dealing with customers who are upset that we need masks and vaccination certificate — Ask a manager

It’s the ‘ask the readers’ Thursday. A reader writes:

I work for a medium to large performing arts organization. My organization is completely closed for what will be nearly 20 months by the time we (fingers crossed) do our first gigs in the fall. Needless to say, the pandemic has been pretty devastating to our entire industry and we’ve been trying to claw our way out of it. This industry is filled with people who just want to get back to the work we are passionate about. It’s also not much of a secret that it’s filled with people who are overwhelmingly progressive/liberal. Our employees are 100% vaccinated and feel increasing frustration/anger/sadness about the vaccination rate around us. This could break us again – and I don’t know if we could survive a second shutdown.

Our tens of thousands of customers don’t all share our point of view (but I suspect the majority do).

Broadway recently announced that they will require proof of vaccination and face coverings in their locations when they reopen, and since then, locations like ours across the country have announced similar policies. A few in our town already have, and we (and the rest) won’t be far behind (I suppose it will be within the next two weeks).

I have a customer-facing role and lead a team of part-time customer service/sales staff. While we haven’t officially announced our policy yet, we’ve already started receiving some angry phone calls. Some are from people who mistake us for a company that has made an announcement, and some are from people who see the trend around them and ask preemptively.

It’s unbelievable how mean some people can be. My team is on the front lines to answer these calls. It’s not fun, it’s exhausting and it’s also quite emotional for all of us who have struggled for so long and have to be polite to people who feel so different from us. It’s been tough already and I can’t even imagine what it will be like when we make the announcement and the 10 daily calls we get on this topic turn 90. I’d like to save my staff the stress, but the reality is that those calls need to be answered, the refunds processed, and the tirades listened to. (To an extent. They’ve been given permission to stop the conversation if the language gets heated or someone gets downright rude.)

I know because we have been closed all this time, we are very late for the angry customer party this year. I’d love to hear from people in the service industry, hospitality, retail, airlines…the list goes on…who have advice on keeping staff morale up and staying calm and cool in these situations.

Readers with first-hand experience dealing with this, what’s your advice?

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