Dealing with Angry Covid Customers
5 tips to help prevent customer conflicts from going viral on social media
I noticed a surge in views and comments recently on a YouTube video I posted several years ago on the topic, “Dealing with Hostile and Abusive Customers.” Turns out the recent spike has to do with frontline staff needing to ask customers for proof of vaccination, and the sometimes angry responses. Since the video was posted before covid and it doesn’t talk specifically about vaccine passports, I wanted to pass along a few tips here on how to prevent nonvaccinated customers from becoming irate and unruly. Consider them as tips to prevent you and your employees from ending up on an unflattering viral video on social media.
Tip #1 Word your proof of vaccine request positively
In my customer service training seminars, we talk about the importance of wording your messages positively – especially when giving someone ‘bad news’. Notice, for example, the difference in tone with, “We won’t be able to deliver until Friday,” vs “We’ll have it for you as soon as Friday.”
Using positive language with vaccine passports, rather than saying, “We can’t serve you without proof of vaccination,” instead say, “Welcome! We’ll be happy to take care of you as soon as we see your proof of vaccination.”
Tip #2 Listen before responding
If the customer doesn’t have proof of vaccine or claims they don’t agree with the policy, then it’s time to explain limits and show understanding. “In order to protect the health of our customers and staff, we do require proof of vaccine. I understand if you don’t happen to have it with you or if you have other reasons. You’re not alone. There have been other customers with those challenges. Unfortunately, that is the policy that the business operates under. So, here’s what we can do for you…”
Tip #3 Offer alternatives
Many organizations provide alternative ways of doing business for non-vaccinated customers. It may be through curbside pickup, takeout, or delivery. So sooner rather than later, offer those options. For example, “While we can’t offer inside dining, we’d be happy to offer takeout. Would you like to see our menu?”
Tip #4 Don’t get political
Standing at the entrance to a business and talking with customers is not the time nor place to discuss politics or debate public health measures. If someone threatens to write a bad review, point out that they are of course entitled to do that. As a service provider, you don’t need to express your own opinion about the issue. If asked, you can point out that your own opinion isn’t relevant here. What’s important is that is the policy that the business operates under, and whether you or I agree with it is not going to change the policy.
Tip #5 Don’t tolerate abuse
Being in service doesn’t mean being a doormat. The techniques I share in the YouTube video for dealing with unruly customers apply in this situation. You can view the video at Dealing with Hostile and Abusive Customers. If customers threaten to become violent then it’s time to call security or the police.
Keep in mind that using the first four tips shared here will prevent problems and diffuse the emotions of the vast majority of customers who are actually there to do business. Chances are your business is not the first they’ve encountered requiring proof of vaccine. My hope for you is that equipping you and your team members with these types of tools – that are both sensitive and assertive – will make your workplace safer and more pleasant for everyone. Hope that’s helpful.
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