How Unrelated Anger Follows Your Customers to You

"Maybe they're just having a bad day."

Ugh. I've never liked that explanation for a customer's anger. It feels dismissive while avoiding responsibility. My view was that a customer might be a little upset to begin with, but any emotions they felt were largely our responsibility.

Newly discovered research proves me wrong.

An upsetting event completely unrelated to your company really does impact service. That customer is more likely to get upset. And, customers with anger baggage are less likely to listen to helpful advice from a customer service rep.

Here's the research along with what you can do about it.

Study #1: Anger Makes Us More Judgmental

Scott Wiltermuth and Larissa Tiedens conducted an experiment to test whether anger makes people more judgmental.

They first primed people to be angry, sad, or neutral. This was done through a recall exercise where participants were asked to recall an event that made them angry (angry group), sad (sad group), or just think about what they did yesterday (neutral).

Participants were then asked to rate how appealing they would find doing a task where they rated business ideas.

The result? People in the angry group rated judging others' ideas 16 percent more appealing than average.

Put this in a customer service context. 

Imagine a customer is stuck in traffic on their way to a store. The parking lot is jammed and they nearly get into an accident when a car swerves around them and steals their parking space. The customer is fuming by the time they walk into the store.

This customer will be more intently focused on service quality than normal. They'll nitpick minor service issues that most people would overlook. And, because they're already angry, they'll be viewing service through a negative lens.


Study #2: Anger Makes Us Less Open to Other Ideas

Maurice Schweitzer and Francesca Gino conducted an experiment to learn whether anger affects our openness to ideas from other people.

Participants were shown a picture of a person and asked to guess their weight. They were told they'd be paid for the accuracy of their guesses.

They were next divided into two groups - neutral and angry.

The neutral group was shown a movie clip that showed fish swimming in the ocean. The angry group was shown a movie clip that previous tests showed triggers angry emotions in viewers.

After watching the video, participants were shown another person's estimate of the weight of the person in the picture. They were then given a chance to revise their estimate.

Here were the results:

  • 68% of the neutral participants considered the other person's estimate.
  • 26% of the angry participants considered the other person's estimate.

This data shows that we're much less open to other ideas when we're angry, even if the thing that made us angry is completely unrelated.

Let's go back to that hypothetical retail customer who was angry about traffic when they walked into the store.

Customer service employees often suggest solutions to help fix a customer's problem. A customer carrying their anger baggage into the store will be less open to those solutions. When that happens, the anger continues and might even escalate.


What You Can Do

We can't easily prevent our customers from carrying around anger baggage accumulated from other sources.

However, we can do a few things to help them feel better and avoid making it worse.

Avoid broken promises. These are things we promised to do for customers, but didn't. Customers who are already upset will really be unforgiving when we don't keep our basic agreements.

Emotions first, then solutions. Our customers' emotional needs are often overlooked. Don't ignore their emotional state! Take a moment to help an upset customer feel better before jumping to solution mode. 

Empathize. It's hard to be understanding when a customer gets angry for what seems like no reason. Keep in mind they might be dragging along some anger baggage from somewhere else. Take a moment to empathize with them. You can use these five tips to help you. 

Finally, you can watch this short video for more information on serving upset customers.

DIY Customer Service Training: Harnessing the Wisdom of Experts

This post is part three in a series about Do-It-Yourself customer service training. 

You can learn new skills on your own. You don't need to wait for a class or for your boss to pull you aside and teach you. 

This post focuses on finding experts to help you achieve your goals.

You might first want to catch up on the project so far. The first post provided a general overview of self-directed training and how it has the potential to transform the way we learn. The second post focused on setting clear goals -- an essential step towards learning new skills.

You can also check out the Inside Customer Service group on LinkedIn. A few people are using the group to document their DIY customer service training journey.

The Power of Expertise

Here's a great definition of an expert from

a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority

Experts have the amazing ability to speed up your learning process. 

