confrontation

AT&T Taught Me How To Deal With Angry Parents

"I've been trying to get ahold of someone for weeks now."  This Mom was not letting me off easy.  Her son missed the first three weeks of middle school youth group due to basketball practice and she spent those weeks trying to get in contact with anybody about make-up work. "This doesn't seem to be very organized, and have you not received any of my emails?  My son needs makeup work and no one has contacted me about anything.  I thought tonight ended at 7:00!"  To make matters worse, she thought youth group would end thirty minutes before it is normally scheduled to end, and those thirty minutes of waiting in the car left her livid.

This was the first time a parent was this angry with me, and it would happen again the next day over the phone with a different mother.  What's a youth minister to do?

In both situations I recovered from the initial attacks, refrained from reacting, and (Thank God) the thought immediately popped into my head :

WWAT&TD? or What would AT&T do?

AT&T taught me how to effectively apologize, quickly diffuse, and confidently resolve an issue with angry and unsatisfied customers. (Parents, core members, teens, your wife, etc.)  Apologize, Empathize, and Correct.

Let me explain.

Flash back to four months prior.  I had just moved off on my own after college, and was feeling the weights of various new responsibilities on my graduated shoulders.  One of which was the first cell phone I actually had to pay for myself.  But there was a problem - my new phone was all sorts of messed up.  The contacts list was perpetually stuck loading, and I kept receiving text messages even though I wasn't paying for text messaging and got it blocked. (You're thinking: No text messaging?  You must also wear bell-bottoms or use a cane.)

So I called the AT&T customer support.  I was extremely frustrated and not the most Christ-like person at this point.  This happened twice for the same reasons and each time the conversation went something like this:

AT&T: Hello Edmund this is Tracy.  How can I help you this evening?

Edmund:  I'm extremely frustrated and not the most Christ-like person at this point.  My contact list is frozen and I keep getting text messages even though I told you guys multiple times to block it.

AT&T: Wow Edmund, I am very sorry you are experiencing these issues. (Apology)

Edmund:  Yeah... (Anger subsiding)

AT&T:  I know this must be very frustrating to deal with and again I apologize. (Empathy)

Edmund: (Feeling better) Um... Yes. Yes it is.

AT&T:  Let me pull up your account information, fix that right now, and ensure that this never happens again. (Correcting the situation)

Edmund: (Thank goodness)  Okay, great!

Holy customer service Batman, they are good.  So what is it about this conversation (which happened twice) made me incapable of venting angrily at an AT&T employee?  First, she apologized genuinely for the inconvenience I was having.

Second, she empathized with my situation, showing me she cared and understood how frustrating the situation was.  This is the most important part.  It is crucial to reflect back the reasons the situation is difficult or upsetting.  I don't mean repeating exactly what was said, but showing that you understand what is going on.

Lastly, she wasted no time lingering on the issue (which would have given me a chance to be angry) and moved us quickly toward a resolution.  Both times I called, talking to two separate AT&T reps, and the same thing occurred.  Even when I knew what was being done it is hard to argue with someone who apologizes, reflects back to you your frustration, and then moves to a good and reasonable solution.

Moral of the phone call: Apologize, Empathize, and Correct.

I've used this approach several times when dealing with angry exploding parents.  And most times it is not their fault they are exploding, they really are in a frustrating situation and don't see anyone caring or doing anything about it.  When you lovingly apologize for the rough situation someone is in, show that you understand and care, and move to correct it, it is hard to stay angry.  Even if the angry person happens to be your wife.

What is the best way to lovingly talk with upset parents?