PART 1 of this article yesterday related how service employee David had a very unpleasant experience with an aggressive client, Mr Tan. What was worse, David was unable to take control of the situation.

Aggressive clients are unable to manage their anger and frustration internally and, instead, use other people as human punching bags. They usually stick to verbal assaults but, occasionally, will resort to physical threats like pounding on the table or pointing a finger in someone’s face. Few employees look forward to dealing with them.

In their anger, aggressive clients often fail to listen and may make threats to “report you to authorities” or “take my business somewhere else”. They often lose sight of their goal — which is to solve a problem.

Dealing with them is emotionally and physically draining. Increasingly, after letting off steam, aggressive clients often calm down and even feel guilty or embarrassed about their behaviour.

Coping strategies

When it comes to coping strategies, the goal when dealing with aggressive clients is to try and defuse their anger while moving towards problem-solving.

At no point should you let the client physically threaten you. Every business needs contingency plans to respond to physical aggression by clients (or employees); no matter how uncomfortable it might seem in the planning process.

Here are some strategies David can use to defuse Mr Tan’s anger:

•  Do not take his anger personally. Remaining calm and unemotional will help de-escalate the conflict.

•  Let the client know you have reached your limit by saying something to the effect of: “Mr Tan, I would very much like to help you. I am sorry I will not be able to deal with your concerns if you’re going to swear at me.”

•  Keep your voice and gestures neutral. If you let yourself become angry or emotional, that will prolong the situation. Your calmness can help defuse the client’s anger.

•  Sometimes, aggressive clients just want to blow off steam. If you do not feel threatened by their behaviour, actively listening to them can help. Ask questions to help them give you the details. It is a similar approach to dealing with angry children or lancing an infected wound. By “letting it out”, you help them let go of their immediate anger.

•  Focus on facts, not the negative emotion. Work to uncover the facts of the situation and take notes. This helps you avoid asking them to repeat what has already been said — something bound to raise the blood pressure of aggressive clients.

•  Use empathy in measured amounts. You do not want to get emotionally entangled in the situation.

•  Let them know you want to solve their issues promptly and accurately, and ask for their cooperation. “Mr Tan, to enable me to check the status of your registration, what is the course title and date you have registered for the learning event?”

•  Tone and attitude are key. If you do not care or you think the client is “blowing things out of proportion”, that will come across in your conversation with the client.

•  In a worst-case scenario, if you do in fact feel physically threatened or in danger, call someone in security or with the authority to help you.

Managers need to ensure that procedures are in place to provide service employees with the support and security they need to do their jobs effectively. Note that different people have different levels of sensitivity; take time to find out your employees’ comfort levels and what they need to feel safe and secure in order to do their best work for you.

Aggressive clients can be very intimidating for employees to handle. Your ultimate goal is to try and solve their problems while not taking their anger personally. Developing the skills needed to move the conversation in a productive direction takes time and effort but the emotional payoff is worth the effort.

Dealing with difficult clients is a constant challenge in any business setting. Developing additional tools and techniques for managing difficult client behaviours will pay off with increased client (and employee) satisfaction and decreased frustration for both client and company.

 

Article by Dr Seow Bee Leng, the principal trainer of Continuum Learning. She has wide service training experience and focuses on equipping and enabling service professionals to enjoy service delivery and create meaningful connections with their clients. For more information, call 9199-5556, e-mail beeleng@continuumlearning.com or visit www.continuumlearning.com