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Running a Customer Service Improvement Meeting

If you want to make customer service improvements, it’s important to get the input of your team.

One of the most effective ways of gathering their ideas is to run a quality improvement meeting. This checklist will help you to prepare for and run such a meeting, and also provides some pointers on what to do afterwards. 

Defining the Meeting

In general terms, you might describe the meeting as a ‘quality circle’ – a group of employees who come together to discuss issues with the processes and procedures in their particular area. 

You can run such a meeting from a perspective of: “What can we do to improve our levels of customer service?”

IF your team deal with customers on a daily basis, they are ideally placed to make service improvement suggestions. 

Some General Points to Consider 

  • Six to nine participants is considered ideal for a ‘quality circle’ meeting – enough to generate good ideas, yet not so large that people don’t get the chance to speak. If your team is larger than this, think about how you will give everyone the chance to contribute, e.g. discussing ideas in smaller groups before sharing them with the larger team. (Note: you do not have to restrict the meeting to just your own team. If you feel that others have a valuable contribution to make to the discussion, invite them too.)
  • It is vital your team feel they can offer up suggestions without having them dismissed. Ensure that everyone feels that they can openly discuss their ideas and opinions.
  • Try not to direct the meeting too rigidly. You are part of the team and will have valid input, but the others shouldn’t feel as if you are dictating the discussion. Contribute where necessary, but allow others to do the same.
  • Prevent the meeting from becoming a complaints’ forum. Improvement initiatives will come from having constructive conversations, not by dwelling on negatives.
  • The goal of a ‘quality circle’ meeting is not to finish up with a list of ideas that are ready to be implemented immediately. Some of the suggestions will need further investigation or development work.
Managing your Emotions with Hostile Customers

Imagine that you’ve just picked up the phone to answer a customer’s call, or a client has unexpectedly arrived in person at your office. Out of the blue, you find yourself on the receiving end of some shocking rudeness. And you’re left gasping. 

How do you manage yourself, calm the situation, and build bridges with this person, who remains important to your business? And how do you recover from the experience and prevent such a situation happening again?

Dealing With Angry Customers - Intelligent Dialogue | Intelligent ...

Although customer service and sales people most commonly encounter such situations, everyone has “customers.” Anyone who you interact with in your workplace who looks to you for results or some other output is a customer. 

In this article, we explore five strategies for dealing with rude customers, and we look at how to handle the aftermath of these difficult confrontations. 

Sorting Unhappy Customers from Rude Ones: If a customer is unhappy about the quality of goods or services that he or she has received from your organisation, he is perfectly entitled to express his dissatisfaction. And if he remains calm and civil, 

despite his frustration or anger, you’ll most likely be willing to help him with his grievances. You’ll try hard to put things right, whether it’s replacing a faulty toaster or compensating him for a missed family holiday because of an over-booked flight. 

Occasionally, though, despite your welcoming manner, expert knowledge and willingness to help, there are people who can’t control their anger and resort to verbal abuse, offensive language, and even threatening words or behaviour. When you’re confronted by these rude customers, it can be difficult to know how to respond or defuse the situation. 

Strategies for Handling Rude Customers: Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, have studied “incivility” between customers and employees. Their findings show that employees who expect to encounter rude customers at work react far less strongly than employees who normally enjoy good customer relations, but who face unexpected rudeness.

The researchers recommend that organisations train their staff to deal effectively with irate customers, even when those customers are generally viewed as highly civil. And they add that employees should deal with rude customers at the time of the encounter, rather than try to repair a damaged relationship after the event. 

The consequences of not handling such situations effectively can be serious. The UBC study cites customer incivility as a cause of stress, emotional exhaustion, absenteeism, and reduced performance. And if an employee reacts negatively to the customer, it threatens an organisation’s reputation for customer service and can impact customer retention. 

Coming face to face with a raging customer can be a frightening experience. So, what do you do if you are suddenly on the receiving end of a stream of bile and abuse? Here, we explore five strategies for dealing with rude customers: 

1. Stay Calm, Don’t React. 

The first thing to do is to remain calm and not respond in kind. If you are faced with an unexpected verbal attack, a natural defence mechanism is to “bite back.” Something as simple as taking some deep breaths can give you a vital few seconds to gather your thoughts and avoid retaliating in a way that might see you being viewed as the aggressor. 

Tip: Your personal safety is paramount. If you feel threatened by an angry person, trust your instincts and leave the room immediately if you feel unsafe, or if you’re too upset to resolve the situation on your own. 

Ask your boss or a trusted colleague to work with you to resolve the situation. It might also be appropriate to report the incident, if the person is completely out of control. 

