The Fight or Flight Response in Customer Service

Human beings are hardwired to deal with danger.

Our defense mechanisms automatically kick in when we’re confronted with a physical or psychological threat. We instinctively fight off the threat or flee it.

This instinct is known as the fight or flight response and it comes in handy in many situations. 

For example, let’s say you’re accosted by a growling, barking dog. There’s no time to take a rational inventory of your various options before deciding how to react. You make an instant assessment of the situation and then make your move purely on instinct.

Customer service is one place where this instinct doesn’t serve us well. A physical or verbal altercation with a customer is never a good idea. Fleeing isn't acceptable either since our job is to try to make the customer feel better.

Here are few examples of what a customer might do to trigger this instinct:

  • Yelling at you
  • Making derisive comments about you or your company.
  • Accusing you or your company of wrongdoing.

The infographic below illustrations our physiological reactions to a “fight or flight” situation. You can also watch a short video (<6 minutes) that explains this reaction in greater details. 

Source: Jvnkfood

Source: Jvnkfood

Recognize that this is a powerful instinct. Pithy advice like “don’t take it personally” isn’t enough to handle it. Customer service employees need something more.

I have two suggestions for overcoming this challenge:

  1. Learn from experience.  Every experience that triggers the fight or flight response can be a powerful teacher if you stop and reflect. The experiential learning model can help.
  2. Prime yourself for success by establishing a positive vision. You can read more about this concept in my post on why priming is essential to outstanding customer service