Stop Yelling At Me!

A few months ago I bought a computer from a small, boutique computer manufacturer*. I was excited because it was the first time I’ve bought an expensive, custom-built computer. To put this into perspective, it’s the computer world that’s the difference between buying a blackberry vs an iPhone. They both work, one’s just much cooler.

I could barely contain my excitement while waiting for three weeks for my computer to show up. It was love at first site. The machine was sleek, powerful, and fast. It also turned itself off after 30 minutes of use. Oops. A quick call to the company revealed a defective battery, and an estimated 4 weeks to fix it.

In other words, I would be without a computer to run my business for two months.

You Sent Me A What?!

Obviously this wasn’t a good situation. So I called. And called. And called some more. Normally I’m a patient guy. I’ve messed up before. I understand that no one is perfect, and therefore we all deserve some grace. But this company refused to take responsibility. They kept bouncing me from person to person, with no one returning my calls. Eventually I got a refund. But in order to do so, I had to actually yell at a customer service rep. I completely lost my temper. Something I have never done in a business setting. And something I’m not proud of.

While I eventually got what I wanted, was that the best way to resolve my situation?

In 4 experimental studies, psychologists showed that that “customer verbal aggression impaired the cognitive performance of the targets of this aggression.” In other words, when you yell at someone, their brain shuts down. They are less likely, not more likely, to remember what you are yelling about.

What Did The Study Find?

If you think about your own experiences with being yelled at, you’ll likely agree with the findings. It turns out that when we’re yelled at our ability to remember things is harmed. Specifically our recognition and working memories. On top of this, when we’re yelled at, our performance decreases. Why? Well it’s not exactly easy to succeed when your brain isn’t capable of remember what you’re supposed to be doing!

To make matters even worse, the more “high profile” someone is, the more impaired you become. If you’re a big time customer, yelling will create more memory impairment. Why? Because customer service reps are able to quickly determine if your opinion “matters.” If you can get them fired, or in more trouble, then the stress levels increase, harming memory and task ability.

The Next Time You Are About to Explode….

The next time you get poor customer service, keep two things in mind:

1) If you want something done, yelling is NOT your best solution. Rarely does customer service personnel have the authority to solve problems. Yelling at them is only making you feel better (for a moment), it’s not actually solving the problem.

2) If you run a Customer Service Center, then you must train your reps. Irate customers will harm your Customer Service Reps ability to solve problems and field calls. By offering training you can make sure your customer service reps are able to deal with angry customers while at the same time, able to operate software, record information, or defuse the situation. There’s a reason the military puts recruits under intense stress - is to simulate what it feels like on the battlefield, to the best of their ability. It’s the same thing with customer service training.

A New Computer

As I look back on my experiences with this PC Builder, I find I’m frustrated at their performance. They should have taken more responsibility for their defective product. And while I will never buy from this company again, I also realize that yelling isn’t a solution. (Something I would have told you before reading this research as well!) However, the next time I feel trapped and frustrated by a company, I’m going to remember that I’m only harming myself by yelling.

In the meantime, I just went out and bought a PC from their competitor.

*I thought about naming this company, but chose not to, because the point isn’t who they are - the point is this is something we can all relate to. We’ve all experienced incompetent people, or incompetent companies. 

Photo Credit: Annais

About Eric Barrett

Eric Barrett is an organizational psychologist who specializes in connecting the dots of work, life, and meaning. He has worked as an organizational psychologist for over a decade, and is most recently working on developing social media guidelines for a real estate company. He also teaches psychology at Xavier University. In his spare time he… wait, who are we kidding… he has no spare time. You can follow him on Twitter @MeaningToWork or his blog at Meaning to Work.