In a previous life I spent six and a half years as a complaint handler on behalf of an investment company. People get very emotional about their money, and rightly so, and during the course of what must have been thousands of calls, letters and visitors I reckon I encountered pretty much all the different behaviours a disgruntled customer can throw at you.
So when I moved into the world of learning and development, it was natural that complaint handling and dealing with difficult behaviour should become one of the areas I am asked to train out the most often. And one of the questions I always ask in training is this: What makes people behave ‘badly’?
As many of you will know, people behave in a difficult manner specifically to achieve something.* Sometimes the behaviour can be highly deliberate, like the ones who won’t answer your questions but maintain a stony silence, or who use a dangerously calm voice to deliver snide sarcasm in a patronising tone. Other times, people lose control, flying off the handle into a tirade of abuse – or tears, which I always found the most difficult to deal with. (Mark you, even hysterics can be stage-managed, and I had evidence of that several times when listening back to recorded phone calls).
Whenever you are on the receiving end of such behaviour, it is difficult to take it as anything other than personal. But don’t flatter yourself! It’s just people, either consciously or subconsciously, using the behaviour which they think is most likely to get them the outcome they want. Chances are it’s the same tactic they’ve been using since they were a small child, just in its grown-up version.
Many years ago, someone wise told me that ‘bad’ behaviour can always be put down to one or more of just four drivers. Over the years, I have come to agree with this theory – what do you think?
The four drivers are:
Let’s consider a commonplace scenario, say, a customer who has been standing in a Post Office queue for forty minutes in her lunch break, only to be told she doesn’t have the right documents. Which of the above four drivers is going to kick in? Frustration, certainly. Maybe she’s feeling a little bit humiliated because she didn’t read the form properly before she came out, so it’s really her fault and she knows it. Which leads to fear of being thought stupid by the Post Office assistant and other people in the queue, perhaps? You see how it works. Had the Post Office assistant treated the previous customer more favourably, you could then, of course, throw that sense of injustice into the mix as well.
There’s a completely idiotic statement which says: ‘The customer is always right.’ NO! The customer is very definitely NOT always right – but the customer is always the customer, and how we address the customer’s fear, frustration, dread of being humiliated and sense of injustice is the key to successful complaint handling and getting back some control when emotions are running high.
*Unless they are not in control of their own behaviour, e.g. they are incapacitated by drink or drugs or suffer from a mental condition which is untreated or uncontrollable.