Anyone who’s ever worked in customer service knows that dealing with an entitled person can intensify from challenging to “I’m questioning my life choices” fairly quickly. Entitlement doesn’t just lurk in retail checkout lines or echo across call centers, however. People who believe they deserve special treatment are everywhere, and their demanding, self-centered narcissism isn’t fun for anyone to deal with.
That’s why we spoke to a handful of customer service reps and picked their brain for some of their best tips for handling challenging interactions. So the next time you’re face-to-face with someone looking down on you, these strategies can help you rise to the occasion and keep a level head.
1. “Shift the customer’s mindset.”
If you have to suffer through an entitled person’s rant, it’s only fair that they should have to pitch in with some suggestions for fixing the problem. According to Tom Blok from the online customer service management portal complain.biz, the technique of asking these people for an ideal solution is a productive psychological game that they don’t even realize they’re playing.
“The idea is to shift the customer’s mindset from simply expressing dissatisfaction to thinking constructively about what they want as an outcome,” he says. “By thinking about a solution, customers often realize the practicality or impracticality of their demands, which leads to more realistic and achievable resolutions.”
When people propose their own solutions they feel in control and solving the problem becomes more of a collaborative effort. This approach also helps weed out frivolous complaints because it requires engagement, critical thought, and effort far beyond asking, “Do you know who my father is?”
2. “State the facts, and … stick to that protocol.”
It’s not uncommon for the heat of an argument to cause misremembering on all sides, which is why sticking to the facts can help you realize what you can and can’t control in the face of entitlement.
“No matter how big the situation gets, the only way to completely fail in handling it is to start spouting nonsense,” says Alexander Havkin, regional sales & project manager for Econoline Windows. “When providing service to customers, professionals such as myself stick to a certain protocol and standard in doing our work. When the customer engages in heated discourse, we state the facts, and we stick to that protocol.”
The reason this technique works, Havkin says, is because it maintains the conversation’s focus, while preventing escalation and keeping things on track.
3. “Catch them off guard.”
True conflict de-escalation is a marathon, while entitled complaining is just a sprint. In most cases, in the initial moments an entitled person initiates some kind of conflict, they are fired up and ready to fight. But, despite the high opinion they may have of themselves, they are still just human beings. And the more exhausted human beings become, the more likely they are to roll over and surrender.
“Generally when people are acting entitled, they assume that by behaving a certain way they will get what they want,” says Matt Heron, a customer service rep for Kimono Koi luxury handbags. “The idea of disrupting that process can help diffuse a situation and kind of catch them off guard. When adding more time to the situation, they will lose some energy they had in the beginning.”
So, when things get heated, take a breather — even if just for a minute or two — and they’ll realize it’s more difficult to stay amped up when communications are spaced out.
4. “Know what [you] can and can’t offer.”
For Jeff Neal of The Critter Depot, most customer service issues are literally matters of life and death. That’s because his business ships live insects all over the country. “Most inquiries we receive are due to customers getting dead insects in the mail,” he says. “Sometimes things can get pretty hostile.”
In addition to empathizing with the customers, Jeff stresses the importance of knowing what your authority is so that you can make reasonable suggestions. He and his reps, for example, are all explicitly aware that they can reship free orders in certain circumstances.
“Obviously, if we told our reps to fight the customers and refuse their requests, we’d just create a hostile situation for everyone,” he says. “Our reps know what they can and can’t offer which, when combined with practice and empathy, can help diffuse most situations with entitled customers.”
5. “Staying calm helps de-escalate the situation.”
Keith Ritchie is the CEO of Prime Massage Chairs, which is a high-ticket/low-volume business that requires him to step in and handle many customer issues directly. He abides by the practice of maintaining professionalism, but not just because it’s what’s expected from a business. “Of course maintaining professionalism by staying calm helps de-escalate the situation,” he says. “But it also reflects positively on the brand.”
And thats a big thing to keep in mind. When you’re dealing with people your brand is well, you. So, the question to ask is what is your brand and how do you want to show up? It may even help to think about some “brand values” to guide you. Especially in the face of adversity or entitlement, maintaining a clear line of professionalism and integrity upholds your reputation for respect. It allows you to set a standard for how all interactions should be handled.
In the face of an entitled person, think of this technique as establishing boundaries in a way that’s dually-productive, as it ensures that the person feels seen and acknowledged, and helps you maintain integrity and sustain the relationship.