Defusing potentially hostile accountholder situations

posted by Mike Burke on Tuesday, July 7, 2020 in SHAZAM Blog

We all dread dealing with angry or difficult people in our lobby or drive-up. By nature, we want harmony in our daily connections, so it's easy to get flustered or upset when confronted by an irate person. If you don't know how to respond, you can easily make the situation worse. 

I’m often asked how employees should handle situations where they’re confronted with a hostile accountholder. Phrases like “verbal judo,” “reading body language” or “how to put out the fire” are often within that question. My response includes all of them to try to prevent the “fire” from starting. 

Let’s take a closer look at the three elements needed to ignite a fire: oxygen, a fuel source (wood) and a heat source (a match). If we take any of these elements away, the fire won’t start. 

•    Oxygen: This is the customer venting their complaints — let them vent. Show empathy and understanding; these are uncertain times financially. Empathy (verbal judo) and understanding may take the oxygen away.

•    Wood: Body language. A customer with aggressive posturing and an elevated tone of voice could escalate to aggressive behavior. Distancing is the key, putting physical space and obstacles between the employee and the customer.

•    Match: The match is lit if the employee fails to take the oxygen away and doesn’t recognize the customer’s body language. 

The key — take away the oxygen. Responding calmly with empathy can help the employee stay in control and defuse the situation in a professional, courteous manner. Reacting well can help build a positive relationship with that customer going forward.


  1. customer service
  2. social media

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