Let's use my DIY learning project as an example. I want to learn more about photography. In particular, I want to take landscape photographs of places I visit so I can hang them up in my home. 

(I know, it's not a customer service project, but it does let me visually show you what I'm talking about.)

My first challenge was upgrading my camera from a pocket-sized point-and-shoot model to something a little more powerful. 

How should I pick out a new camera?

  • Wade through endless reviews on photography websites?
  • Take a photography class to learn the ins and outs of various models?
  • Visit an electronics store and hope for the best?

All of those options would take a lot of time. And, they still might not help me make a great decision. So, I decided to ask Tony Cruz for advice instead.

Tony is definitely a photography expert. He's directed a few of my courses on, including Customer Service Fundamentals, Working With Upset Customers, and Using Customer Surveys to Improve Service.

He also takes some amazing surf photography. (Do yourself a favor and check out his Instagram feed. You can also see some of his projects on his website.)

Pacific dreamer III #totallyother #ISD #WHPlowaltitude

A photo posted by Tony Cruz (@tonycruz) on

Tony asked me a few questions before making some recommendations. He suggested I look at mirrorless cameras since they combined the features of high-end DSLR cameras with the compactness of point-and-shoot models. 

I checked out his suggestions online and quickly decided to get the Olympus OM-D E-M10. It combines idiot-proof performance with an amazing array of high-end features.

Going to Tony first saved me a ton of time. It also gave me the confidence that I was making a great decision. 

This approach works for almost any type of DIY training.

  • Who do you know that could help you improve your customer service survey?
  • Do you know someone who can help you develop a customer-focused culture?
  • Can one of your colleagues help you improve your skills with upset customers?

(Hint: feel free to drop me a line if you'd like expertise in any of these areas.) Experts can help you find solid answers to your questions in a lot less time.


How to Approach an Expert

Experts typically have a lot of passion about their field of expertise. They are also typically short on time. So, you have to be efficient when you ask an expert for help.

The wrong way to do it is to bring up a vague topic.

If I had approached Tony and said, "I want to know more about photography," he'd likely have struggled to give me the specific advice I needed.

The right way to approach an expert is to ask for advice on something simple and specific. This is when it helps to have a clear learning goal for your DIY training project.

I asked Tony to recommend a camera that would be an upgrade from my point-and-shoot model. I told him my purpose (shooting landscape photography) and skill level (not much). This meant I needed a camera that was easy to use but also had more advanced features that I could learn.

Tony was able to answer my question immediately with some great advice.

So, before you approach an expert, make sure you have a clear learning goal.


Applying Expert Advice

Tony helped me pick out a great camera, but he also helped me use it.

One of his first suggestions was to take it somewhere interesting and just take pictures. He told me to play around with the various settings and notice the differences when I did. 

Here are a few examples I took from the beach in Santa Barbara while I was there filming one of my courses for

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The late afternoon sunlight had this amazing effect coming through the trees. This picture doesn't do it justice. I'm still learning.

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

It's incredible how the same scene can look so different just by altering a few camera settings. My next challenge is to understand what adjustments product what effect. Here, I was just selecting random options.

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

This was the best photo I took. The dog hit me in the head with that huge branch as he walked by me on the sea wall. The camera was in full automatic mode and the shot was pure reaction. Sometimes, lucky is best.

I showed Tony these pictures the next day and he gave me some great advice. He pointed out how a large contrast between light and dark made it difficult for the first two pictures to come out. 

Tony also explained how the light worked in my favor on the last picture. Sunlight was diffused by the trees in the background and there weren't dark shadows to contend with.

Here's the key to expert advice:

If you're going to ask for it, you'd better take it. Following-up on Tony's suggestions opened the door to ask more questions. It wouldn't be very fair to Tony if I asked him for insight and then did nothing with it.

So, go ahead an ask an expert for advice. Just make sure you follow-up to let them know how things go. 


Finding an Expert

There are many ways to find an expert.

If you're lucky, you already know one. I was already working with Tony and knew about his passion for photography. I'd also seen his work and knew he could take the types of photos I aspired to take.

