The phrase ‘put yourself in the customer’s shoes’ is a well-used mantra on customer service and conflict management courses. Showing empathy to the customer is essential but why should it be just one way? If we are setting out to really understand the customer’s perspective it would be helpful if they understood our position in return.  When both sides, in a conflict situation, really understand each other there tends to be less chance of anger and blame dominating the conversation.

So how do we get the customer to ‘walk in our shoes’?  As ever what you say and how you say it are big determinants on how you are perceived. How you ‘invite’ the customer to consider your position must be done carefully. You don’t want to put yourself in the ‘I only follow orders’ camp as customers already angry will go on the attack as they may consider that you are not worth spending time on – ‘get me someone who can help me’.

Present your case in a different way. One option is to encourage the customer to think and reflect by asking them some questions about what they understand about your side of the fence.  The alternative is telling them what you do and why you are doing it and that rarely works. When people are angry they do not like being told anything. Depending on the context, you might ask questions such as; ‘are you aware of the background to these decisions’? , ‘are you aware of the criteria I have to follow in reaching these decisions’?, ‘are you aware of the recent changes that have affected the decision we can make’?.

If you can encourage the client to think about what you have to grapple with and your constraints they may be more understanding.  Play around with how you phrase the questions and remember your aim is to develop the customer’s awareness about your job and not to get them to pity you.

In addition, it can be helpful to clarify with the client exactly why they are upset with what you are saying. When you think about it the reasons a customer is angry with you can vary. Delegates on our conflict management training courses tend to say customers get angry because they are not getting what they want. This can be over simplistic when you think about it.  It could be because they don’t feel you are taking them seriously, not listening, not being fair, not understanding their situation, being over bureaucratic, not empathic, confusing them or many more reasons. Customers are often not fully aware of exactly why they are getting angry. It can therefore be helpful in calming the situation when they fully understand why they are angry.  When you identify the exact reason why the customer is angry you can match your explanation to their exact concerns, further encouraging them to walk in your shoes.