The UBC research suggests that rude customers “can violate an employee’s sense of dignity and respect, and trigger negative emotions that can motivate employees to react negatively” toward that customer. So avoid “fighting fire with fire.” Remain calm, controlled and tactful, otherwise you risk inflaming the situation further. Keeping your emotions in check can defuse the encounter. If your interaction with the customer is by email or on social media, you may have worse rudeness to contend with. People often say things online that they’d never say in person, but resist the temptation to give them a “taste of their own medicine.” Take a deep breath. Go for a walk to disperse the tension. Do whatever it takes to gain distance before you hit “send.” When you do write your reply, keep your cool, state the facts, and make clear your willingness to help. 

2. Don’t Take It Personally. 

Chances are, your customer is angry about a bad product or service and you are just the unfortunate target for her frustration. Instead of taking her rudeness to heart, try to empathize with her. She wants to know that you understand the inconvenience and disappointment that she’s suffered, so you need to show her that you do. Developing emotional intelligence is a useful strategy for managing your emotions and sensing other people’s emotional needs.

Occasionally, though, it really does feel personal. A customer will approach you with the sole purpose of insulting you. 

Despite the provocation, try to remember that the customer doesn’t know you personally. He was probably angry or having a bad day before he met you, and had already decided that he was going to “raise hell” with somebody. In these situations, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re just the unlucky one in the firing line. 

Tip: One way of learning how to deal with rude customers is with Role Playing. Our article can help you use this technique to prepare for a variety of challenging or difficult situations. 

3. Listen and, If Appropriate, Apologise. 

A rude customer might want to vent her frustration. She wants you to hear every word that she says say, so listen actively, no matter how unreasonable she sounds. Demonstrate that you have taken in what she’s said by occasionally reflecting back her words. For example, use phrases like, “So, it sounds like you’re saying that,” “What I’m hearing is,” or, “Is this what you mean?” 

Be aware of your body language while she speaks. Keep your arms unfolded, and maintain appropriate eye contact to demonstrate your open attitude. And when you reply, keep your voice low and even, to keep things calm. 

Saying sorry might run against every instinct you have, if you’ve been subjected to a barrage of abuse. But if the customer’s grievance is genuine, a prompt apology may staunch the flow of rudeness and provide the basis for a better relationship. 

4. Stand Firm. 

You may have apologized and be going all out to help your customer, but you don’t want him to walk all over you. If he’s factually wrong or if he’s not letting you get a word in, you may need to be more assertive to get your message across. 

If you’re a team manager, your team member may ask you to step in to help resolve the situation. That means balancing your responsibility for ensuring that you satisfy your customer with the duty of care you have towards your people or your organisation. 

In situations when a customer’s behaviour has become unacceptable, it’s important to tactfully let her know that she’s “crossed a line” – for example, when she’s using insulting, threatening or racist words or behaviour. It may be possible for you to negotiate a solution, but it might be one of those rare instances when it’s best to let the customer go. 

Tip: Make sure that you agree with your manager or head of department what behaviours are to be deemed unacceptable in this way.

5. Solve the Problem 

The best way to disarm a rude customer is to involve him in taking away the problem that’s fuelling his behaviour. Ask him what he feels would be an acceptable solution. You then have something concrete to work toward. 

Most customers just want a fair resolution, but a rude customer may make unrealistic or extreme demands. If so, remind him that you want to help, and counter with suggestions that are fair and reasonable, and negotiate towards a mutually acceptable deal. 

Look for quick, simple solutions. Many problems that lead to customer rudeness will have occurred before, so your company may have policies that allow you to offer refunds or replacements, for example, with little fuss. Fast resolutions satisfy the customer, minimize stress, and end difficult situations swiftly. 

Dealing with the Aftermath: Encountering a rude customer can be a highly stressful experience, so it’s important to take a breather afterwards. If you can remember that very few of your customers behave in this way, you’ll gain some valuable perspective. 

It’s also important to think through what happened, to consider whether the customer’s rudeness reflects a bigger problem or a recurring issue. You may need to report the situation to your manager – for example, if the problem is beyond your remit to resolve – or follow up with the customer, much as you might prefer not to. 

If you’re a manager, remember that it’s not just about the customer’s feelings. An encounter with a rude customer will eventually end, but your team members are the people that you work with and manage every day. 

So, if one of your team has been dealing with a rude customer, check in with her to make sure that she’s OK. Choose your time well – straight after the situation is a good time for some team members but not for others. Discuss what was said, to ensure you have a full picture of what occurred, and find out if there’s anything you need to look into in light of her experience. 

Key Points 

Rude customers differ from the merely unhappy in that they can’t control their anger. 

They are unreasonable, unfriendly, and prone to using verbal abuse, offensive language and threatening behaviour. But you’re in business to serve your customers, so it’s important to try to help them. 

When dealing with rude customers, it’s crucial to control your own emotions, and to counteract their inflammatory behaviour with calm, considered responses. 

Remember, try not to take any comments personally, listen actively to your customer, and apologize if it’s appropriate to do so. 

