Five Fight or Flight Reactions and What You Can Do to Make them MAGIC®

by Jean Marie Johnson

When you are on the receiving end of a customer's heated emotions, you might feel the sting of being personally attacked or put on the spot. Instead of responding MAGICally, you may react from a "tragic" place, distancing the customer from you and your company.

Consider these five tragic reaction patterns:

  1. Get the monkey off my back

  2. Promise them the moon

  3. Make the customer my confidante

  4. Tell the customer to get a grip

  5. Play gotcha!

Take Flight or Pick a Fight

 A customer who is crying or "in your face" may increase your stress, causing you to react by "taking flight" or "picking a fight.”

A flight reaction takes the focus away from you by pointing the finger elsewhere, or making empty promises. It may make the customer your ally against your own company, or it may focus on telling the customer that he is wrong or at fault.

These reactions distance you from your customer's feelings and his situation. Let’s look at these all too human, knee-jerk reactions and then consider a MAGIC response instead. By doing so, you will help to ease the customer's emotions, reduce the stress on both of you, and focus on helpful solutions.

Tragic Patterns: Under the Microscope

1) Get the Monkey off my Back: Escalate or Transfer! 
Even if you are not personally responsible for the customer's situation, saying so and being quick to press the TRANSFER button can boomerang: it says “I DON'T CARE.” You sidestep your opportunity and your responsibility to be of help, and the customer knows it.

"I don’t know anything about that. That's clearly incorrect information. I'll transfer you to a supervisor."

This reaction may escalate the customer's frustration while communicating that you don’t care or want to be helpful

“It sounds like you may have received incorrect information; I can see why you'd be concerned. The best way that I can help you is to connect you with Sam Lake, our shipping supervisor. He will be able to give you the specific details you need."

This response focuses on helpfulness, on being part of the solution, instead of focusing on what went wrong.

2) Promise the Moon: It will get them out of my hair
Here’s the thought process underneath this flight reaction: "If I can placate them, I won't have to deal with them.  That works for the moment, but in all likelihood, it adds fuel to the fire. Your customer may move from frustrated to infuriated because you have set an unrealistic expectation. Making a promise that you or the company can't keep may also cause your customer to take his business elsewhere.

“Oh I’m sure we can get you full refund, Mr. Jenkins; no problem. I'll get the Billing Department right on it."

Full of promise, this response has no basis in reality.

“Mr. Jenkins, I am sorry to hear that the invoice seems to be incorrect. I'll check with Billing and see what they have on file regarding your coverage. I'll do everything I can to get you an answer by the end of the day.”

This response sets a reasonable and realistic expectation without making a promise that may or may not be fulfilled.

3) Make the Customer my Confidante: They won't blame me
At the heart of this flight reaction may be:

  • I want the customer to like me

  • I'm really upset with things around here

When you side with the customer against your company they feel validated and are less likely to "attack" you. But this reaction is inappropriate and unprofessional. It waters the seed of doubt that is already in your customer's mind.

“I couldn't agree with you more, it's a mess. I’ve told my manager several times.”

You may indeed feel very strongly and have conveyed your thoughts to your manager, but that does nothing to help this customer.

“Mr. Peterson, it’s very upsetting, I understand. Here's what I’d like to do now, to help get this resolved.”

This response acknowledges the impact of the experience on the customer and focuses on taking action.

4) Tell the Customer to Get a Grip: They'll see they are being unreasonable
This fight reaction attempts to defuse the customer's emotions but adds fuel to the fire. It sounds judgmental and condescending. Using a thinking-based reaction when a feeling-based response is called for, creates a major disconnect.

“Ms. Hernandez, you need to calm down. Getting angry at me isn't going to get you anywhere."

We can't ask a customer to think their way out of an emotion. And if we do, they will get the message that we really don't care.

“Ms. Hernandez, I'm listening, and I know you feel we haven't valued you as a long- time customer.  I'm here to help you right now, in any way that I can."

5) Play Gotcha: Show them I see what they're up to
Another fight reaction is assuming that the customer is acting in bad faith. While you may want to protect the company, this watchdog approach places the customer in the role of suspect. It sets up a confrontation when collaboration and getting to the heart of the matter are needed.

“Actually, Mrs. Edwards, maybe you or one of your family members caused that unit to malfunction."

Mrs. Edwards is now in a position of defending herself in the eyes of her service provider.

“Mrs. Edwards, I apologize for that unit malfunctioning; I know it's inconvenient. What I'd like to do is to send a technician out to determine what went wrong and why. Then we can determine what’s covered by your policy.”

This response is neutral, focuses on apologizing and taking action. It makes no assumptions about fault or blame.
In the heat of the moment, we can react by taking flight or picking a fight. What’s your pattern of reaction?  With MAGIC, we are reminded that we always have a choice, that we are the architects of our response.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.