dealing with customers who are angry that we require masks and proof of vaccination

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

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

Our tens of thousands of patrons do not all share our viewpoint (but I would guess a majority of them do).

Recently Broadway made the announcement that they will be requiring proof of vaccination and face coverings in their venues when they reopen, and since then venues like ours across the country have announced similar policies. A few in our city already have, and we (and the rest) will not be far behind (I imagine it will be within the next two weeks).

I am in a customer-facing position and manage a team of part-time customer service/sales staff. Even though we have not officially announced our policies yet, we have already started receiving some angry calls. Some are from people who are confusing us with a company that HAS made an announcement, and some are from people who see the trend around them and are preemptively asking.

It’s unbelievable how nasty some people can be. My team is on the front lines of answering these calls. It is not fun, it is exhausting, and it is also pretty emotional for all of us who have been struggling for so long and have to be polite to people who feel so differently than we do. It’s already been rough and I can’t even imagine what it will be like when we do make the announcement and the 10 daily calls we have been getting on the subject turns into 90. I would love to spare my staff the stress but the reality is those calls have to be answered, the refunds have to be processed, and the rants have to be listened to. (To an extent. They have been given agency to stop the conversation if language gets heated or anyone gets downright abusive.)

I know that because we have been closed this whole time, we are very late to the angry customer party this year. I would love to hear from those 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?

{ 465 comments… read them below }

  1. bubbleon*

    The most important tool I had when I was answering angry customers was my managers’ clear approval to hang up on anyone who was treating me poorly. That should probably be well defined, but it’s crucial for anyone in those situations to be able to say “I’m happy to help if you have any questions about tickets, etc. but if you continue screaming/swearing/arguing I will need to end the call” and be supported when they inevitably have to do so.

    1. Littorally*

      Yes, this.

      The value of a script is also enormous. When someone is in the middle of getting berated, it can be very hard to find good solid professional wording and stick to it. Providing your employees with an optional script they can use or (appropriately) modify to fit their own voice is a huge aid.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yes to both of these. I no longer work the phones, but I used to answer a toll-free line, and then supervised the call center staff. Letting the staff know that they can transfer any difficult call to you, or terminate a call for abuse, is a huge help, as is having standard language about the policy that they can keep repeating as customers try to argue with them.

        1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          Absolutely. When I worked in newspaper advertising, I found that if a customer started arguing with me about policy, asking them “Would you like me to transfer you to a supervisor?” worked wonders. And much of the time, the customer calmed down as soon as the supervisor answered…go figure.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Sadly: It works best if the supervisor is male. BUT on the plus side, it can be any of your male call center employees, rather than actual supervisors, because all they do is repeat the same script and suddenly it gets accepted. A couple of the men in my tech support group actually enjoyed playing the role.

            Also: A small monetary bonus for all your call-answering employees the week you announce will really get across the message, “We know this is stressful and we value you.”

            1. Jan*

              Personally I always refused to do that in my call centre days. Why give misogynists what they want? That only enables the problem.

              1. Andrea*

                It can be helpful sometimes if you have a guy who’ll explicitly back you up though, like “[female coworker] was absolutely correct, that’s our policy and we cannot make exceptions” – my call ctr sups would often phrase it like that, which I appreciated. I also used to work in libraries & got this a fair amount; some ppl would always seek out my male coworker for computer Q’s, even though he was much less knowledgeable on the topic than me, and he’d always say something like “I’m not sure, have you asked Andrea? She knows way more about that than I do.” Several repeat offenders did eventually get the message.

                Plus, while it sucks to give in to misogynists, it can also suck equally or more for us to have to keep repeating ourselves to them and dealing w/their disrespect when a guy could finish the call in half the time. It’s all a balance between sticking to principles & not getting f’n burnt out dealing w/jerks

                1. blerpblorp*

                  When someone is clearly acting irrationally, there’s no way the misogynist in question is going to be cured by me taking their abuse. Especially in instances when someone is in-person being aggressive, if bringing a guy over takes things down a notch then so be it. I’m not getting paid enough to solve sexism through my own suffering.