15 Ways for Coachees to Get the Most From Coaching Sessions

The nature of coaching is that it is a two-way process involving coach and client as equals; the more active a part you take in the process the better the outcomes are likely to be for you. Here are 15 practical ideas and suggestions to help you get the most from your coaching.

1. Remember it’s not the coach’s responsibility to solve your problems or achieve your goals for you 

The coach is there to support, challenge, listen, stimulate, encourage, share feedback and offer anything else they have in their tool kit to help you think better and plan well to make the changes that are important to you. Ultimately you are the one that has responsibility for your own work and life. This is why we encourage a model of active, adult-adult partnership in coaching rather than anything that suggests you are dependent on your coach.

2. It’s up to you to ask your coach to change the way they are coaching you if you feel they could coach you in a better way

Coaches are of course only human, and as such have their own distinct personalities: yet a good coach will be able to flex their style in many ways to suit you, e.g. by being more or less direct/challenging, by moving at a faster/slower pace or by sharing more or less of their thinking and ideas with you. They will be happy for you to make such requests because their aim is to coach as effectively as possible.

3. The coach’s job is to ask you for even more than you might normally ask of yourself

Your coach wants the best for you and for this reason will be looking to offer and encourage ‘stretch’ wherever possible. Your coach may well question the limits you set for yourself and encourage the setting of challenging goals and targets. Coaching should not be a ‘cosy club.’

4. The coach is your success partner, not an accountability service

Coaching will work best for you when you are actively seeking to get the best from yourself and when you take responsibility for your own growth and development.

5. The value of coaching isn’t based on how much time is spent coaching

The value of coaching depends on quality rather than quantity: when both you and your coach are fully engaged in the task and working hard then success should follow – it is a bit like going to the gym and really working at it, rather than thinking you will get results just by being there.

6. The coaching session in itself is not what gets you results

Ultimately this is down to what you do and how you act after the coaching – what you put into practice. Coaching is there to help you to plan and prepare to get the best out of what you are doing.

7. Talk about what matters most to you

You are not there to conform to any expectation you feel your coach may have on you – least of all are you there to please the coach in any way. Yours is the only agenda that counts and if it is important to you, your coach will work on it with you.

8. Focus on yourself

Sometimes clients worry that coaching is somewhat self-indulgent – even a selfish luxury. We offer the view that you can only effectively do your job or serve others well if you are yourself fulfilled, purposeful and operating to your fullest potential. When you succeed, others should benefit too: if you are unhappy, unfulfilled or frustrated in your work or blocked in some other way it is likely that others will not get the best from you. You can look at your coaching as a positive boost to the communities of which you are a part.

9. Be open to seeing things differently

Very frequently, the issues you face are not in themselves the real issues! Often it is the way we see issues and how we think about them that needs to change. Even when some of the issues we face are objectively daunting or difficult challenges, we can use coaching to open ourselves up to new ways of responding to them. Opening your thinking up will open up new possibilities for choice. Your coach can help you identify ways of seeing, thinking and responding that may offer you very different options and approaches.

10. You can develop and evolve with coaching

Coaching is both a developmental process and an evolutionary one. It helps clients accomplish more with less effort – the developmental aspect – and can also lead to different thinking and possibilities for growth and change – which we call evolving. Evolving is a skill worth building because life itself is about evolving, not just developing.

11. Use your coaching to help you think about – and design – the kinds of environments and systems you want to work in – you can go beyond yourself

We can all exercise some choice and responsibility in creating the kind of environment to allow ourselves to flourish. Even when your organisation places apparent restrictions in your way we can often exercise at least some discretion in the physical, social, professional and cultural contexts in which we work and live. Coaching encourages a whole-system approach and links personal change to the contexts we inhabit.

12. Take charge

You are invited to take charge of the coaching process, to get it focused on what you most want and need. We encourage you to come to each session with a direction in mind, perhaps a list of issues or questions you want to address. Ultimately the more you know what you want out of your coaching the better. Your coach can then work with you to craft really specific and relevant goals for the coaching.

13. Be Real – say what you think

When what we say does not reflect what we are really thinking, we are incongruent. Coaching is not an abstract exercise or an intellectual joust but an opportunity to work together with your coach in a climate of shared honesty and truth. When you are authentic it really helps to get the best out of your coach.

14. Promise what you can deliver

Whilst we encourage stretch and boldness in coaching we also ask you to be mindful of what is realist and doable in the context of everything you are trying to do. Overextension causes great anxiety, guilt and suffering. We encourage you to remain mindful of what you are realistically able to take on as a result of your coaching.

15. Share what you are doing with your coaching

People close to you will see and feel the effect your coaching is having, either directly or indirectly. For some people this will create questions and even anxieties about the changes you are making. We would suggest that where possible you are open to others about what you are trying to do via your coaching. This will have the double benefit of including them and reaffirming your commitment to developing as a person and a leader.