Ignore the challenge, but not the customer. #38: 2013
Occasionally library staff are confronted with an angry customer. While situations can escalate quickly, they can often be defused and managed to the satisfaction of the customer and the library. The following are four tips to consider when managing an angry library customer.
1. Redefine a challenging question
Library staff on occasion are challenged by an angry customer with questions like:
“Why are my requests always at the bottom of the list?”
“I’ve never been charged for overdue books before; do you know who I am?”
“I’ve been waiting for a computer longer than that punk”
While most customer questions are genuinely information seeking, others are meant to challenge the staff member’s authority and/or seek an exception to the rule. A useful approach to this type of challenge is to simply redefine or clarify the question:
“Are you talking about our online reserve system?”
“Are you asking about our overdue fine policy?”
“Are you asking about using the internet computers? I’d be glad to explain how it works to you.”
The best advice: Ignore the challenge, but not the customer.
2. Isolate the angry library customer
Library staff regularly deal with venting customers – the individual who releases their frustration or anger loudly and verbally. The trouble with this type of customer (especially at the circulation or info desk), is other library customers are frightened or bothered by venting, and bystanders can feed into the venting or even egg it on. Allowing the customer to vent is a proactive way to de-escalate a situation, but it’s much more effective if you can ‘talk them off the ledge’ in a more private setting…not in a closed office, but to the side of the info desk or in the stacks.
The best advice: Ignore the volume but not the customer
3. Rely on your peeps
One of the hallmarks of North American libraries is our team work whether we are teaching staff a new skill or doing community outreach, we are team players. When dealing with an angry customer, usually trying to exert their influence over the situation, your co-workers can be very helpful. If you are caught in a power struggle with a customer a great way to defuse the situation is to say,
“I don’t think I’m being very helpful to you right now. Can I see if my colleague can help you?”
Even if a second person gives the same response it becomes more acceptable coming from someone else. For managers, this is where you can respectfully step in and help out staff. When dealing with an angry customer rely on your peeps.
The best advice: Ignore the power struggle but not the customer
4. Take an angry customer seriously
Angry library customers come in a variety of forms. The unnerving thing is there is no way to predict how serious they really are. As a result, take every angry customer seriously. Make sure your library has clear protocols for staff to follow when dealing with an angry customer.
At GPL, if a customer raises their voice or their hand moves about their shoulder, staff know the situation may be escalating and it’s time to call in some back up. If a customer stands too close to a staff member, staff are encouraged to step back one step and if the customer follows, staff are instructed to head for a desk or call a supervisor.
The best advice: Ignore the anger but not the customer!
When dealing with an angry customer: redefine a challenging question; try and isolate the customer; rely on your peeps and take an angry customer seriously. If you follow these simple steps you will be better equipped to recognize and defuse the situation.
Have a great week…
Kitty Pope #38 September 2013