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By Adam Knight

From time to time in any customer facing business, employees will be faced with someone that truly brings them down. Oftentimes customers aren’t even upset at the employee they're interacting with, it’s the situation that they’re angry about.

That said, anyone treating an employee at any business so poorly that it even gets close to this is just awful, but it’s a reality and managers should be equipped with a few tips to help employees recover quickly, to help their self-esteem and get them back in the race.


If you maintain a culture of praise and support, recovery from difficult situations will be much easier. You will have developed a ton of emotional capital and in a perfect situation, other employees will praise each other, making the team that much stronger. Employees will feel safe, knowing that they are supported because your actions as a manager will have demonstrated that to them time and again. A bad customer interaction is made that much worse if your employee is fearful of their job and security in the environment.


If one of your employees is having a tough time with a customer, you need to step in and allow them to get off the floor and breathe. A place that is quiet where they can catch their breath is the very first thing you need to provide. Allow them to step outside, walk around the block, go to the back office, go to the bathroom - anywhere that the person can collect their thoughts. If they are working alone then you, the manager, need to cover for them while they take a break.


Most people have a high level of ownership, pride and self-worth tied to their jobs. People inherently want to do good work and that’s why an experience like a difficult customer can take such a toll. If you can help your employee find a way to not take the interaction personally, to disassociate from the situation, it will help them bounce back. Remember, in many cases the customer is looking for an outlet and your employee just happened to be there. It’s important that you make this distinction with your employee because for them, knowing that raised voices and hurtful comments aren’t personal, just due to the situation, will help your employee to not take it personally and move on.


There will be a time, not right away mind you, where some self-reflection should occur. Having your employee take a step back and guiding them through an analysis of the interaction to see if there was anything they said or did (or didn’t say/do) that could have made the situation better or worse will turn it in to a training opportunity and they will be stronger for the experience. As a manager, you need to have a high degree of emotional intelligence around this practice because you can come across as critical and not empathetic, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Allow your employee to blow off steam and get re-centered. Timing is everything and if you do this correctly, you’ll have an incredible development opportunity on your hands.


Sometimes laughter is the best medicine and all you can do after a crazy interaction is laugh about it and move on. Provide space for your employee(s) to do that. Laughter forces you to breathe while stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles. It increases endorphins released by your brain, activating and relieving your stress response.


You should be paying close attention to customer issues as they arise, looking for patterns and addressing them immediately. Some are training opportunities for your team, some are one-off situations that force you to look at potential holes in your operation and some are because of processes or procedures that the company has put in place is making it harder for employees to do their job. Either way, the more attention paid to reducing defects BEFORE they occur will prevent difficult customer interactions from happening in the first place.

Dealing with angry customers is going to happen, there’s really no way around it. Even the best run operations will have a hiccup form time to time. As a manager, you will be faced with getting employees back in the game in a constructive way. These five techniques will help recovery and hopefully make your team stronger for it.

This article first appeared on the Proven Principles blog at

About Adam Knight

Adam Knight is a luxury hospitality veteran and operations expert who has lived and worked all over North America and the Caribbean for nearly two decades. He loves the left brain/right brain dichotomy of the hospitality industry. One minute you’re diving in to a P&L, the next you’re tasting the new seasonal menu in the restaurant. His passion truly lies in understanding how things work and making them better, be it small service experience or large-scale project management.

Contact: Adam Knight

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