Principle: Avoid coming across as bureaucratic when dealing with customers
Traditionally, large corporations (e.g.. banks, chain stores, telecommunications) and their employees have been viewed as unfeeling, uncaring, rigid and overly formal and officious. Some of these employees seem to believe that if they are aloof, very formal, and talk in complicated language, they will gain more respect from clients. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is the case. The more bureaucratic you sound, the more likely you are to infuriate the customer.
There are several reasons for this. In Psychology there is a term called objectification, which refers to the process where a person is seen as an object or thing. The notion of objectification has been cited as one contributor to abuse of women.
What we know is that the more a person sees you as a gear in the bureaucratic machinery, the more he/she can see you as an object. And this means, more abuse. However, if you come across as a real human being, with a name, and feelings, the hostile individual is less likely to aim anger and hostile behavior at you.
A second reason to consider relates to the source of the person’s anger. Although they may express their frustration in ways that seem very personal to you, in the form of slurs, and other attacks, their anger is primarily about the system that they are interacting with. You are just a handy target. The more they see you as “that system” the more they are likely to address their frustration at you.
When dealing with clients, avoid coming across as bureaucratic. It’s better to express a bit of personality, smile, and use the person’s name, and your name if possible. Also avoid bureaucratic language. For example, rather than reading from a policy or corporate document, explain it in common language, while making the original text available. Stay away from harsh language that can be interpreted as inflexible (see section on cooperative language). And stay away from the expression “It’s against policy”, or anything similar. If you need to explain a policy, introduce your explanation with something like:
“Let me explain how we usually do things. We ask that you... “
In other words, talk like a live human being, not a bureaucrat. You can say whatever you need to say in a helpful, cooperative and human way. You don’t need to be the bureaucrat.
By the way, many members of the public may expect you to be cold, distant, and formal because of the nature of your service. They have very low expectations of you even before you have met. By not fitting these expectations, you throw the angry person off, making it more difficult for you to be targeted for abuse. A good example of turning a negative (expectations) into a positive.