Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to Handle an Angry Customer and Change Your Life

In phase one of our job training program at Bud’s Warehouse, employees are introduced to the soft skills of employment: How to show up on time, do your best, dress appropriately for work and be honest at all times are a few of these employee basics. These are skills that individuals rebuilding lives from prison, addiction or homelessness may need to tune-up for future success. One of the most important of these soft skills is the ability to resolve conflict in a healthy manner. Whether we like it or not, conflict can be a frequent part of the work world and individuals coming out of jail are not the only one’s that need help in this area.

Conflict can be as simple as a disagreement over a workplace strategy or as complicated as a long-simmering dispute between an employee and his or her spouse that carries over into lost productivity in the workplace. The reality is that in a fallen world where individuals are prone to look out for their own interests, competing desires can result in conflict. All businesses can benefit from teaching their employees how to handle conflict in the workplace and at home.

The problem with conflict is that individuals often seek to solve it by either attacking or retreating when the best route is to choose to engage the problem through respectful communication and problem solving techniques. The first practical way we deal with conflict at Bud’s Warehouse is by learning how to use such an approach if one of our customers becomes upset. If a person is angry or frustrated, the first step is to listen to that individual’s complaint. One must resist the urge to defend or disagree until hearing what the other person has to say. To make sure the complaint is understood, the next step is to feed the complaint back to the upset customer. “What I’m hearing you say is that you are upset with…” By doing this, the customer sees that the staff is listening carefully and seeking to understand the problem. If they are really upset, this process often takes the steam out of their anger and creates an atmosphere of respectful dialogue. If they are being irrational, feeding back the problem to them sometimes helps them to see that even they don’t agree with what they are saying. The final step is to then start to dialogue about how to solve the problem in a way that follows policy yet respects the concerns of the customer. (I must say that we don’t have a lot of upset customers at Bud’s Warehouse but we try to plan ahead.)

Invariably, during this job-training lesson, program participants will talk about difficulties they experience with conflict at home. Many of our employees have experienced significant struggles with loved ones or other individuals. Their openness to share then allows us to teach how to apply workplace type strategies to personal situations.

“You mean that works at home also?”

“Yes, if you listen, really listen and then feed back the concern it goes a long way to solving the problem.”

Now we are invited along for the journey as individuals attempt to solve personal conflicts. This is where business as ministry becomes very practical and provides grace to relationships outside the workplace.

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