If you work in the hospitality industry, you may have noticed that customers seem to be getting angrier and more rude lately. You may have experienced verbal abuse, threats, or even physical violence from unhappy guests. What is causing this increase in hostility and how can you deal with it?
According to international experts there are several possible factors that may contribute to increased customer anger in hospitality venues. Some of them are:
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of stress, anxiety, and fear for many people. It has also disrupted their normal routines, social interactions, and expectations. These negative emotions may make them more prone to lash out at anyone who they perceive as an obstacle or a threat.
“We’re going through a time where physiologically, people’s threat system is at a heightened level,” says Bernard Golden, a psychologist and the author of Overcoming Destructive Anger. This period of threat, during and since COVID, “has been so long that it may have had a damaging effect on people’s mental health, which for many has then been further debilitated by isolation, loss of resources, and reduced social support. There has been an increase in anxiety, a reported increase in depression, and an increased demand for mental health services,” he adds1.
It’s not a coincidence, psychologists say, that much of the incivility occurs towards people who are in customer service industries. “People feel almost entitled to be rude to people who are not in a position of power,” says Hans Steiner, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University1.
Matteo Bonotti and Steven T. Zech, both of the politics department at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who wrote Recovering Civility During Covid 19, conclude that even if the people were initially bamboozled because they had to communicate using a new set of rules, that soon wore off.
“At the very beginning [of the pandemic] people just didn’t know how to be polite,” says Zech. It was hard to communicate a smile, and it became necessary to avoid rather than embrace people. But after a certain point, the unintentional rudeness became intentional and deliberate. “It’s meant to call attention to what they see as this kind of unjust policy, some discrimination, or some infringement on some other right,” says Zech. In the minds of some of the individuals, snapping at the baarista is not rude, it’s civil disobedience.
The media can influence customers’ moods and attitudes by exposing them to negative news, sensational stories, or biased opinions. This can create a sense of anger, fear, or helplessness in some customers, who may then project these feelings onto others. The media can also create unrealistic expectations or demands for customers, who may then feel disappointed or dissatisfied when they are not met1.
The culture of consumerism and entitlement can foster a mindset of “the customer is always right” and “I deserve the best”. This can make some customers feel superior, impatient, or demanding. They may have little regard for the feelings, rights, or needs of others, especially those who serve them. They may also have little tolerance for mistakes, delays, or inconveniences.
Additionally online discussion, which encourages outsized emotions, is the gateway rudeness that has led to the current wave. “We don’t filter ourselves as much as we used to,” says Bernard. “On the internet, people feel like they can say anything. They no longer guard themselves. And I think they transfer that lack of filter into public life.
So how can you deal with angry customers in hospitality venues? Here are some tips:
- Assume the customer has a right to be angry: Don’t judge the customer or try to determine if their complaint is valid or not. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and show empathy. This can help calm them down and make them feel heard¹.
- Stay calm: Don’t let the customer’s anger affect your own emotions. Keep your voice low and soft, your body language relaxed, and your facial expression neutral. Don’t argue, interrupt, or provoke the customer. This can help prevent the situation from escalating.
- Listen to the customer: Let the customer vent their frustration without interruption. Pay attention to what they are saying and try to understand their perspective. Summarize their problem and ask clarifying questions if needed. This can help show that you care and that you want to help.
- Don’t take it personally: Remember that the customer’s anger is not directed at you personally, but at your product or service. Don’t let their words or actions hurt your self-esteem or confidence. Instead, focus on finding a solution and satisfying the customer.
- Offer a solution: After listening to the customer’s problem, apologize sincerely and offer a solution that is fair and reasonable. Explain what you can do to fix the situation and how long it will take. If you can’t offer a solution yourself, refer the customer to someone who can.
- Follow up: After resolving the problem, thank the customer for their patience and cooperation. Ask them if they are satisfied with the outcome and if there is anything else you can do for them. Follow up with them later if necessary to make sure they are happy.
Dealing with angry customers in hospitality venues can be challenging and stressful. However, by following these tips, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one and create loyal and happy customers.
(1) Why Customers Are So Rude Now, According to Psychologists | Time. https://time.com/6099906/rude-customers-pandemic/.
(2) Dealing With Unhappy Customers – Turning a Challenge Into an Opportunity. https://www.mindtools.com/arys2mu/dealing-with-unhappy-customers.
(3) How To Deal With Angry Customers At A Restaurant – Sling. https://getsling.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-angry-customers/.
(4) 17 ways to deal with angry customers: Templates and examples – Zendesk. https://www.zendesk.com/blog/the-best-templates-for-dealing-with-angry-customers/.