What to Do When Customers Make a Scene


It’s impossible to predict customers’ behavior. While we’d like to assume the people who enter our dealerships are on their best behavior and will conduct business civilly, there will be times when a customer makes a scene. If mishandled, instead of their behavior reflecting on them, you could end up coming out looking like the bad guy. That’s why it’s important to know how to de-escalate aggressive behaviors in your showroom or on your lot. Here are a few steps you can take to shut down belligerent client behavior effectively.

#1. Take Stock

Before addressing the behavior, take stock of yourself. You do not want to engage with an angry individual when you yourself are tense, nervous or yourself angry. If you notice that you’re feeling equally aggressive or frustrated, take a few deep breaths before going further. Relax your shoulders and remind yourself that you need to remain calm. Otherwise, chances are you will escalate things further as you add fuel to the fire. Instead, adopt a neutral, peaceful disposition for the other person to mirror.

#2. Listen

When a person is loud or angry, we tend to hear the tone of what they’re saying, rather than the actual words they are saying. While your customer might be acting and speaking explosively, it could be they have a valid point or an easily solvable predicament. If you hear what they have to say, it could be you can de-escalate the situation by responding with a clear solution or response.

When listening to an irate customer, make sure to repeat back to them what they’ve said so that you clarify their issue. Ask them questions about anything that isn’t clear and get as many details as possible so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

You can also validate their emotions. Whether the problem may not be real, the emotions they’re feeling are. So use statements such as, “I see this is frustrating to you,” or “It’s clear you’re annoyed about this.” Acknowledging strong customer feelings allows them to feel heard, which in many cases the sole reason for a tantrum. After feelings are acknowledged, you may see the client already starting to back down or calm down.

#3. Make No Promises, But Take Responsibility

When dealing with an angry customer, it might be tempting to promise them the moon, so long as they leave. Though this might calm them down short term, long term it’s not a great policy. Promises made to calm a scene often are ones that aren’t easy to keep or within your power to grant. They also set a precedent for any other customers witnessing the meltdown that this kind of behavior will achieve results.

Instead, take responsibility where you can. If the complaint is legitimate, acknowledge fault. If it’s an imagines slight, explain what you are or are not in charge of or capable of. Outlining parameters of responsibility can help de-escalate tense situations as it makes clear what all the factors are and allows the customer to see what they themselves are dealing with. Many times the customer who’s causing the scene doesn’t fully know themselves what they want out of an interaction. By giving them an idea of what your company’s policies are, or what you do or do not have jurisdiction over helps them figure out what they want and can calm them down as they now have a clear path forward and out of the situation.

#4. Move It or Pass it On

Finally, don’t be afraid to either move the customer to another location or pass the customer on to another employee or manager.

When moving a customer, try to politely get them to another location in the dealership, away from the general areas. Often the act of moving from one place another has a calming effect on people. If you can, transfer them to an office area with an ‘official atmosphere.’ Such a location creates a tone of importance and makes it clear to the customer that you’re taking them seriously. When moving to an office where you are on one side of a desk and they are on the other, you are positioning yourself in a place of authority. At this point, many will calm down and reasonable dialogue can ensue.

There will also be some situations you’re just not equipped to handle. That’s okay. There’s no shame in asking a coworker or manager to lend a hand. Better someone else take over than you lose your cool or flounder.