Supporting Your Chamber Staff and Members Through the Raging Customer

Most of us have noticed a decreasing cordiality among our fellow humans. People are quicker to anger. Consumer frustration is on the rise. They say (or type) things on social media that seem scripted from a villain in a bad movie and definitely not something you’d say to a stranger. We argue over causes and belittle others for holding a different opinion.

If you think the rage is increasing in our country, you’re right. And as consumer frustration and dissatisfaction with businesses and costs continue to rise, we could be on the verge of a giant meltdown.

Are We Really Raging More?

According to the Wall Street Journal’s National Customer Rage Survey, 74% of customers had a problem with a business’s product or service in 2022, up from 66% in 2020. That may not seem like a large difference but it’s a problem that compounds in customers’ minds.

Customers don’t just get angry one time about a problem. They carry that negativity with them to the next business interaction. When another problem (or something they’re dissatisfied with) occurs, they come into it thinking, not again.

If nearly ¾ of the customers in your area are feeling this way toward your member businesses, this could create a real problem. And not just for businesses. Each problematic interaction with a business is carried onto the next customer service or sales interaction. This could affect their attitude toward the chamber as well.

Customers transfer perceived ineptitudes from one person assisting them to the next. Just as people may talk about “baggage” in a personal relationship, there is customer service baggage as well.

For 74% of the public, your chamber may not be starting fresh. They already have a problem with another business and that could affect their perception of you or your members.

Customer satisfaction is the lowest it’s been since the early 2000s. Between 2018 and 2022, the American Customer Satisfaction Index fell from 77 to 73 on a scale of 0-100.

Some of the most heavily impacted industries/businesses were:

• fast food

• gas station

• hotel and hospitality

Plus, these customers are losing control when handling their dissatisfaction. According to the Rage Survey, 43% raised their voices during their interaction with the business. This number has increased in just five years when only 37% got loud. Many also take to social media to express their consumer frustration and dissatisfaction with the company or brand stating the desire for “revenge.”

Negativity is also costly. In 2020, researchers with the Rage Survey estimated that bad customer service would cost corporations about $494 billion.

So, what does this mean for the chamber and your members? More importantly what can you do about consumer frustration become rage and revenge? We have some answers.

The Consumer Frustration Sandwich

From a chamber perspective, you’re likely to feel it from both sides. People often mistake the chamber for the Better Business Bureau and assume they can “turn in” or report business members. They think the chamber will either cancel their membership or punish them accordingly.

This places the chamber in a less-than-ideal position because you can neither punish that business, nor assist that customer (except in rare circumstances). This makes the chamber look ineffectual and further alienates the frustrated customer.

The second side of the sandwich is that the chamber may be impacted from the customer service baggage angle. People who have had perceived bad experiences with customer service in your area may have short fuses when you don’t have an immediate answer for them.

The Chamber of Commerce Pros group on Facebook is filled with stories of irate people making inquiries and accusations. This is not a reflection on the chamber but of the world today.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, ire builds and takes a long time of incident-free customer service days to diffuse. Plus, rage can spread like a brush fire. Someone who is in the path of rage may then transfer it to the next person they encounter. As a chamber pro, you may even receive the blistering heat from a member who was the victim of an enraged customer. They transferred that anger at the verbal assault to you when they came to inquire about dues or some other question.

Handling Rage

You can’t protect your members or chamber staff from rage. People are simply angry and overtaxed these days. Their fuses are short, and their rage and consumer frustration compounds with every interaction, disappointment, and stressor. Angry customers and members will contact you because you are the visible representation of business in the community.

The numbers in the Rage Survey show how people are more vocal and getting louder, as well as looking for revenge against the business, above and beyond getting their problem fixed. How your employees and those of your members handle these powder keg events can be the difference between building a relationship and severing all ties. This topic could make a very valuable educational program or speaker topic for your chamber.

Remain Calm and Confident

As difficult as it is, when someone is angry and you mirror their anger, they usually escalate. It’s a rare individual who when confronted by an equally angry person backs down and apologizes. Most of the time it simply fuels their ire and contributes to a breakdown in communication.

When dealing with an aggressive and angry person, you want to show them a calm and confident front. Being calm will help diffuse the situation, while exuding confidence will make the irate customer (or member) feel like they are finally speaking with someone who has the knowledge and control to be able to change the outcome in their favor.

Possessing a calm demeanor affects every part of your body. You should aim for:

• a calm voice – speak more slowly and softly

• non-aggressive posturing – for example, don’t cross your arms

• quiet body language – no pacing or fidgeting

Don’t do anything that conveys nervousness like biting on a pen, picking at your cuticles, etc. An angry person who things you are nervous will assume you are incompetent, have something to hide or you are afraid of them. None of these work out in your favor.

Make Sure You Are on the Same Page

Ensure you understand the depth of the problem and what’s behind it. Avoid patronizing terms like “I understand” or “I know how you feel” or “calm down.” These things immediately spike tempers.

Instead, clarify your understanding of the problem and begin walking through a possible resolution. Try “I see why you wanted to bring this to our attention, and I appreciate the opportunity to review the situation.” Don’t say you’ll solve it for them. You might not be able to do anything to give them the outcome they want.

If you need more clarity, ask for it. Try something like, “Can you tell me more about what happened in the store on Tuesday?” It’s also okay to ask them what their ideal outcome is or what could help them in the situation at hand. While there is some danger in asking, as you might not be able to do what they want, this serves as a jumping-off point for negotiation.

A response to anger about dues rates might sound like: “I understand the increase in membership dues may be cost prohibitive for your business right now. So, let’s work together to come to a mutually beneficial solution. I don’t want you to miss out on the value of chamber membership, but we must cover our overhead as well.”

Then you can negotiate a different tier level or perhaps an additional sponsorship or a newsletter promo. This saves you from discounting their membership and gives them something extra in return.

Get Rid of Your Own Baggage

Just as your customer or member may bring baggage into their altercation with you, you or your staff may be unknowingly bringing some too. If you find yourself thinking, “Oh no. Not another angry member,” you are inviting the ghost of a previous situation to impact your current one. Instead reset. Treat each customer or member as a new situation. Do not project a past experience on this one.

However, if you’re seeing the same encounter happen over and over with different people, you may want to rethink the policy or procedure that is causing the issue.

Take a Breath Before Responding

This is important for a few reasons. Taking a breath before responding ensures you won’t cut the customer or member off (no one likes to feel like they’re being cut off or ignored). It also gives you a moment to collect your thoughts before answering their concern. The breath allows the angry person to take a moment after telling their story, so they’re better positioned to listen. Taking a breath before responding gives them a moment to switch gears without missing the importance of what you’re saying.

A deep breath or the 4-7-8 breathing trick has been shown to immediately reduce the stress response in your own body, allowing you to respond more appropriately. You may also find that the angry person starts to unconsciously mirror your slower breathing, helping them calm down as well.

Stand Behind Your Employees

No employee deserves to be treated in a dehumanizing way, even if they’re wrong. Always insist upon civility. If the angered customer or member wants something from you, they should change their tone and treat the staffer with the respect that is deserved.

Once the situation is remedied, address the issue with your staff in private. What went wrong? What could they have done differently? If they didn’t do anything wrong, make sure they feel supported and appreciated. You do not want them to feel like a scapegoat in the situation.

The customer/member always deserves to be treated with respect, but they are not always right. And a highly valued employee is worth a lot more than a disgruntled, irrational customer.

While many causes of consumer frustration may be out of your control, you have the opportunity at the very least to deescalate an immediate situation in your chamber and help prevent more anger down the road.


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