How do you handle angry customers? It is a question you hear often when training for customer service.
Anger is a trigger for most people. It creates an immediate psychological reaction in the recipient, and that reaction is different for everyone. While there are numerous techniques for handling angry customers, one of the most fundamental was laid down by Patrick Swayze in the movie Road House:
In Road House, Patrick Swayze plays Dalton the Cooler (head bouncer) brought in to clean up a tough, road house bar. In the speech below, he talks to the staff about how to handle angry customers. While our customers will not be drunk and violent (we hope!), Swayze’s advice actually provides a great model for customer service.
Here it is in Dalton’s own words:
All you have to do is follow three simple rules.
One: Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.
Two: Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.
And Three: Be nice.
If somebody gets in your face and calls you a _____, I want you to be nice.
Ask him to walk, be nice.
If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice.
If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you. And you’ll both be nice.
I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.
Warning: While this blog is PG rated, this clip is from an R-rated movie about a bouncer in a seedy road house bar. It is very NSFW. If you are offended by profanity, please do not watch this clip.
Though all three of Swayze’s rules can be applied to handling angry customers, there is a tremendous amount of wisdom (yes, I said it, wisdom, from the movie Road House) in the third rule.
Begin with being nice. Don’t patronize and be firm if necessary — but be nice. Remember that it’s a job, and that it is nothing personal.
If you understand your triggers and how you react when confronted with an angry customer, you can try to detach yourself from the emotions of the moment. And that is important because even though a customer’s anger is usually not personal, it very often feels personal.
Now, obviously there are a lot of techniques for handling angry customers — phrases to use, assurances to give — but all of the techniques in the world are worthless if you are not in the proper mindset to use them. Handling angry customers begins with self-awareness and a desire to serve.
So, in the words of the great Patrick Swayze, when confronted with an angry customer begin by being nice… until it’s time not to be nice anymore.
Rest In Peace: Quick tributes to Patrick Swayze and Jeff Healey
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.