Dealing with Vulgarity
Although we can become practiced at managing difficult behavior and learn how to defuse tension very effectively, vulgar language deserves its own section. Swearing, harassment, and bullying have become so common in business, schools, and our lives that we almost expect it, despite the fact that it can make people extremely uncomfortable.
Sometimes, in the midst of a contentious issue, tempers flare and people swear and make demeaning personal comments. The following statement will usually stop someone from using vulgar or inappropriate language:
“(Insert name here), I realize that you are upset and I would like to help you. I am not in the habit of speaking in that fashion and I do not speak with people who use that kind of language. How about we move on from that and deal with the real problem here?”
This kind of approach will normally keep you calm and maintain your customer’s dignity, which means that you can move on.
In some cases, of course, the customer will not listen to you or change his or her behavior. In that instance, you have a couple of options.
The first technique is to apply some heat yourself, skillfully. Try this effective statement: “Excuse me Mr. ________, but could you please repeat that last sentence. I have to take notes and I got a little behind.” Usually, the customer will pause and then repeat the sentence without swearing; often, the situation will become much more civil.
If the customer insists on swearing, ask if they would like to speak to your supervisor. Generally, customers who are persistently difficult or who make threats of harm or lawsuit need to be passed on to a supervisor. This does two things for you. First, it creates a pause in the conversation so that by the time the person gets to talk to the supervisor they are less angry. Second, they may also feel that they are finally talking to the person they need to.
If an angry or vulgar customer gets a chance to think about what they want to say, at some point they may also realize that they will not get what they want. They also can be well prepared to fight long and hard for what they want. If you, as a customer service representative, give them an ear and satisfy their need to be heard, you are giving them what they least expect; this can actually avoid the conflict from escalating.
Violence is a real issue. You are not required to hear nor tolerate threats to your personal safety. If a caller makes a threat to you, document it (hopefully, you work somewhere that all calls are recorded for this very reason!), and report it immediately to your supervisor and to the police. Most jurisdictions have legislation to deal with threatening behavior, and although it is not always quick or efficient, all incidents must be reported and documented.