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When a Customer Makes You Angry


Has it happened yet? If it hasn't, it will. If you are in business long enough you will encounter someone that gets under your skin. They may even make you downright angry. They may say or do something offensive, or they may just be rude. Now what? You know you can't let them know how upset you are. So what can you do to preserve your business and perhaps even your dignity?

Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, and psychiatrist, as well as a Holocaust survivor, stated in his book Man's Search for Meaning, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Whew, that puts it all on our shoulders, doesn't it? So we are not allowed to scream, holler, or pound our chest in front of this irritating customer? No, I guess that would be inappropriate. We still have to decide what to do next.

According to Frankl, we have a moment between what is done to us (real or perceived) and when we react. During that moment we can choose how we will respond. He does not say that this moment reduces our anger or changes our perceptions. I guess that would be up to us. He does state that our response determines our growth and our freedom lies within how we choose to respond. I have found it difficult to grow while I am angry, but that could just be me.

Making decisions while we are angry often ends with catastrophic results. With this in mind, how do we take advantage of that moment between stimulus and reaction? Preparation is the key to responding well to stressful situations. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of preparation is the state of being ready to act when the need arises. Merriam-Webster goes on to say that training, coaching, conditioning, cultivation, and readying are synonyms for preparation. In other words, we can coach ourselves (or be coached by others), or train for and condition ourselves to deal with stressful events. I certainly think an angry customer qualifies as a stressful event.

Planning how we will react in advance of these types of situations can be as easy as reminding ourselves that a given event may occur, and this is how I should respond. It sounds simple, it is simple, and it works more often than not. Most professional salespeople are trained to deal with, and respond professionally to irate customers. This is usually as straight forward as keeping your cool, proposing alternatives, and just listening. The main goal is to diffuse the situation.

What if the customer is unreasonable? That is on the customer. You can only control your reaction. We never want to lose a customer, but if we have to lose one, we should be happy that it is an unreasonable one.  In Viktor Frankl's book, he also states, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way." We can decide how we react in any situation. So does our customer.

With a little preparation and self-control, we can learn to deal with angry customers. In the process, we may save a relationship and preserve our dignity.

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