                2. Katrinka*

                  Not to mention, call centers are all about time – you stay on a call too long, you’ll get in trouble.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          This is good advice. I’ve worked for years in a public facing job where we get a LOT of angry customers, both on the phone and in person. Ranging from grumpy name-calling to death threats. Managerial support is critical.

          Similar for in-person interactions: make sure staff know they can always call a manager if a customer is getting belligerent, and when the manager/supervisor shows up they will actually enforce policy and back up the employees. It’s incredibly demoralizing to have someone treat you badly for telling them the rules, only to have a manager swoop in and make an exception to the rule – it makes the employee look like a jerk.

          Another technique that’s been very helpful in my work is giving staff the freedom to switch workstations as-needed if something is not going well with a customer. This is helpful in several ways:

          1. Sometimes hearing it from a second person (even if they’re not a manager) is enough to get through the customer’s head that this is actually a rule, not just one employee being mean to them. It also reassures them that their complaints are being taken seriously (because a second person got involved), even if they don’t get what they were asking for.

          2. A given customer may be biased against a certain employee, over anything from their race to the color of their lipstick or the pitch of their voice. They may be more compliant and less abusive with a different person. Also, your staff will know which repeat customers respond best to which people and having the ability to manage that themselves will both be more comfortable for staff and save a lot of time for supervisors.

          3. Customers can get stuck in a negative loop when talking to one person. The small pause and new face when switching employees is like hitting a reset button… a lot of times, they will be much calmer when talking to the second person.

          Give all staff de-escalation training and training on personal safety/workplace violence. Skillful de-escalation can make the difference between an abusive (or even dangerous) customer and an angry but compliant customer. But it’s also important to have training and clear procedures for recognizing and responding to potentially dangerous people.

          Last tip: have a designated waiting area for customers waiting to see a manager. That will keep them from holding up traffic for your good customers, plus it keeps them from hovering around the poor employee they’re angry at.

      2. Ali G*

        Yes – mapping out exactly what they can say and practice it! It seems silly, but like anything, practicing will help them keep the emotions out of it and just respond accordingly.

        Also…try adopting a “kill them with kidness” mindset. You aren’t going to change their mind, and nothing deflates angry blow hards more than not getting a reaction, and especially the exact opposite of anger.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          You’d be surprised at how much you can anger people by telling them to have a nice day. One of the best manager I’ve ever worked for had it down to a science. (But it was never accidental.)

          1. AnonInCanada*

            “Thank you, and I hope the rest of your day is as pleasant as you.” That should get ’em!

            1. Andrea*

              I worked in a call center queue for a while where we had to send an email follow-up to each customer summarizing the call. We were exempted if we ended the call due to abuse, but if the customer hung up on US, we still did. So after a customer got mad I couldn’t break a dozen policies for him, told me “I hope you f*ck off and die” and hung up on me, I sent a very polite email followup briefly reviewing the policies I’d mentioned, and finished with, “I hope you have just as lovely a day as you wished me.” My supe thought it was hilarious.

          2. Dr Logen*

            I did this all the time when I was a restaurant server. I literally had a guest complain that I was smiling too much because she couldn’t find anything to latch onto that I was actually doing wrong and she really wanted to hate me. My manager thought it was hilarious!

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Were I that manager, I would have thanked them for the positive feedback on my excellent employee. Which probably wouldn’t have helped any.

            2. TinLizi*

              Something like this happened to me when I was grocery cashier. Customer complained to my manager that I was “too happy and smiling too much.” He assured her that I would not be happy or smiling the next time she came in.

            3. Ace in the Hole*

              We had a regular customer who would get mad and complain that I hated her and always “gave her the stink eye” when I didn’t smile. But if I did smile, she’d complain I was “mocking her with that fake-ass smile.”

              Fortunately, my manager thought it was as ridiculous as I did.

          3. She's One Crazy Diamond*

            I did this once during a breakup. I didn’t want him to see I was hurt so I told him to have a great rest of his life in a very calm voice. He was so angry, made it easier for me to keep walking away though.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I grew up for a number of years in the South for years but do not come across as especially Southern. However, as a cashier I found it caught people off guard if I wrapped something up with, “now you have a blessed day.”

