Remember the classic scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Brad (actor Judge Reinhold), working at a fast-food joint, loses his temper at a rude customer, gets yelled at by his boss in front of the customer and gets fired? The customer may have been satisfied (temporarily), but the fast-food restaurant lost a good employee (check out this clip).
When an employee clashes with a customer, how should you handle it? If you don’t want to lose good employees or alienate good customers, the answer is “delicately.”
1. Separate the combatants. If an employee has blown his or her lid at a customer, your first step should be to remove the employee from the situation and deal with the customer yourself. Tell the customer you’re sorry for what happened and you will talk to the employee separately.
2. Get the customer’s side of the story. Take notes so you can remember clearly.
3. Make it right with the customer. Find out what the key issue is. For example, is the customer upset because he can’t get a refund? Or has the refund been given, but the customer feels the employee was rude during the process? Deal with the business issue first (i.e. the refund), then soothe the ruffled feelings.
4. Get the employee’s side of the story. Again, take notes. Go over what the customer said. Keep in mind both parties may not give you a full or correct account, but at least you’ll have a handle on what happened. If other employees were present, you may want to get their eyewitness accounts separately as well.
5. Assess the damage. Depending on what you learn, you’ll need to handle the situation in different ways. Did an employee with multiple behavioral issues admit to badmouthing a customer, with four eyewitnesses corroborating it? If so, you need to take disciplinary action. Was a stellar employee accused of something by an irate and seemingly irrational customer she and four eyewitnesses deny? If so, you may actually want to let that customer know you won’t tolerate their behavior.
6. Talk to the employee. Most situations fall somewhere between these extremes. In that case, talk to the employee to figure out how she could have handled the situation differently and better. The problem may lie in her responses, in which case you need to educate her about how she’s coming across and standards for interacting with customers. Or the problem may lie in your company’s systems—maybe you need clearer guidelines about returns or more empowerment for front-line workers to make their own decisions.
Ultimately, working through customer/employee clashes will let good employees know you support them, let good customers know you’re committed to providing standout service, and make your business better every day.