Dear Travel Coach
One of our key clients is always rude to me, how can I deal with her and keep her business?
Under other circumstances, you could rightly complain this woman is bullying you. However, because you (think you) need her business-you feel obliged to put up with it. I hope these strategies help.
Discover why. Get the courage to pick the bull up by the horns (or cow in this case) and ask her why she takes this tone with you. She might actually not see herself as being rude and once she knows how she behaves, ought to respond positively. You will gain self-respect and hers for dealing with the subject. This is not easy – but really worthwhile if you can manage it.
See the bigger picture. Evaluate how much of your time is really spent in dealing with clients’ rudeness. If it happens with each customer, the problem probably lies with you (sorry about that). Years ago I was a tour guide for a bus company. In my first tour, four clients continuously bullied and berated me and took my focus away from the rest of the busload. It was only when the trip ended and loads of other clients thanked and tipped me that I realised that I should not have judged fifty-two people on the behaviour of four. The lesson: don’t let something small become bigger than it should. ‘Bad vibes’ occur-try to see them as an inherent part of the job. Nobody has it easy all the time.
Don’t be a doormat. If this one customer takes pleasure in upsetting you, change your reaction to her. If you are seen as accepting her behaviour, face it head on. If you currently let your upset show -be seen to be shrugging it off like a duck on the water. And always smile-it shows you are in control.
Time out. Take a breather and a change of scene. If you know when the customer is due to come in, diarise a session in the gym, swimming pool or as we now at HPS, a punch ball, for later that same day. If physical activity is not for you-select whatever helps you to re-balance yourself.
Time in. If your angry reaction also makes you panic and fluster – slow down your contact time with this client. If she phones, put her on hold while you are searching for what she wants (and ensure she gets some pleasant music-on-hold). If she comes in, slow down the pace and give her a cup of tea (don’t offer it-just give it to her.) These actions might seem odd, but they put you in the position of being a host (staking out your territory) and allow you to set the psychological agenda.
Share the pain. Discuss this issue with colleagues and friends-it is quite likely they will have dealt with her too. One of my colleagues suffered from a bullying client-but when the members of staff started mimicking her (in her absence naturally!) the whole thing became humorous and much more bearable. Not the most grown-up of approaches-but one that worked.
(Culled from my own work: Rude B'stards 29 May 2007)