In my next book, my co-author Shawn Veltman and I spend a lot of time looking at the psychology of the angry customer. 

For example, we look at why it feels so good to be mad, and why (in general) we like watching those who aren’t us fail. It’s easy to point at the high-profile flameouts like United Airlines, Uber, Pepsi, and other customer service/general business blunders and say, “Well, at least we’re not them!

But it’s far more powerful to look inwards and ask, where can we do better? 

Here’s the thing–it’s easy to be scornful. Finding faults and flaws in others is easy. It’s comforting to think that we’re not them. But what if you re-trained your internal fault finding radar, and flipped the script. What if you looked at other companies and tried to find the things you could emulate, and looked at your practices and processes to find the things you hated? It’s a pretty powerful exercise.

Here’s a specific example that I’ve helped some clients work into their customer service efforts recently.

I was on the phone dealing with a customer service department. I went through the customary “button mashing hell” to try to find the right person to talk to. My mind was already racing with thoughts of, “They shouldn’t be telling me my call is important in a robot voice when they make it so damned hard to talk to somebody.” Finally, I got somebody on the line and went over my issues. The customer service agent was summarizing what I’d told her into four points.

“Mr. Fleming, just to clarify, here’s what we’ve agreed to today.” She went through the points, and I interrupted her on the last point.

I made a minor correction on the 4th point. There was a short pause on the phone.

And her immediate response was interesting. She said, ‘You’re absolutely right, Thanks for correcting me!’ before continuing. She then reiterated all four points, this time with the correct one at the end.

Call centers face people who will interrupt and correct them all the time. The reps are used to it. I’ve corrected them before, and they’ve said, “Okay. Sure.” Other times they’ve argued with me. But what surprised me was she thanked me for correcting her. She humanized the exchange and made me believe, with her sincerity and words, that she did want to help me as much as she could.

Here’s the key lesson: It would have been easy to finish the call and mock their horrible system. It would have been comfortable to assume that they needed great customer service people on the phone because their company & products were so shoddy they got a lot of calls. But that wouldn’t have helped me make any real changes.

Instead of continuing to look for what they did wrong, I was able to find what they did right and find a way to improve both my company and the clients I helped implement this practice.

It’s easy to spot the failures in others and be glad that we’re better. Similarly, it’s easy to see our successes. But it’s a lot more valuable to flip the script: Look outside for ideas you can use to improve and look inside for criticisms to make.

Your weekly challenge: Every time you read a story about a customer service situation this week that involves another company, ask how your people would handle a similar situation. **Bonus points for testing them on specific situations. 

Would they be prepared to deal with the angry customer? 

Would they have the language to diffuse a situation, or would they blow up, trying to pick a fight with your customer–ending up on tomorrow’s news? 

And if the client is really in the wrong, are your people prepared to deal with the situation? 

Flip the script.