Working with Upset Customers? Turn down the H.E.A.T.

Working with Upset Customers? Turn down the H.E.A.T.

Posted by Wendi Pomerance Brick on January 23, 2011 at 9:46am


“When I have an angry customer, I just put the phone down on my desk and walk away. By the time I get back, they are either calm, or they hung up. Problem Solved.”

I really did have a student in one of my classes make that statement. I’ve heard a lot of odd perceptions of what people feel is their responsibility toward providing customer service.

Public servants often do interact with difficult customers, customers in distress, or customers in difficult situations. All these scenarios have one thing in common – lots of emotion of the part of the customer. Anyone who’s ever had a difficult conversation knows you may not be able to control someone else’s reaction, but you can control your own.

Next time you are faced with a difficult situation, first and foremost, keep your cool. Do not react to what the person is saying. Take it professionally, not personally – it’s likely not about you at all but about the situation. From this mind-set, you can turn down the H.E.A.T.

H. Hear them out. Really listen. A person yells and is loud because they feel they are not being listened to. They will start to calm down if they feel you are listening. So pay attention. Listen actively – take notes. Nod your head. Look at the person and pay attention. Say “Uh huh” , “Oh, I see”, “Yes, I understand”, etc.

E. Empathize – it’s not our jobs to be judgey about whether or not this person deserves to be mad. They are upset, and we have to help them through it. Using statements like “That would be a difficult situation” and focusing on using a caring tone of voice will help a lot.

A. Ask Questions – our customers don’t know our buzz-words, jargon or processes. Make sure you clarify exactly what the problem is so you can work towards fixing it.

T. Take Responsibility – our customers look at government like a huge big black hole. It’s mysterious to most and downright scary to some. If you build a bridge to an upset customer they will calm down. Saying something like “I understand your concerns. My name is Wendi (use your own name). I’ve helped people in this situation before. Don’t worry, we’ll get through this together” will help set a customer’s mind at ease.

So next time you’re in a difficult situation, be confident! If you can turn down the HEAT, you’ll be successful every time.


(Originally posted on GovLoop.)