For our last Business at Breakfast of 2023 we were joined by Chelsea Snyder, Community Manager at RBC and Chamber Board Director, who shared knowledge you need to navigate challenging customer interactions in a front-facing environment offering best practices and valuable tips and tricks to enhance customer service skills.

In the dynamic world of customer service, adeptly managing challenging customer interactions is more crucial than ever. Chelsea’s goal is to equip you with new tools to enhance your team’s capabilities in handling these situations effectively, especially considering their increasing frequency.

Let’s begin by exploring a valuable new resource offered by the Chamber – HR Covered. As a chamber member, you gain exclusive access to various offerings from HR Covered, the largest Canadian-owned HR provider. These include unlimited access to a comprehensive HR document library, a complimentary 30-minute HR “health check,” access to HR Covered’s national newsletter, The Frontier, webinars on current topics, and a 50% discount on HR Covered recruiting commissions.

Chelsea recently had a discussion with Darcy Michaud, Vice President of HR Services at HR Covered, who shared valuable insights on dealing with challenging customer interactions. Key takeaways included understanding the root causes of negative behaviour, employing empathy in conflict management, and the importance of ensuring employee safety during difficult situations.

When a customer is displaying angry or aggressive behaviour we don’t always know what the root cause is. Did they have a negative experience, hear bad news, are they in financial trouble? Building upon Darcy’s emphasis on empathy, Chelsea delved into the concept of “active empathy.” This involves not just understanding others’ feelings but actively engaging in solutions. In a world where client expectations are soaring and patience is dwindling, active empathy becomes a critical tool to meet and exceed these new standards across industries.

Chelsea defines empathy as the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others and active as engaging, or being ready to engage in, the pursuit of ideas, goals or solutions.

“So when you put that together: Active empathy is being able to DEMONSTRATE an understanding of someone else’s feelings and circumstances, while also providing options, actions and solutions to support them. We are taking 2 completely different concepts and merging them together in an engaging, action-based sense of CARE for our clients,” she said.

When a client has shared what their issue repeat it back to them – this demonstrates that you’ve heard them, you understand, and you are going to try to make it better for them.

First you need to de-escalate the situation. Dealing with a hostile customer is  not always great in the middle of a store. Chelsea says sometimes people just want attention. Remove them from a public space and guide them to an office or even a quiet corner of the store for a private conversation. Tell them, “I understand you; I hear you, I want to help you and we take these situations very seriously.”

Another solution may be to ask for a written submission of the problem. It is difficult to stay calm and be articulate in a heated moment.

To cultivate active empathy within your team, consider role-playing scenarios that mimic challenging customer interactions. This provides a safe space for practicing effective communication and conflict resolution skills. Additionally, empower your team with knowledge of their authorities, allowing them to take ownership of resolutions and potentially de-escalate situations at the first point of contact.

While most situations can be resolved with by showing empathy, acknowledge that some individuals may be unresponsive or even hostile. In such cases, it’s essential to draw a firm line, maintaining a balance between professional conduct and firm assertiveness. Reassure your staff that their safety is top priority, and establish post-incident debriefing procedures to address any emotional impact.

Consider displaying a clear code of conduct in your business space, outlining expectations for respectful behavior toward staff. This not only communicates your commitment to a positive environment but also serves as a reminder for customers to treat your team with courtesy.

In the ever-evolving landscape of customer service, mastering empathy is key to meeting heightened client expectations. Equip your team with the tools they need to navigate challenging interactions with poise, ensuring a positive and safe environment for both employees and customers alike.