Do You Offer Anger Management 101?

Have you ever been the angry customer? I have, at least a few times. One time, after not being permitted by a smug salesperson to return shoes I just purchased, I told her (and meant it): “I have to control myself from throwing this shoe at you.” I restrained myself from actually throwing the shoe at her head, and simply left without saying anything further.

Another time, at a drugstore, as I placed merchandise on the counter for checkout, the cashier said in a grating, whiny way, “You don’t have to throw them at me.” I definitely wasn’t throwing anything at her—at worst, I was sliding the merchandise across the counter to her. So I apologized sarcastically, and let her know she was mistaken and nothing was being thrown at her.

I may not have the temperament to be in a front-line customer service role since I can’t always handle the relationship from the customer point of view. If you’re in the employee role, the need to control your temper, and to diffuse the tempers of those you interact with, must be much harder.

The recent United Airlines episode with the passenger beaten up, and dragged kicking and screaming off the flight, illuminates an extreme case of the need for better customer service training. The customer was angry and inflamed, but so were the staff members who felt the need to get the police involved. Instead, they should have been empowered by the company to use their own judgment to resolve the situation, meaning being given the liberty to offer a greater financial incentive for a volunteer to give up his or her seat.

What kinds of anger management lessons, if any, do you offer employees for handling challenging customer/client situations? The New York Times recently ran an interesting piece in which the reporter, Ron Lieber, attended a class on Verbal Judo, with 20 court clerks in Wyoming.

Instead of escalating a situation by throwing a customer out, or otherwise punishing the customer, the facilitator recommends offering the customer an option framed in a positive light. That would mean, I would guess, saying to the angry passenger: “You have the chance to receive a voucher worth X amount of money, which you could use any time, and we also could put you on the next flight available to your destination.”

Tone of voice also is viewed as an anger instigator, as is telling a customer what to do, or that they won’t be getting what they want, with no further explanation. When serving your customers and clients, what do you train employees to do in setting expectations? Do you teach them to pad expectations, under-promising and over-delivering? I’ve noticed that airlines started doing that years ago, listing arrival times they know they probably will beat, over-estimating the flight time. Many restaurants here in New York City that deliver via apps like Seamless also do that, texting, or e-mailing, expected delivery times they know they can beat. How can you teach your employees to do the same with customers or clients?

When a customer is angry in person, how do resolution techniques differ from the long-distance customer who is angry? In some ways, it’s easier to resolve a situation face-to-face, with verbal, conversational explanations sometimes easier to deliver and make understandable, than when the resolution needs to be thought out and crafted into writing. For sensitive, writerly types like myself, however, e-mail is a much preferred way to defuse situations. It’s easier to be phony via e-mail than it is in person. There’s a lot you can force yourself to write that you might not be able to say in a believable way in person without descending into a sarcastic, snippy delivery (or maybe that’s just me). You can write an over-the-top, kind e-mail while sticking out your tongue and rolling your eyes, and who will be the wiser?

Since many employees interact with customers in person, over the phone, and via e-mail or text, training should role-play all of those situations. Just as we all learn in different ways, with some us finding it easier to learn after listening, and others preferring to learn by reading, some will find it easier to resolve a challenging situation in person, and others will be like me, and prefer doing it long distance. I’ve often said to myself that I wouldn’t have any trouble working with nearly anyone as long as I never had to see them. That’s how confident I am of my ability to craft diplomatic written communications. Face-to-face, though, I wouldn’t always trust myself to keep calm and maintain an even-tempered, measured message.

Even the kindest, gentlest person can be driven to anger and conflict. Personality assessments, or other psychological assessments, can be used to teach employees about their anger triggers, and how best to calm themselves down and then reach a resolution with the source of their anger. In my case, I tend to get angry faster with people who have a “by-the-book,” “rules-are-rules” mentality, and at the same time, enjoy—even relish—being authority figures and having the power to say, “No.” Whereas I probably would say, “I’m sorry, I wish I could help you, but I’m not allowed to give refunds on those products. I could get into big trouble if I do that,” the personality who angers me would simply say, “No,” with a smug smile on her face, adding in a cold, critical tone: “I can’t take that back—those products are not returnable, or exchangeable.”

At work, I’ve learned to avoid arguing with people who have that authority-loving, by-the-book mentality. I present my ideas, and then, rather than argue, I just remove myself when they push back. I’ve recognized that arguing with that personality type isn’t productive. What personality types and situations trigger your anger, and what have you learned about staying in control and reaching resolutions?

Life often is angering, including at the office or on the front lines of a company. When you train your employees to serve customers, it’s important to prepare for tinderbox scenarios in which your company’s relationship with a customer has the potential to blow up, along with your profits.

What anger management training do you offer? Who should receive anger management training—just those in customer-facing roles or everyone at the company?