152 – The customer isn’t always right | Ft. Monique Richardson
For generations, commerce has been shaped by a guiding principle: “the customer is always right.” Today, difficult customer interactions are seeing a recent spike for a variety of reasons. In a service industry facing the new reality of our times, maintaining a positive environment by managing customer behavior is a focal point. Against this backdrop, Monique Richardson wrote “Managing Difficult Customer Behaviour: A Practical Guide to Confident Conversations.” Today, she provides real-world insight on wrangling unruly visitors.
Trial by Fire
Richardson’s wealth of knowledge on navigating problematic interactions in public-facing roles comes directly from the front lines. A girl of just 14 when she entered the workforce, she was quickly introduced to the type of customer that inspired her book. In an era where the vast majority of business was done in person, she credits this practical experience with sharpening her people skills. After 20 years in telecommunications, hospitality, and other service industries, she has developed a comprehensive customer service training system.
A Night to Remember
It was an early encounter with a belligerent customer that planted the seeds for Richardson’s work. A job in hospitality soon placed her across from a foul-mouthed patron who was so vulgar and aggressive that she was lost for words. It was then that she first realized the tangible value of devising a general framework for dealing with combative clientele instead of actively engaging with an emotionally charged situation. By understanding social cues, team members can take control of the conversation and lower the temperature in the room.
Tolerance is a significant contributing factor in the commonality of rude customer behavior. Richardson’s conversations with team leaders at various organizations led her to the surprising discovery that unruly customers were indirectly or directly enabled by management. Effectively managing customer behavior is a team effort, and support for staff revealed itself as a key piece of the puzzle. Among other things, that means putting policies in place that clearly define acceptable behavior and enforcing them appropriately.
Confidence is central to taking control of an interaction, and for Richardson confidence comes from remaining composed in moments of high tension. Minimizing anxiety, anger, and other rapid-onset emotions starts with recognizing when they are beginning to cloud our judgement. Here, she speaks on commonly reported physiological signs of emotional shifts, such as body temperature increase and shortness of breath. By identifying these warning signs when they arise, we can respond to difficult situations instead of reacting to them.
Delving into practical application of her techniques, Richardson espouses the HEAT method of redirecting a conversation. Hearing the customer allows them to feel that their concerns have been heard. Empathizing comes next, and creates an opportunity to humanize both parties. Apologies can often smooth over a difficult situation, particularly when the customer’s discontent is warranted by factors outside their control. Taking ownership is ideally working to address the issue, but can also be disappointment delivered with grace.