A job that involves customer service, be it a full-time career or more of a stint, will undoubtedly involve a few delightful encounters with at least one person who has a problem with something. There is a key difference between those customers who have an understandable complaint and those who seem to just have a problem.

Some complaints have merit; something might have been defective or missing. The purpose of this writeup is not to diminish the importance of requesting and expecting certain services to be performed in a satisfactory manner. Some people, however, cross the line. Anyone who's ever worked in a service-related position will have a story or twelve about people who threaten legal action or to get people fired. A few companies even offer training that explains how to effectively handle verbal abuse from customers.

Remembering a few things might help you leave the situation with both your dignity and your sanity intact.

Body language

This is purely psychological. While a customer is complaining to you, do not cross your arms. It (apparently) sends the message that you don't actually care what the customer is saying. Yes, I know you really don't. If the customer picks up on that, though, you're going to be in for a bumpy ride. Many managers suggest that you keep your arms at your sides while the customer talks because that way you're not "creating a barrier" between the customer and yourself. I am not making this stuff up.

Eye contact, though sometimes unpleasant and scary, is also a good thing. If customers get the feeling that you understand what they're saying (or at the very least are attempting to do so), they're more likely to discuss their problem with you in a rational manner. This might sound like a cheap tactic to appease them, but a few nods as they explain their situation can also work wonders. This is not something to overdo. People can tell when you're just trying to shut them up, and that might be pretty obvious if you look like a bobblehead.

The customer service manual that was provided to me by my current place of employment also suggests that you take notes. This is one of those 'time and circumstance permitting' things, as you obviously wouldn't be able to pull out a notepad and start scrawling if you're a cashier (or something) and the lineup behind Mr. or Ms. Irate might turn into an angry mob at a moment's notice. It's probably only something to do if you know the customer's issue is extremely complicated or something that you're going to have to relay to someone else later on.

Be calm. Be quiet.

It might not be easy, but you'll have an easier time if you don't talk too much. I know how tempting it is to tell some of these people where to stick their complaints. Don't. You will feel better for about four seconds. The customer always has a comeback. I have read magazine articles that teach people how to complain. They always emphasize persistence. People are not going to give up until things are fixed. Trust me. Snapping back at them will inevitably make things worse. There are exceptions to this, naturally -- most people will have a 'customers suck' horror story or twelve. Some inconsiderate people think they can mock you for making an innocent mistake or flat-out insult your intelligence. Shouting matches are bad. They attract the attention of everyone else in the general area. You do not want that kind of attention. Things will not go well if you get it.

That said, it's also not usually a good idea to stand there and say absolutely nothing. I've tried that. It never works. It tends to make people feel like you either don't understand their problems or that they're not going to get anywhere by complaining. If they're complaining, chances are they want something from the company. If they feel you're ignoring them, things will get ugly. But libertas, you say, what do I say to such a person whose anger has transcended the boundaries of good taste and common sense? It might sound like a dirty psychological trick (and that's because it is, really...) but short sentences like "I see," and "I understand," can work wonders. Repeat what they've told you. It makes them feel like they've been understood. This has calmed some very irate people down. Some of them even apologize.

Don't take it personally.

Some people can be downright rude (a woman once asked me if I had brain damage, and a man once told one of my friends that she should never have children) but you have to remember that they're angry at the situation. Crying in front of an irate customer will not make things any better. (I know that from experience.) They might yell. They might scream. They might throw a hissy fit. They might vow never to patronize your place of employment ever again and threaten to see that you lose your job.

They are probably not actually mad at you -- especially if they're complaining about a defective product or something similar. Innumerable factors could have contributed to this mess. Chances are that you're just the person taking the flack. It's not fun. It's not the way anyone wants to spend a day, a few hours, or even five minutes. People will always have complaints, however, and until people stop having complaints, there will always be people who let their emotions get the better of them. Don't lose sleep over it.

I'd say 99.9% of this is entirely from experience. The rest was courtesy of an entire page in an employee manual. Of course, it was there so the employee would satisfy the customer, thereby increasing customer loyalty, but it's good advice nonetheless.

And thank you to whoever linked Give one a stab. ^_^