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nine to five
THE QUESTION

I was recently promoted to a managerial position and part of my responsibility is to deal with angry customers. I am able to stay calm while altercations are happening and find them a solution, but I find it incredibly stressful. I love everything else about my new role, except for this. I don’t want my supervisor to think I’m incapable of my new responsibilities. What should I do?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Erin Gray, senior vice-president of customer experience, Endy, Toronto

Great question. After working within the customer experience world for more than two decades, I hope I can extend some advice that will alleviate the stress that comes with dealing with angry customers.

If you’re a person with high levels of empathy (like me), then managing irate customers is more of a challenge, because you’ll likely feel the emotions they’re emitting more so than a less empathetic person. However, early in my career, I learned that a naturally empathic character can be a superpower in dealing with upset customers. Don’t just feel their emotions – match them.

When customers are angry and ask to escalate their concerns, they are almost always seeking validation and advocacy. Matching their tone gives them the sense that you’re on their side. Get angry along with them: “They left your delivery in that condition on your porch? That is terrible!” Or, “I am embarrassed you received that level of service,” and then follow that statement with a genuine apology.

Hint: Saying “I am so sorry” sounds far more authentic than “We do apologize.” Often, you will find that when the customer receives the sense of validation and advocacy they were seeking, the interaction tends to be far less stressful. Lean into your superpower. Handling these tough situations will start to feel easier over time.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Laura M. Muir, director of human resources, Polaris Transportation Group, Mississauga

Congratulations on your promotion. I am sure it is well-deserved. Those who report to you and others will be motivated by your behaviour, so it is crucial to be calm, organized and focused. I am not a medical professional, but I have acquired various decompression tactics that can help you along the way.

I encourage you to find support for yourself and practise stress-releasing strategies both physically and mentally. For example, maintaining your physical health includes engaging in good eating and sleeping habits. Physical exercise is also important, which may entail any activity from taking walks to running on a regular basis.

Additionally, your organization may have an employee assistance program. These services are very effective as they provide a valuable and confidential sounding board. Investing in yourself outside of work is also a significant lifestyle change that can prove to be rewarding. There is an array of free online courses to assist those dealing with difficult people, which involve a useful technique known as mindfulness. You may look into meditation and hobbies such as listening to music, which keeps you focused while providing gratification.

Also, consider speaking to your manager about your negative experiences in a constructive way. Summarize these experiences and prioritize them, trying to determine if there are any patterns. For example, there may be a particular item causing this angst that can be resolved or addressed with a sales representative as part of the feedback from your department. It is best to be analytical and factual when taking this approach. As a new leader, don’t forget to celebrate the wins no matter how small the victory each day. And remember to have fun.

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