Hostile to Happy Work Environment

Our dispatcher was sobbing at her desk as I walked by. I stopped, put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and asked, “Are you alright? Is there something I can help you with?”

“Why are people so mean?” she sniffled. “What gives a stranger on the phone the right to swear at me and call me dumb and useless? My job is to answer the telephone and take service calls, not to be insulted by someone who has never met me.”

As the example above demonstrates, a hostile work environment can be created from external forces, not just from within. Mass media has contributed to making rudeness and deplorable language more acceptable within our society. Polite manners have given way to expletives and crudeness. As a result, providing parameters for acceptable working conditions for your support staff is part of management’s responsibility. There is a need to foster mutual respect and personal dignity as an extension of effective business skills.

At first, an end user whose actions disrupt the effectiveness of your staff may seem to not be worth the business they bring into the company. However, by establishing a complaint handling procedure within your company, you can turn a hostile customer into a happy one. Non or slow paying customers who perpetually use bullying tactics tend to prey on the people within the company with the least amount of decision-making authority. Receptionists, dispatchers, accounts receivable clerks, telemarketers and other outside salespeople usually encounter the first contact from demanding, abrasive end users.

In the case of your non-exempt workers, make sure they have one or two pre-designated people within the company to whom they may refer overly demanding end users. Ideally the person making the unreasonable demands can be immediately transferred to a customer service specialist. If the customer service guru is not available, a message can be taken. Instruct the first contact employee to give the dissatisfied caller the customer service specialist’s name, position within the company, extension, and time to expect a return call. Always treat the customer with respect and professional courtesy.

Providing your frontline workers with a pre-established tactful way not to have to deal with the disruptive customer (since they have no authority to remedy their concerns) maximizes their usefulness and decreases the stress level of their work environment. It is management’s responsibility to provide all non-exempt workers with the tools of freedom from workplace abuse.

Establishing a written procedure for front line staff to be able to deal with potentially abusive customers helps set a company culture of freedom from having to worry about dealing with a hostile work environment.

Each company culture will have their own set of guidelines to deal with high need-level customers. Following is a starting point of helpful suggestions that can enable your managers to eliminate employees crying due to the stress of their work environment. These Customer Service Guidelines can also be used as part of your interviewing process. Explaining to a potential hire that the culture of your company is strongly employee-friendly helps to make a good first impression.

Customer Service Guidelines

* Start each conversation with an upset caller by clearly stating your name, position within your company and telephone extension (if appropriate). This establishes your ability to help and sets a tone of confidence and authority.

* Ask for the caller’s name, company, invoice number or equipment serial number, etc. if you do not already have this information. If you have the information, confirming the information with the customer proves you are organized and already have the needed details.

* Always address the person by name followed with a neutral greeting of “How can I help you?” or “Thank you for taking the time to allow us to help rectify your situation.”

* Then listen, listen, listen and listen some more.

* Allowing the customer to vent their frustrations often immediately defuses the hostile situation. It also provides you time to assess the caller’s level of need.

* Whatever the upset caller says, always respond with sentiments of compassion. “I understand your concern,” or “I’m sorry this has upset you,” or “Please accept my apology.” You can agree with their feelings without making any judgments or promises. This type of positive agreement statements usually changes the tone of the complainer’s conversation.

* If you realize a problem has occurred, take full responsibility personally.

* If your company is in error, asked the caller how they would like the situation rectified.

* The majority of the time, clients will ask for less than you are willing to give. Prorate a bill, offer a full credit, or discount on your next order. Offers to provide some type of credit to correct the situation are all preferable to offering to give the customer’s money back.

* Keep in mind it is always easier to increase the negotiated offer than to take back that which has already been offered.

* Asking for additional time to investigate a situation is acceptable, as long as you give a specific time for a return call or emailed response.

* Ask the customer how they would like to be contacted in the future, by phone, email, text, or fax?

* When you see a problem in the making, contact the client before they have a chance to call you. Being proactive usually takes the pressure off the situation immediately.

* Toward the end of the conversation, summarize the problem, the actions which you will take and the appropriate response time to complete the agreed upon remedy.

* End each conversation by restating your name and telephone number. You may offer to send an email that clearly explains what you have agreed to do and your complete contact information. Thank the caller for taking the time and effort to help you resolve the situation.

* Once the situation has been rectified, follow up with an emailed or mailed short note with your contact information or business card. The hand addressed mailed card is very effective in establishing you as the go-to person for any future needs. It allows you to be seen as the client’s advocate.
In many cases the next time they need to order something or get other sales information, they will call you. Having a knowledgeable, professional person establish an open line of communication with a client creates a positive outcome to an originally negative encounter.

An upset customer that has been treated properly becomes your best candidate to develop into a lifelong business partner. The ones who demand the most are usually willing to pay more. They are the people who other, less customer-focused companies have alienated. They are your best prospects for long-term profitable relationships. An active customer service procedure policy can eliminate stress in the work place as well as generate loyal clients who will increase your company’s profit margins.

Ronelle Ingram
About the Author
Ronelle Ingram, author of Service With A Smile, also teaches service seminars. She can be reached at