A Word About Our Egos

This month, we’re unpacking a tool kit for dealing with obnoxious and demanding customers who may have larger than life egos.  My hope, gentle reader, is that such a client never happens to you.  But a quick reality check says that in our fast-paced society, many people are ruder, less patient, demanding, and even angrier.  Those of us in the communications business, or those who talk with the general public in customer service, will often find ourselves dealing with difficult clients. And it’s often hard to be nice to, and to put first, the customer who is demanding, ornery, or impatient.  Customer care representatives need strategies and techniques to deal with today’s client—not the least of which is a great deal of patience and self-control.

One of those tools is the art of concession. Often, we must sacrifice a bit of self-pride to compromise with a difficult customer. If the client is valuable, even if that client is mistaken or wrong,  service providers need only ask how high to jump. Always remember that there is a cost involved in not resolving a customer’s problem, no matter how unfounded or unreasonable it may be. When dealing with a problem, stop and think about the life-time value of that client before making a decision.

But admittedly, this is hard. We’re human.  Our egos get in the way.   In psychoanalysis, the ego is the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thoughts and behaviors, and is most in touch with external reality.  It’s the part of you that defines your personality, holds you in high esteem separate from the rest of the world, and helps you make decisions about how to adapt to outside pressures and peoples.  It’s important—a healthy ego makes you confident and bold in the workplace and in life in general.  And it’s designed to protect you from attack.

When someone raises a voice, gets accusatory, or expresses complaint to or about you, your ego automatically gets riled up.  It goes on the defense for your own good. If the other party continues to express hostility, your ego will answer in kind. You’ll find your pulse quickening, your muscles flexing, and the pitch of your voice getting higher and louder.  Your ego is raring for a fight.

Of course, that fight would cost you a client—and harm your company’s reputation.  In this day of social media, angry words spread like wild fire, and one tussle with a customer could haunt you for a very long time.  Even a slightly agitated voice or flinched expression from a service representative will not bode well with your customer base.

It’s important to re-train our egos, teaching ourselves that instead of centering our own self-worth around personal accolades and status, we can focus around the company’s performance and the team’s outcomes. So when your ego flares up, try these techniques to calm it back down:

  1. Breathe. Actively slow down your breathing, which likely will have quickened with the controversy.  Focus on deep breaths, and imagine yourself releasing tension when you exhale.
  2. Think. Consider the viewpoint of the other person.  Put yourself in her shoes.  If your consider the bad day your client must have had to be this angry with you, or what might have triggered her upset, you can begin to respond to her as a hurting person instead of a threat.
  3. Laugh. Disarm your ego by looking at the funny side. And when the experience is over, laugh about it for a moment with a co-worker. You’ll be better prepared for next time.
  4. Wait. Remind yourself that this is temporary, and this, too, shall pass.  What seems huge today will be trivial tomorrow.  Look forward.

Challenge:  Does my ego get in the way of effective communications with my clients?  How do I respond to anger?  Which of these techniques might help me prepare for the next incoming shot?

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