Dealing with upset customers presents both a challenge and an opportunity. In many situations, we can prevent upsetting customers by proactively proving excellent service. However, certain jobs, such as auto insurance claim adjuster, require you to face customers who are upset because of things beyond your control. This training activity helps you explore and apply techniques and principles for healing customers who are in shock, frustration, anger, grief, fear, guilt, resentment, anxiety, and other such negative emotional states.
This activity involves two teams and incorporates three rounds of team discussions followed by paired conversations:
Round 1. One team generates typical demands and questions from upset customers while the other team comes up with guidelines for responding to these demands and questions. Following this team discussion, participants pair up with members of the other team and hold question-and-answer conversations.
Round 2. Teams change their roles and repeat the same procedure.
Round 3. Both teams discuss the key lessons learned from the previous rounds and share them through one-one-one conversations.
Roleplay. Upset customers. Questions. Demands. Avoiding defensiveness. Empathic listening. Customer recovery. Large groups. Structured sharing.
- To anticipate different complaints, demands, and questions from upset customers.
- To respond appropriately, truthfully, empathically, and without defensiveness to these complaints, demands, and questions.
- To derive a set of guidelines for effectively responding to upset customers.
Maximum: Any number
This is primarily a stand-up activity. Remove all chairs and other furnishings from the room (or move them to the sides, next to the walls).
A list of guidelines for handling upset customers
- Pieces of paper
- Pens (or pencils)
Brief the group. Explain that this activity is about empathy listening and helping upset customers. Specify the generic context in which participants are to play the role of customer-service representatives.
Divide participants into two teams of equal size. Designate one of them as Team A and the other as Team B. Ask participants from Team A to temporarily remove their name tags (so everyone can easily tell the difference between members of the two groups).
Conduct the first round of team discussions. Ask members of Team A to brainstorm a list of situations, complaints, demands, and questions from an upset customer. Encourage participants to include several provocative or hostile items in their list. Suggest that team members jot down some of the demands and questions on a piece of paper for reference during individual conversations.
While Team A is coming up with this list, ask members of Team B to brainstorm guidelines for effectively responding to the complaints, demands, and questions from upset customers.
Announce a 3-minute time limit for the team brainstorming activities. Blow a whistle at the end of 3 minutes and conclude the activity.
Conduct the first round of paired conversations. Explain that during the next 5 minutes, members of Team A will repeatedly pair up with different members of Team B and hold brief conversations. Each conversation will begin with a statement, complaint, demand, or question from the Team A member and an appropriate response from the Team B member. The conversation may continue with additional demands and responses. Once every minute, you will blow the whistle and participants will switch partners and begin new conversations.
Conduct this conversational activity for a total of 5 minutes.
Conduct the second round of team discussions. Ask participants to return to their original teams. Explain that the teams will switch their tasks. Ask members of Team B to share the complaints, demands, and questions they responded to in the one-on-one conversations and to brainstorm additional items associated with upset customers. At the same time, ask members of Team A to share the effective guidelines used by the other team to respond to upset customers. Also ask them to brainstorm their own guidelines. Announce a 3-minute time limit and blow a whistle at the end of this time to conclude the activity.
Conduct the second round of paired conversations. Repeat the same procedure that was used during the first set of paired conversations but with the roles of the two team members reversed: During this round, members of Team B start the conversation by making demands and asking questions and members of Team A respond to them. Conduct this activity for a total of 5 minutes.
Conduct the third round of team discussion. Ask all participants to return to their original teams and debrief themselves to share the lessons learned during the earlier activities. Ask each team to come up with a list of guidelines for effectively, clearly, and truthfully responding to upset customers.
Conduct the third round of paired conversations. Explain that you will repeat the procedure of conducting five one-on-one conversations between members of the two teams. However, instead of asking and answering questions, participants will share their guidelines for handling upset customers.
Conduct the activity as before, blowing the whistle at the end of every minute to signal the time to switch partners.
Follow up. Distribute copies of a handout with guidelines for handling upset customers. Encourage participants to compare these guidelines with those they came up with. After the session, update your handout by adding additional guidelines generated by the participants.
Variations and Adjustments
Too many people? Ask each team to divide itself into sub-teams of 5 to 9 people. Let each sub-team conduct its own discussions. During paired conversations, explain that any sub-team members from Team A may pair up with any sub-team members from Team B.
Not enough time? Conduct the first round of team discussions for 3 minutes and paired conversations for 5 minutes. Skip the other two rounds. Follow with a total group debriefing of another 5 minutes.