I’m teaching a class right now on Customer Service, Sales and Relationship Building. A topic that came up was how to deal with racist, sexist, homophobic, and other prejudice comments made by clients.
I would love to be able to say that these types of behaviours and comments have now been completely eradicated from the world, however, the reality is that there will always be people that disagree on a variety of topics – some in more extreme ways than others. Although I believe and agree that these behaviours should never be tolerated, sometimes we have to be cautious about our reactions within a professional environment. To be clear – this article is not to debate whether these comments should be tolerated or not, it is simply to discuss ways of responding to customers with views different than our own in a professional environment.
So what do you do when you’re faced with a customer making inappropriate comments? Depending on the severity of the situation, you may decide to react in different ways. Here are some ideas (again, keeping in mind that you want to maintain your integrity, professionalism, and your job);
- Ignore It
You have to ask yourself – Is it worth getting into a debate? Most times, people that have strong enough views to publicly make comments about them have such strong conviction about their beliefs that there is nothing that you could say or do to change their views. Responding to these comments would only open up a debate or argument in front of other customers, which really doesn’t help you in a customer service or sales position. People tend not to buy from people they argue with. Ignore their statement as if you didn’t hear it. Do not provide any indication whether or not you agree or disagree with their views. Just take a breath and move on with the sale as you would with any other customer. Of course, this depends on the severity of the situation.Yes – Some people can be offensive and I’m not saying that it’s right or that their behaviour in general should be tolerated, but you have to think of the time and place. If you treat them with respect without entering into a debate, it is likely that they will continue with the sale and tell others how nice you were.
Again – I agree that these types of comments should never be tolerated, and that you should be able to express your own opinion, however, we are exploring ways to react in a professional environment.
- Respond With Disinterest
Sometimes people are just looking for a fight, and sometimes people are just ignorant about their own prejudices. Often people just don’t know that times have changed and certain comments or phrases are inappropriate. So telling them how prejudice they are might come as a surprise to them.Respond with disinterest in getting into a conversation on the topic. You can say “Well…” or “I don’t know”. Shrug your shoulders as if you don’t know what to say. Smile, and then get right back onto topic. Yes, I realize this is nearly the same as ignoring it, but now you’re showing them that you are not interested in entering into the conversation. In sales, we teach to build rapport through dialogue and questions as well as mirror their overall demeanor because people like to buy from someone that is similar to them. You can achieve this without engaging yourself in the conversation, and you probably don’t want to be like them even if you’re trying to get a sale.
- Walk Away & Get A Manager or Someone Else
There are some lines that just shouldn’t be crossed. If a customer goes too far, makes comments that are directed at you, or continues to be offensive, don’t respond – because that’s what they want you to do – simply excuse yourself. You may be boiling inside, or extremely hurt, but don’t let them see this. They wanted a reaction! Don’t give them that benefit. This may not be possible in all situations, however, if you are in a position where you have a manager, get them involved. So how do you walk away?Say something along the lines of, “Sorry, I’m going to have to excuse myself. I’ll see if the manager is available” or “Just a moment”. Don’t say why, just do it. If you say “I’m leaving because you’re a jerk”, that is what they wanted – a reaction and a reason to argue or debate with you. Opportunists use this to get discounts or other forms of deals or compensation for “bad” customer service. Don’t let them reap benefits for their offensiveness and manipulation. Maintain your professionalism at all times. Be the bigger, and more intelligent person!
- Decline Service
In extreme cases, you could decline to serve them and ask them to leave, however, be careful how you do this because you are giving them the opportunity to damage your reputation without a chance for you to respond. More about this below. In any job, you shouldn’t have to take any form of abuse, but don’t lose your job over a decision on how you react. Continue to be professional right until the end, and involve someone else if you can’t handle it anymore so that they can make the decision to ask the customer to leave rather than you. If you are a manager – get yourself trained on conflict resolution. It will come in handy when dealing with these types of situations. Of course, it should go without saying that if a person is making threats or is abusive, you should call security or the police. Don’t get into an altercation.
You might be asking yourself why would I want to give them the satisfaction of ignoring them? Why shouldn’t I let them know how much of a bigot they are? Why shouldn’t I tell them my own views, after all they are telling me theirs? You need to remember that you are in a sales position and that all of your actions represent your products, services and brand. People with such strong and extremist views tend to tell many people about those views and have a hard time holding back. If you get into an argument with this type of customer, they now have ammunition against you and your company – and unfortunately, they will likely not be telling the entire truth when telling the story of what happened to others. The last thing you want is this highly opinionated, vocal and offensive person telling everyone what terrible service you offer and how rude you were. Even if you are right, it doesn’t matter because you don’t have control of what this person will be telling others, and if you’ve given them the satisfaction of getting into a debate or argument, they will probably embellish the story in their favour.
Ask yourself, “Is this person really worth losing my job over?” Remember – they are a customer at the end of the day, and if they walk away because they got a reaction out of you, then they have won. Especially if they start to tell everyone they know about the incident. If you lose just one other customer that believes their story then you’ve lost. If you behave professionally and service them to the highest standards, you get their money, and you have won!
ATTN: Professional Sales People! What Do You Do?
I would like to hear what you do in these types of situations so I can share your knowledge, stories, and experience with my students. Please comment below and write about specific incidents that have happened and how you dealt with them, or how you deal with situations like this on a regular basis. Any tips are welcome!
Please note that we are looking for ideas on how to react strictly in a professional environment and any inappropriate comments will not be read or approved for comment. It’s ok to explain how upset you were, or how you reacted or would react, but please be professional so that your story can be shared and most importantly – others can learn.