Any Random Listener Will Do.
I have come to believe the success of handling an irate person or complaining customer is to realize that any random listener will do. In the past we have run seminars for customer service personnel. I remember, specifically, a woman who worked for the airlines. She expressed that she wanted to quit, because she just couldn’t take some of the people who would carry-on and scream at her.
I came up with this analogy: Picture an elderly grandmother who is about to take a plane to attend her granddaughter’s wedding the next day. A neighbor has driven her to the airport, and after she checks her luggage, she finds out that the airplane has mechanical problems and the flight is canceled. The next flight won’t be until tomorrow afternoon. She, of course, panics – she is going to miss her granddaughter’s wedding. She doesn’t know how she is going to get back home or how to retrieve her luggage. She is beside herself and starts screaming and complaining. The customer service rep behind the counter says, “I don’t have to take that abuse.”
However, realize this, if the customer service rep takes a break and some other rep takes her place, the woman would be happy to scream at that person. If the pilots showed up, she would be happy to scream at them, and that goes all the way up to the president of the company. The point is that she is beside herself, and any random listener will do.
Therefore, the secret is to have compassion. The secret is to not personalize. The woman is not screaming at you. Any random listener will do.
Persuasive techniques to handle complaints are covered in more detail in the book, Persuasive Communication.