear in a circumstance in which there appears to be no exit. It is emotional claustrophobia. It means something precious to the customer is at risk of being taken, and she or he cannot stop it. When I was a boy, I read a story about a man in scuba gear trapped under a large boat that was slowing sinking, pushing him into the mud at the bottom of the lake as he was running out of air in his tank. Even though the story had a happy ending, I stayed awake for two or three nights imagining his terror. When I witness a customer panic, I think about that story.
Customers in the panic mode often lash out at anyone they view as the culprit, or associated with the culprit, or even remotely connected to the culprit. They can sometimes verbally attack irrationally and ruthlessly like an animal caught in a bear trap. Their forceful supposition is: if I scream at you, you will scream at the cause of my pain, and it will be fixed. While their cries are for intervention, they are also pleas for consideration. They want resolution, and they want someone to care about them and their issue.
Anger is not a primary behavior. It is a secondary behavior. Behind all anger is the primary behavior—fear. Excellent customer communication involves communicating with the customer’s fear, not with the customer’s anger. Anger is designed to provoke an aggressive response, an invitation for a fight thus relieving the emotional tension. It is the dark half of the flight-flight response that has been hardwired into our DNA since homo sapiens spared with saber-toothed tigers. Think of your response to your customer’s panic as cut from the same cloth you would use to caringly respond to a young child awakened from a nightmare.
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
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