Helping Employees Deal with Toxic Customers

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Anyone who has worked in customer service knows that some customers can be extremely difficult, demanding, and even toxic. These customers can be abusive to customer service staff.

They aren’t necessarily bad people, but such customers may take advantage of their relative power over your employees to bully or vent frustration where it isn’t necessarily deserved. Or they may simply be unaware that their behavior toward your staff is inappropriate.

Whatever the reason, these interactions can wear down your customer service staff, whether it’s a one-off situation or a consistent experience. It’s important as a manager to help your employees cope with toxic customers to avoid burnout, high turnover, and poor morale.


Make Sure They Don’t Take It Personally

First and foremost, it’s crucial to help your staff separate the professional from the personal. Customers may complain about your company’s product or service, but employees need to know that this feedback isn’t a reflection on them personally.Even if customers do make personal attacks, employees need to know how to transition from personal to professional and shrug off attempts by customers to make the issue all about them.

Let Them Vent

In an article for Inc. on toxic cultures generally, Shane Atchison offers some advice applicable to dealing with toxic customers: “Managers have to make a safe zone where people can speak their minds,” Atchison writes. “Above all, don’t fake it and pretend the situation is normal. That’s the surest road to allowing a bad culture to erode yours.”Sometimes simply talking about problems with customers can be extremely therapeutic.

Empathize

Beyond simply letting employees vent, take the time to really hear and understand their concerns. That’s important not only to ensure that employees feel their concerns have been heard but also to the organization—there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from any feedback received, however negative or misplaced.

Have Their Back

The adage that “the customer is always right” only holds true to a point. If a customer is being truly abusive and unreasonable, having your employees’ back is essential. Make it clear to employees and customers that a certain level of respect is expected when dealing with your customer service staff.

Customer service positions can be extremely stressful, and they are often filled by relatively low-paid staff in entry-level positions. These employees are particularly susceptible to turnover.

Even if they don’t leave the company, employees dealing with toxic customers can bring down morale—their own and that of their coworkers—and start to burn out, leading to lower productivity. A good manager should take steps to alleviate this stress as much as possible.