When it comes to difficult visitors and de-escalation techniques, front desk workers are the workplace’s true unsung heroes.
Always on the frontline of your business, the receptionists are exposed to a variety of unexpected situations and have to figure out the best approach whenever an upset guest shows up on your premises.
This is where de-escalation techniques come into play to help front desk personnel regain control of the interaction and shift the focus to the best possible solution. Being proactive in regards to preventing and managing conflicts will help you ensure a smooth visitor experience.
In this article, we’ll cover the most effective ways to handle difficult visitors inspired by customer service expert advice.
1. Avoid reacting to their negative behavior
If the visitor is angry for some reason, the first rule is not to mimic their behavior.
While it’s easy to get defensive, you must understand that at the moment, that person is set on venting their frustration. According to Master De-escalation Instructor Myra Golden, the best thing to do is not interrupt them and wait for them to pause to jump into the conversation.
She calls this ‘the jump rope technique’. To de-escalate an angry customer (or guest in this case), you need to pay attention not to jump in too quickly or wait too long and risk losing control of the conversation.
When they take a break from venting, you have the opportunity to take control of the conversation and guide them to a solution.
Also, actively listening to your visitor and allowing them to tell their story at the beginning of your interaction makes them feel acknowledged, which counts as the first step in learning how to defuse a situation.
2. Don’t take it personally
Above all - and we know this is not always easy - do not take the situation personally.
Confrontational situations can trigger emotional responses based on your past experiences. Nevertheless, it’s essential to manage your emotions and keep your professional detachment throughout the interaction.
Remember that the person raising an issue is, at the end of the day, doing that because they are not getting what they wanted. This would still be the case even if someone else were working there instead of you.
"Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your grandmother, and don’t use a tone or take an action that you wouldn’t take with your grandmother," as Myra Golden stresses in one of her de-escalation courses.
Focus instead on righting the situation for them and remind yourself this is a professional situation demanding professional poise.
3. Show empathy and use reframing statements
When dealing with difficult guests, you should put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how they are feeling at that moment. Showing empathy allows you to relate to people on a human level and helps you break down communication barriers such as the ‘me vs. them’ perspective.
In terms of verbal de-escalation techniques for defusing a confrontation, Golden recommends pairing empathy with reframing statements. This will help you move the conversation forward and prove to your visitor that you’re in control of the situation.
For example, you can use a phrase such as “I understand how frustrating this might be for you,” followed by “let’s take a look and see what’s going on.”
Another great technique to de-escalate a problematic guest is to offer them a genuine apology.
Robin Fentress, Director of Customer Support for Bluegrass Cellular, initiated a Meaningful Apology program for her company’s frontline customer service employees with great results. This approach reduced both the number of escalated calls and formal complaints by more than 40%.
As a front desk representative, you can use all these de-escalation techniques (apologize, empathize and reframe), but the key is always to do it with confidence.
What this method involves is clearly and concisely presenting to your guest the root cause of their problem, what you’ve already done to remedy the situation, and the other solutions available. Moreover, having enough time to prepare your answers will increase your chances of success.
All in all, by focusing on a concrete solution, you can gain control of the interaction and do immediate damage control. At the same time, you’re showing the person in question that you’re action-oriented and genuinely care about their issue.
5. Ask for help if needed
As in the case of personal relationships, you need to impose a limit when dealing with unacceptable behavior from a visitor.
While you should maintain a positive, non-conflictive demeanor and be polite at all times, your safety remains a priority, especially if the conversation escalates into verbal and physical violence.
If you’ve gone through all the ways to de-escalate anger and the situation hasn’t improved, it’s time to call for backup.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for the help of your supervisor, the security personnel, or any other senior person in your company. They might be able to use their authority to get the situation back under control.
6. Trust your visitor management system
If you know a difficult person is going to visit your company, you can get additional peace of mind by preparing for it. This is a pre-emptive de-escalation technique that leverages the benefits of your visitor management system.
Proxyclick is equipped with the ability to pre-register visitors before they arrive on your premises. Therefore, by scanning the scheduled visitor list, you can determine who is supposed to show up on that day and prepare your plan.
Additionally, you can place certain individuals on watch lists. This feature allows you to designate someone in your company that will receive a ‘silent’ alert whenever a specific visitor checks in.
This way, you gain a few extra seconds or minutes to get into a problem-solving mindset and welcome your visitors in the best way possible.
Practice makes perfect
The question is not whether you will ever face a visitor that is hard to handle but rather when this will happen.
In order to preserve the air of hospitality and achieve the lowest friction possible at your front desk, it’s vital to go over these de-escalation tips and practice whenever you get the opportunity.
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