Customer Service at the Counter – How to Manage the Unmanageable

Customer Service at the Counter – How to Manage the Unmanageable

A reader asked a few questions that included coping with angry customers at a service counter recently that I thought made sense to share with all.

When you are working at a busy place where there are constantly overcrowded lines, and impatient people, we usually tend to feel pressure.  What’s a good method for a CSR remain calm and ignore the pressure?

Essentially, everyone is different, of course; though those most suited for this type of role already possess two necessary qualities that help them cope with situations like these. First, they are generally happy people that genuinely like other people. This means the more crowded the better – it won’t break their mood. Second, they understand that all they can do is all they can do; so, they do their best and they’re satisfied (as they should be) with that.

When the crowds die down, they’re the ones still smiling, because they enjoyed the experience despite the pressure.

The trick is how can those not already hardwired for this type of assignment cope? The only way I’ve seen others do this successfully for the long term is to change their mindset about crowds, jerks and pressure. That is, they must embrace and enjoy these and, like those already good at this, they need to understand that all they can do is truly all they can do – and be satisfied with that result. (Or, find a new job.)

Usually when we have overcrowded lines, customers are constantly walking up to the counter, even when you’re in the middle of helping somebody, when they complain that is taking too long.  How do you give excellent customer service when that happens?

In this case, I’m not sure why the setup of the store allows this. There are plenty of places with long lines and impatient customers, though they’re built in a way that funnels everyone through one or more clearly designated lines. No one would bypass the line at a Starbucks, for example, walk to the counter and start demanding service. If they did, they’d be ignored by the staff and shunned by the other customers.

This is not a customer service issue, it’s a design issue. You need an industrial engineer (or a ten-year-old kid) to create a better ordering system.

Sometimes customers can get aggressive and threaten the CSR for very stupid reasons.  If a customer happens to get nasty with the CSR and make up stupid stories that they are getting aggressive because the CSR is rude, how can the CSR say this to a manager? (If the CSR say to their manager that the customer is nasty because they’re saying that they’re being treated poorly, the manager usually don’t handle it very well.)

This one is tough to answer confidently without more specifics. Why isn’t there a recording of CSR-Customer interactions? Where is the manager that he/she doesn’t ever witness these? Frankly, the only time this would be an issue is where the workplace doesn’t support the employees and the business is basically stealing from the customers – leaving the CSRs on the lurch to try and explain to the customer that getting screwed is a good thing. If that’s the reality, then the CSR needs to find a new gig.

How would you stay at your job if your manager doesn’t like you, and is picking on you so you can leave?

There are too many places to work and too many companies looking for great people for anyone to stay where they are truly not wanted. That said, if your boss is the only issue, there are ways to make this situation work.

As I wrote in Help, My Boss is a Jerk, if you take your concerns to your manager’s boss and nothing changes, you are left with four choices:

  • You can look for another position within your company;
  • You can look for something at another company;
  • You can give the “it’s him or us” ultimatum (and be prepared to possibly be fired); or
  • You can live with it.

For me, choice number 4 is not a choice. The satisfaction I receive from my work is too important to me to let someone drain me of it. Life’s too short to work for a jerk – that leaves you with choices 1, 2, or 3. Of course, these depend on the opportunities available to you, and your stomach for confrontation and change.