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Six Techniques for Handling Angry Customers

Customers of a dropzone are a little more stressed than the average guest. Since the day of booking, they think about their arrival at your DZ every single day. Nervous energy abounds and when everything doesn’t go quite to plan, the stress levels increase and as a result, patience wears thin.

Frustration tends to build most when the wait times become lengthy with little communication from DZ staff acknowledging the issue and why it’s happening. Add a weather delay or multiple shutdowns throughout the day and it becomes a LONG day for our guests. The best way to keep everyone calm, cool, collected and energized for their skydives is lots of communication when the day tends to slow down.

Not everyday is perfect and I’ve had my fair share of working with frustrated customers. Over the years, I developed techniques that transformed my guests from being super angry to being loyalists to my company. Below is my approach for turning a negative situation into a positive one. I hope you find it helpful.

1. Lose the Audience. Oftentimes, when people are upset, emotions are heightened in front of an audience. The wronged customer is not only proving his point to you, but also to onlookers which normally leads to louder shouting as emotions boil over. So, lose the audience. Typically, when a manager is called in to handle a situation, emotions have already boiled over. Handle this by listening and allowing the customer to expend the initial burst of energy. Once expended, invite the customer to step into a private room to discuss the matter. Being calm in the midst of someone’s anger sets the correct tone.

2. Listen.
In most cases, people are visibly angry because they don’t feel like they are being heard. Customers feel like they’re not being heard (even though everyone has heard them) because he / she feels like a) they have been wronged and b). they’re not being treated well in the face of this wrong. Before doing anything else, allow the customer to express themselves. Do not interrupt even if you disagree. Just listen.

3. Set the Tone.
Dictate the tone of the conversation by doing two things. Firstly, be calm and deliberate in your tone of voice. I always wanted to bring the customer down from their heightened emotion. If I met the customer at his heightened state, then the outcome will not end positively. Secondly, be aware of  nonverbal communication. Don’t take a defensive stance that visually demonstrates you have no interest in solving the problem. Stand tall and be attentive and definitely put your phone on silent. A ringing cell phone that distracts your attention or a squawking walkie-talkie pulling your attention just adds frustration. The customer wants to be heard with your undivided attention.

4. Validate.
Repeat What You Just Heard. This is a classic technique I learned in marriage counseling! (Those sessions helped in at least one area!) Once the customer has passionately told you what has happened, repeat back what you just heard in a calm tone. Again, don’t inject what you personally believe. The aim is to get the customer calm and ensure that they know that they are being heard. This is half the battle towards a positive outcome.

5. Empathize.
I’m not a big believer in defending a policy or procedure if the outcome only leads to a customer feeling angry or upset. Policies and procedures are guidelines for daily operations and consistency. However, the key word here is guideline. Paint outside the lines and don’t be handcuffed by policies to take care of the customer properly. Rather than defending, I re-frame the situation. If I were the customer, what I would I like to have as an outcome in this situation? An example of this is gift certificates. Typically, gift certificates have an expiration date and due to policies and procedures, front house staff won’t accept them especially if they’re expired by a significant amount of time. In order to empower my front house staff, I challenge them with the question…”What would you want if you were the customer in this situation?” If the answer is for the company to honor the gift certificate that expired a year ago… then honor it.

6. Don’t Take It Personally.
Never make it personal. Understand the customer isn’t personally upset at you though they are expressing their anger towards you. This will help keep things clear in your mind and how you think through the issue at hand. Rather than defending yourself because you are feeling the wrath of someone, be objective and not subjective. You’ll only become subjective and lose sight of the big picture if you make it personal. As Covey rightly said, begin with the end result in mind.

The customer isn’t always right, but let’s be sure our managers and front house staff are taking correct steps to better take care of the customer! Remember…communicate, communicate, communicate. What is normal to us in our daily activities at the DZ is foreign and nerve-racking to our guests. It’s important we make them feel comfortable by acknowledging them and making them feel important…something we ALL like to feel.

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