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Guest Blog: 4 Tricks for Keeping Your Cool in Tricky Service Situations

This week we feature an article by Pascal van Opzeeland that discusses how to handle difficult customers. Most of the time we encounter tricky service situations, we want to resolve them and restore the customer’s confidence in doing business with us. – Shep Hyken

When you’re working in customer service, difficult customers are a part of your job. I’m not just talking about the occasional angry customer. Some customers will show racism, sexism, others might even try to hit on you.

 My colleague Sven covered these challenges in “The 7 Hardest Customer Service Scenarios Without Easy Answers.” But how do you keep your professional cool in such situations? Here are four mind tricks that can help you out.

  1. Circles of Control

This tip originates from stoicism, the ancient Greek school of philosophy founded in Athens that flourished throughout the classical world until the 3rd century AD. These days it’s popular among all ranges of high performers – top athletes, Hollywood actors, Silicon Valley CEOs, etc.

[Stoicism] helps us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. […] it’s built for action, not endless debate. – Ryan Holiday

It’s so popular because it’s easily applicable in high-stress environments. More than a grand philosophy, stoicism is a set of reminders we can hold on to throughout difficult situations – like when a customer is yelling at you. It’s a step-by-step system for overcoming fear and doubt.

The circles of control form an important insight of stoicism. We can only control our thoughts and our actions (internal circle). All else is outside of our control. Yet we all worry about events outside of our control (external circle). Traffic, our health, the mood of our spouse, the weather.

The Stoics argue that you should only focus your attention on what’s inside of your control. How a customer treats you is outside of your control. All that matters is how you respond.

When you’re thrown into an intense customer encounter, remind yourself of these circles of control. Realize that you can only pull the levers present within your circle; don’t worry about what’s outside.

It takes some practice to reach this mindset, but once you have, you’ll feel peace and tranquility throughout your workday. If you wish to dive deeper into stoicism, I recommend the books The Daily Stoic and The Obstacle is the Way.

  1. Mindfulness

From ancient Greece, we hop over to ancient India, the birth ground of Buddhism and mindfulness.

You can find plenty of similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism. The latter is based on the insight that all suffering in the world derives from our desires.

When experiencing pain, we want it to stop; when experiencing pleasure, we want it to last. When we’re dealing with an angry customer in the chat, we stress about solving the issue; when we’re dealing with a happy customer, we hope she’ll leave us a good rating. The problem isn’t the customer; the problem is our desire for a specific outcome.

Instead, mindfulness urges us to let go of our desires and focus on the present moment. When you pick up the phone to a shouting customer, let go of the outcome. Of course, you’ll do your best to resolve the issue, but there’s no reason to stress about it.

Notice that the stress you’re feeling is nothing more than internal chemical processes. It’s not the shouting customer that makes you angry. It’s your internal processes that react to that customer. Pay attention, and you’ll notice them flow away.

Mindfulness is highly trainable through meditation practice. Headspace is a free and easy guided meditation app to get started.

  1. Imagined reality

Imagine you’re driving on the highway and a black SUV speeds past you far above the speed limit. A hot wave of anger rushes through your body. “Madman…”

But what if that guy was speeding to the hospital, with his highly pregnant girlfriend in the back seat? Would that thought cool you down? It probably would.

Our imagination is a powerful ally for controlling our emotions. When a customer shouts at you, try imagining she’s had a tough day, a tough week – a tough life, even. Imagine they’re dealing with a personal tragedy, and their outburst is a result of their stress. You will notice that this puts you in the right mental state for dealing with the situation.

  1. Breathing techniques

Research has long shown the positive effect of breathing exercises on our stress levels. Breathing can be considered the key to our mind, as it has a direct effect on the overall activity level of the brain. Breathing techniques can help you deal with stress, anxiety, insomnia, or tiredness.

You can find plenty of different techniques online. In the context of customer service, I’d recommend to simply remember to make long, slow breaths during stressful encounters. Once the encounter is over, try the 4-7-8 technique:

  • Breathe in deeply through your nose for four seconds, feeling your belly expanding.
  • Hold that breath for a count of seven.
  • Now, blow out through the mouth for eight slow seconds. If possible, place your tongue behind your bottom teeth, making a whooshing sound while exhaling.

This technique is powerful because of its speed and effectiveness. It only takes a few seconds and can be done in silence without your colleagues raising their eyebrows at you. So you can easily throw it in between calls or chat.

Pascal van Opzeeland is CMO of Userlike, software for website and messaging support. He and his team share tips about customer service and communication on the Userlike Blog.

For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to

Read Shep’s latest Forbes Article: Customer Focus Inks Growth For Tattoo Industry: Mario Barth’s Six Secrets


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