08 August 2016

How to- deal with angry customers

The following incident happened a few weeks ago. For some time I have been donating plasma at a facility in York PA, not far from MCS York.  It is in a nice area but the plasma center tends to attract some interesting folks to say the least.  I go there for four reasons-

  • It's easy money if you don't mind needles
  • It gives me a solid 60-90 minutes to catch up on e-mails and texts.
  • It provides the plasma for life-saving drugs.
  • I get to sit back and watch the behavior of people I otherwise would not see.
The last one is a treasure trove for someone who loves to study human interaction and behavior.

The place I go is super busy but the staff only makes about $11 an hour as a phlebotomist.  Once they are trained, they move onto area hospitals for more money.  This often leads to low and inexperienced staffing. Add to this that people get antsy standing in line, things often get interesting.  Now that I have explained the environment, let me tell you what happened.  

It was about 11 AM and I had just walked in and done the typical prescreening at a kiosk.  On my way out of the bathroom I could hear a woman yelling on the other side of the center where you stand in line until they have an open bed.  Right away I surmised that it was either about her place in line or things taking too long. All the staff at the front, as well as all the managers, had formed a crowd and were trying to deal with her. This was the worst possible response to an angry customer.   If the person has already escalated to the point of yelling and screaming, this attention only adds fuel to the fire.  

This is negotiating 101.  One person talks.  At this point, the customer will have a hard enough time listening to one person using one voice and tone much less several.  Not to mention a person who is yelling in public will likely not be quickly or easily calmed down.  This is is especially true if they have an audience of other customers/clients/visitors, and she did.

Regardless of what she was upset about, this is what should have happened-

  • If safe, a manager/supervisor (or any staff that seems to have a repartee with them) should approach the person and in a calm voice ask them to step outside or into another office to talk about the issue.
  • If they refuse, they should be asked to leave.  Call 911.  They are now trespassing.  Check your state and local laws about issuing a barred letter.
  • If they agree to go somewhere and talk, take them to a place away from others but where another staff can see you.
  • Ask them to tell you the whole story from the beginning.  This allows them to blow off steam and forces them to breathe.  The combination of being heard and getting more oxygen to the brain will aid in calming them down.  While they are talking, do not interrupt.  Typically the longer they talk the calmer they will get.  During this time, if you can get them to sit the results will occur even faster. Whether you are standing or sitting with them, make sure you are not face to face.  If at a desk, they should be seated at the side and not across the desk.  Standing next to them gives the perception that you are on their side against the world.
  • Avoid telling them that they are wrong in any way.  They will not see it that way and will block out anything else you say.
  • Ask them what they want or need.  If you can do it, do it.  If not, tell them so and let them know what you can offer.
To reiterate, if they refuse to walk to talk or you believe they pose a physical threat to others, 911 should be called.  Do not make a mistake of engaging in a back and forth with them.  It will only escalate things and get others involved.  

All staff should be trained to deal with these situations.  As soon as someone raises their voice, staff should intervene and attempt the above listed points to deescalate.  

Several months ago, I had given my card to one of the managers of the donation center and explained what I do.  Of course, they had no interest.

In this case, it turned out to be about the wait in line.  They spoke to her and she was calmed down a little bit, but through the entire donation process continued to be loud and belligerent as she attempted to recruit other donors for her cause.  What she and every other donor who saw what happened learned was that there is no standard of conduct in the donation center and bad behavior is accepted and tolerated.  Others in the waiting room or after that donation probably chose not to return.  We will never know.

This is all part of doing business and dealing with the public.  If you do not plan by having procedures in place, you are planning to fail.  That can mean anything from loss of customers to violence in your place of business.

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