While clients misbehaving in a hospitality establishment is nothing new, the reports of unruly passengers at airports have sadly been on the rise over the past few years. In a 2015 IATA survey (International Air Transport Association) the rate was one unruly incident for every 1,205 flights! Over 40% of flights have diverted a flight in the past 12 months due to an unruly passenger.
(As a disclaimer – IATA statistics do not cover all airlines around the world so it is likely that the true extent of the problem is significantly underestimated)
This may not seem too drastic, but it puts tremendous pressure on the customer service staff to deliver a quality of service which today’s customer expects.
Customer service staff today receive specialized training on how to deescalate such incidents, regardless of whether they are verbal in nature or more serious i.e. involving physical aggression and/or intoxication from alcohol or drugs. If you lead a client facing team or do happen to find yourself dealing with an irate client, here are some basic points to keep in mind,
1) Be Calm & Present – Give the client an opportunity to express themselves & their complaint. Many situations escalate due to customer service personnel interrupting the client halfway through, partly due to a time crunch to resolve the issue & partly due to the fact that they may have dealt with a similar situation in the past and think they know how to handle it.
Learn from your past but treat each client & situation as unique and hear a client out. You’ll be amazed how often the more they talk, the calmer they get.
2) Have Empathy & offer suitable Alternatives – Try and put yourself in your client’s shoes and tweak your suggestions accordingly. You will have to deal with a leisure traveler differently than you do with a business client. While an offer of an upgrade in class on a later flight may work with a leisure traveler, the business traveler usually is on a tight schedule. Even a simple offer of a drink of water or a place to sit down goes a long way in calming someone down.
Other factors that will impact the interaction will also be age, socio-economic & cultural background, possible language barriers etc.
3) Focus on the situation (rather than the person) – Remember more often than not, the client is not unhappy at you personally but at the situation they find themselves in. Apologize & try your best to stay positive & solution oriented. The client will soon notice that you are trying to help them reach an amicable resolution.
Remember as a professional, the responsibility is more on you to remain calm & in control of your emotions as well as the situation.
4) Know when to walk away & seek help – Despite trying your best to resolve an issue, there will often be situations where nothing you say (or do) will resolve the issue at hand. During times like these, ask for the support of your team members and or superiors to step in and offer assistance.
Sometimes just hearing the same options from a different person has a magical effect on a client.
Above all, try and be as authentic as you can in your interactions. In today’s “always connected” world we often interact with people who come from diverse cultural backgrounds and have different expectations for how we should behave. Your unique ability to resolve complex problems via effective communication will lead you to lead more effectively as well as deliver better customer service.