Of course, there are other ways to find an expert if one isn't already inside your inner circle. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Search LinkedIn - you never know what skills are in your network
  • Ask friends - it's often easy for them to recommend someone good
  • Get social - many experts are very accessible on social media

Once you find your expert, don't be afraid to ask a question. You may just be surprised at how much they love to share.

Book Review: Be Your Customer's Hero

Where did you learn how to serve customers?

For customer service veterans, serving customers becomes so instinctive that it feels like common sense. It isn't. That knowledge has to come from somewhere.

All of us faced a time when we didn't know what to do.

We lacked the experience. We hadn't received enough training. Perhaps we didn't have a mentor to guide us through difficult situations. We've all been there at some point in time.

Adam Toporek's new book was written with those employees in mind. It's called Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines and was designed to be a how-to guide for customer service professionals.

Toporek says in the book's introduction, "I'd always wanted something that showed frontline employees not just what they needed to know to be competent at customer service but what they needed to know to be great at it."

The book is divided into ten parts. This makes it easy to pick and choose the subjects you'd like to review most:

  1. Great service is all in your head
  2. The mind of the modern customer
  3. The seven service triggers
  4. Be a great teammate
  5. Own the service floor
  6. Communicate like a pro
  7. Master difficult situations
  8. Handle nightmare customers
  9. Understand the digital front lines
  10. Be your customer's hero

What I like most about the book is Toporek devotes the first three sections to the psychology of customer service. Understanding how we think as employees and how our customers think when they're being served is essential. I know I'd have been saved a lot of grief if I knew this stuff 20 years ago!

You might find this book too basic if your an experienced service pro. That's ok. Be Your Customer's Hero wasn't written for you. This is the book you give to each member of your team as part of their development.

Of course, you'll still need to read the book too so you can follow-up with your employees to discuss what they've learned and how they plan to apply it.

Be Your Customer's Hero is available in paperback and on Kindle. I highly recommend it.


DIY Customer Service Training: Setting Clear Goals

This post is part two in an ongoing series on Do-It-Yourself Customer Service Training.

Today, we’re going to focus on setting clear goals. You might want to start by getting caught up on the first post in the series where we explore what DIY or self-directed learning is all about. You can also follow along in real time on the Inside Customer Service group on LinkedIn.

The first step in a DIY learning project is setting a goal to learn a useful skill. This post will look at how to set a good learning goal and provide some examples.

Getting Clear

Most people falter here. Their goals are too squishy and ambiguous. Learning goals have got to be clear and very specific.

A great way to start is to choose a specific focus area.

I chose to focus on photography for this project. It’s not a customer service topic, but it does make it very easy to provide visual updates.

My starting point was pretty squishy:

I’d like to learn more about photography.

A goal like this isn’t really a goal. It’s just a theme. It’s also a recipe for procrastination - something to put on your “someday, I will…” list.

Your learning goal needs to focus on something more specific. A great way to boil things down is to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to learn about this topic?
  • How will learning these skills help me?
  • What’s an example of something useful I could do with this skill?

These questions bring much more clarity to my photography goal:

Why do I want to learn about this topic? I spend a lot of time outdoors and want to capture some of the beautiful scenery.

How will learning these skills help me? My wife and I want to use pictures of places we’ve been as art in our home.

What’s an example of something useful I could do with this skill? I could start by taking one photograph my wife agrees to hang on a wall.

The answers to these three questions add much needed clarity. I went from “I’d like to learn about photography” to “I want to take one picture good enough to hang on a wall.”

My friend Jenny provided a great success story on our LinkedIn group. She started with a very squishy desire to "learn tips and tricks to allow myself to do better with time management at work!"

We talked a little about why time management was an issue and how new skills could help her. Afterwards, Jenny made some revisions. She ended up focusing on playing guitar and singing at one open mic gig in San Diego.

Wait! That isn't customer service. What gives?

