Complete Guide To Dealing WIth Difficult, Angry, Aggressive And  Abusive Customers

Learn what to say, when to say it and stay stress free, safe, and professional under pressure

Can you explain the origins of the CARP model for defusing hostile customers?


The CARP model for dealing with difficult, emotional or angry customers came out of my early work with front line employees who often had to deal with very distressed and angry clients. Two reasons spurred on my desire to come up with a model that accurately reflected proper sequencing of employee behavior that worked with angry customers.

The Tendency To Problem Solve Too Soon

It quickly became clear to me that the primary mistake employees made with angry customers was to try to address their specific problem way too early. Reports from my students indicated that when they tried to reason with customers, or get and give information, that they weren't HEARD. The result was that they couldn't address the problem, and in fact often couldn't even get enough information to figure out what the problem was, really. Angry people don't reason well, and neither are they all that interested in logical thinking. They are caught up in their emotions.

The result was that both customer and employee ended up repeating themselves to each other, with both getting more and more frustrated. Clearly there was a need to explain to employees that you can't solve problems with people who aren't prepared to solve the problem.

The Second Reason - Empathy Run Amok

The second reason I felt a need for an "organizing model", was coming across someone who's stock answer to almost anything was to empathize. He happened to be a manager, and he drove staff crazy, because he got so stuck with the "empathy responses" that he never got around to actually addressing the actual problems. Nice, and supportive he might have been, but he was, for all intents, rather useless in getting things done. It was clear there was also a need to help people understand that empathy is great, but that if that's all you have to offer, those you empathize with will realize you are, in essence, a waste of space.

CARP Model As A Reminder That Timing and Balancing is Key

The upshot was that I developed a model to remind people of the need to balance emotional support and "hearing" the customer, with actually being of some use, and to remind people that there's no point problem solving until the other person is calm enough to think clearly, and can let go of their emotions, at least enough to work with you -- work exchanging information, looking at alternatives, and addressing the substantive issue.

Evolving The Model Into A Total System For Defusing Angry Customers

The CARP model was developed in the early to mid 1990s, and over the years I've found that not only was it a great reminder acronym, but that it unified all the defusing techniques I teach into a coherent whole, and helped people understand the relationships between the various defusing techniques. So, while the CARP model has not changed since then, it plays a central role in my books and seminars to help learners make sense of how everything fits together. It's often the most memorable and appreciated part of both the seminars and the book content.

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