Dealing with infuriated customers is no fun. When I was a service manager, handling phone calls with angry customers required me to employ the behaviors of rational thought and self-control. In time, I learned about a third and more profound way to de-escalate these situations.
In these situations, rational thought and self-control are required to offset the reality that angry customers are looking for a fight. These two behaviors solidify a service professional’s internal decision on how to react to unhappy clients. The core of this internal resolve includes pragmatic self-talk such as, “don’t take it personally,” and, “slow down your pace of speech,” serving as both a good reminder and a beacon for service managers and technicians to stand by when dealing with irritated patrons.
The third behavior is the icing on the cake when enduring the combative demeanor of an upset customer, but this behavior is also counterintuitive.
So, what’s the behavior? Compassion. Why is it counterintuitive? Because it’s usually not the first thing that comes to mind. The word counterintuitive implies a behavior that is the opposite of what a service professional would do naturally or intuitively. Counterintuitive practices are not easily implemented in an instinctive or unconscious manner.
Compassionate people are good listeners. While there are many professions in which compassion is a required discipline, being a police officer conducting an interrogation might not be the job that comes to mind. Yet any good interrogator will tell you that confronting criminals with abrasive questions isn’t as effective as letting the felon relax until the words flow out on their own.
This counterintuitive listening discipline requires self-control, rational thinking, and compassion combined. The same behaviors that calm irate customers will also work on coworkers.
The best service managers are good listeners. The benefits of attentive and compassionate listening are two-fold. First, managers who listen well in the presence of employees are leading by example. Second, good listeners maximize their own self-control by remaining calm and allowing the other person to relax until the required information comes out.
Getting “required information” is mandatory for accurate troubleshooting and diagnosis. However, it’s not always fast and easy. The biggest benefit of building relationships is the trust that is established.
Compassionate listening must be sincere, and empathy is paramount.
Empathy is the psychological software that allows people to care about those who need help. It is the capacity to feel the emotions of others. The presence of another caring person makes people feel more connected. When servicing customers, empathy is a primary skill, especially when a technician is in a customer’s home. Most service professionals possess technical expertise in abundance, but these skills alone comprise only half of what is required. The other half is empathy and compassion.
The culture in today’s HVAC industry must include more and more empathy and compassion.
When interviewing job applicants, company owners should seek candidates with a sincere concern for helping others. Technical skills can be taught, but attitude is intrinsic— it’s deep within. A person’s attitude grows during years of experiences, influence, and outcomes. Therefore, it takes a 25- or 30-year-old job applicant many years to develop their bad attitude, and it’s not something you will fix in a half-day orientation session.
There are many applications for compassion in our service departments, and service managers possess the opportunity to lead the way.