I actually think Jenny's focus area is really smart. She moved to San Diego several months ago. Work has been crazy and she hasn't played any gigs since moving here. Her real struggle with time management is prioritizing work, setting clear boundaries, and making time for things outside of work that she's really passionate about.

Carving out time to play guitar and sing at an open mic gig will help Jenny develop time management skills. Those skills will be very useful in her day job as a customer service manager.


Words of Caution: Many customer service initiatives falter here. They never get specific enough to take action.

To be clear, this step is difficult

Impatience often gets the better of the people. They decide to skip this part and keep moving, not realizing this part is essential. You won’t have clarity until you have direction.


Setting A Goal

Now that you’ve clarified where you’re going, the next step is to set a specific goal. A good goal should fit the SMART model. 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let’s go back to my photography goal. Here’s what it looks like when I make it SMART:

By August 7, I will take a landscape photograph that my wife agrees to display on a wall in our home as art work.

Here’s how it fits the SMART model:

  • Specific: Take a photograph my wife agrees to display on a wall.
  • Measurable: If my wife agrees, I’ve achieved it.
  • Attainable: I like my chances here, but I also know I have to earn it.
  • Relevant: It’s definitely related to photography.
  • Time-bound: August 7 is my deadline.

Jenny's goal provides another great example:

By August 7th, I will play guitar and sing at an open mic in San Diego.

Here's how it fits the SMART model:

  • Specific: Play guitar and sing at an open mic in San Diego.
  • Measurable: If Jenny plays the gig, she achieves the goal.
  • Attainable: Yes. Jenny already plays and sings quite well. She just needs the gig.
  • Relevant: It’s definitely related to time management and prioritization.
  • Time-bound: August 7 is her deadline.


Words of Caution: A SMART learning goal is an example, not a destination. Learning to take that one picture will give me skills I can use to take many other pictures. Playing an open mic gig will give Jenny skills she can use to prioritize projects and work.

Setting a clear goal makes it easy to focus my energy on accomplishing something tangible. And, once I do, I’ll have learned some skills that are transferrable to other situations.


Finding the Gap

A clear goal can also help you pinpoint what you need to learn. The key is to compare your current performance to your desired performance.

Here’s a landscape picture I took of a place in Kauai called Mahaulepu:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The place is gorgeous. Unfortunately, my camera skills weren’t good enough to capture an image that I’d want to blow up and hang on my wall.

Here's another photo I took of a Kauai beach at sunset:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

I like the view, but the sunset part is severely missing. This wasn't a great choice in terms of composition.

Finally, here's a sunset photo taken on the water in Kauai:

Credit: Jeff Toister

Credit: Jeff Toister

The sun was bright, but the scene is missing the pastel hues and sharp contrasts that make a great sunset picture. There's a little something in the right hand corner (the tail of a surfboard?) but it's not clear enough to be interesting so it's just in the way.

The key is figuring out what I don’t like about these pictures so I know what I need to learn. For me, three things stand out.

Lighting. None of these photos really pop. For example, in the first picture, there are too many shadows on the beach. A better understanding of lighting would help.

Composition. All three scenes looked amazing in person but that didn't translate to a great photo. My challenge is to find scenes that will look great in pictures. Some variables might be timing, location, and technique.

Equipment. These pictures were taken on a point-and-shoot camera. It’s great for snapping a few vacation photos, but not the best tool for taking a picture for my wall. I might need to upgrade.

Jenny's gap was much easier to sort out. She hasn't played any open mic gigs since moving to San Diego. Playing just one puts her in the right direction.


Next Steps

I’ll post updates on this blog over the next few weeks. 

For now, here are a few things to get you started:

I’ve already discovered one cool technique for DIY Learning.

If you are trying to learn something, put it out there. Let your friends and colleagues know what you’re up to. Share your goal so they know exactly that you’re trying to accomplish.

When I shared my photography goal, my friend Jess sent me some resources. One was Ted Forbes’s Art of Photography YouTube channel. The first video I saw was a short tutorial on exposure. Perfect!