When Customers Just Want To Be Angry

Sometimes people just need to vent because they’ve “been dealing with this problem forever”, however long that may be, and need to blow off a little steam. These are not the people I’m talking about today, the ones I’m going to talk about today are the ones that have to be right even if it kills, the ones who would rather be right and have things done their way instead of working towards a solution. What do you do when you get someone that just wants to be angry?

Round about 20 years ago I was a fresh new sailor at my first command which happened to be a flag command(working for an admiral, in this case a 1 star admiral). Some officers are good leaders and can put their ego’s aside to make sure the men and women below them have the support and resources they need, and some use working for an admiral like those in the corporate world use working for a CEO, as a bargaining chip or baton.

Fast forward 4 years, 1 deployment, and 2 more command changes later, and I was on my second deployment and again working, indirectly, for another admiral. This time there were more officers fighting to make their way up the chain. One of these was a mid level officer determined to make a name for himself, on 2 separate occasions he’d felt the need to berate me or those under me to try and get something that was outside our control.

One afternoon (during that 2nd deployment) a tactical computer system failed, the database was stuck due to some bad data making it’s way in, and the only way to fix it was to reboot the entire system. This of course infuriated the mid level officer as he screamed and demanded we treat this as a real world situation. At this point I hadn’t yet been called in, I was the hardware guy and this was most definitely a software/admin issue. The reason I was asked in was partly as a 2nd opinion, and partly because I had experience with this type of situation(that being officers working for an admiral). So I went and verified that we needed to perform a reboot, but we also needed authorization to do so. So I called the combat watch officer(in charge equipment usage and authorizing outages, at least while they were on watch) and asked for permission to restart that system, shortly after I received a call from our favorite officer screaming at me, so I said I would do all I could short of a reboot. Knowing a reboot was our only option I popped in a DVD and grabbed some chips and waited, the 2 admins that were also with were amazed I wasn’t freaking out. Like clockwork every 5 minutes I would get a call and every 5 minutes I would explain the need to reboot and take me verbal lashing. After about 30 minutes of this the combat watch officer called and said I needed to get the system working, I said I needed to reboot, so he agreed to give us enough time to reboot and would cover as best he could. Ten minutes later as the last system was coming back up I received a call screaming that the system had rebooted and wasn’t working, after walking him through logging on and starting up his console all was well, with a stern warning that I never do that again.

Since that incident, and becoming a civilian again, I’ve fine tuned both my customer service skills and my process for dealing with people who just want to be angry. Most of the time people just need to vent and just listening can go a long way. For those who just need to be angry make sure that you’re confident in your decision and give it time, I’ve had to drop calls because they were using every curse word in the book on me and that sucks, but in the end setting those limits means that you have a foundation that both you and that person understand(and that makes things easier for everyone). When someone just wants to be angry be confident in your decision, remain calm but firm, and give it time to work out.

My next post will be about how to listening and calming down those folks who need to vent, and how using that build a relationship of trust can go a long way!

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