          4. MassMatt*

            There are two ways this happens–either the angry customer gets riled by your being sarcastic (in which case you have lost), or they are angry (maybe not even about the ostensible reason for their call) and they want to ruin someone else’s day, and evidence that you are not bothered shows they have not succeeded. When they hang up they probably kick the dog or scream at their kids.

            Phone customer service is a tough job, it generally pays pretty poorly but it takes some real skill to not let an utter jerk ruin your day. People that can’t let insults, condescension, irrational demands, panic, etc roll off them don’t last.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I think this is generally true, that to work in customer-facing jobs, you do have to develop some coping strategies and not let it get to you personally. But I feel like the current environment is different, with cashiers, teachers, clerks — anyone dealing with the public — are just taking significantly more (and nastier) abuse, as if people are just channeling their rage at the easy target. I know for some of my family, what makes it all the worse is that they suffered economically and safety-wise during this (lost hours, exposure to COVID on the job) and now they’re having invective hurled at them over … trying to protect their lives, their family’s lives, and the lives of customers????

            2. Le Sigh*

              Also I do admit to occasionally poking the bear with something like, “You have a blessed day.” Which isn’t great customer service but at that point they were jerks and I just didn’t care for $6.25/hour.

            3. BabyElephantWalk*

              Enh … I disagree that people who can’t let that stuff roll off don’t last long.

              If you don’t have that thick of a skin, it’s definitely not the job for you, however it’s often a last resort position in those scenarios and desperation to continue earning some meagre income will keep people in those jobs far longer than they should be. Which is unfortunate for the employee, the customer and the employer. If it’s either be drained from work all the time or have nowhere to live/nothing to eat, you might be surprised how long people can do jobs they are not well suited for.

              Pay customer service agents well, and you’ll get people who actually care and are good at it.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Yes, that’s a good idea about paying customer service agents well.

                Sadly, doesn’t happen very much.

          5. pagooey*

            I worked retail in a bookstore, and the holiday season was excruciating; we got all the customers who’d never set foot in a bookstore the other 364 days of the year, but Aunt Melba wanted some obscure title, so. To the screamers and cursers, I’d just say “And YOU have a WONDERFUL holiday too, sir/ma’am!” ever more brightly until other customers in line started to laugh. I was probably taking my life in my hands, but it at least made me feel better.

            1. Caroline Bowman*

              I worked as a waitress as a varsity student / late high school and mostly it was a blast, BUT it did teach me how to deal with dxcks and also, how to really empathise and behave with decency to others in retail / customer-facing environments. Now that I’m in my 40’s and unconcerned with ”making a scene”, if someone is rude or hateful to waiters, cashiers, c/s staff in my orbit, I tell them off loudly (and politely). Sod it. Swear at me rather BUDDY, I can fight back and am quite content to do so.

              It doesn’t mean I just smilingly accept bad service, but using calm, polite words costs very little, almost nothing, in fact.

        2. Aerin*

          I have found the “I am going to pretend you said something reasonable and respond accordingly” mindset helps. They’re looking to get a rise out of you, even just hearing that you sound tense while still remaining outwardly polite. If you refuse to meet their energy at all, they fizzle. (Of course, my experience has been with people still tethered to reality, so it may not apply here…)

            1. Aerin*

              I could see that making them angrier, though. The thing about angry customers (at least in the Before Times) is that they just want to feel heard. So “I acknowledge your problem but will not acknowledge your tantrum about it, the solution you’re presenting isn’t workable so let’s find one that is” is surprisingly effective. In 10 years at my current position I think I’ve had maybe 4 people full-on yell at me, and 2 of them apologized by the end of the call. (I don’t interrupt them, just let them wear themselves out while I scroll through Tumblr or something and occasionally make listening noises. If they have any self-awareness at all, they eventually realize how bad they sound and backtrack.) (Though again, Before Times. People are… different now.)

              Also I used to work for The Mouse, so angry customers could (and did) get physically violent. I’m an anxious person and don’t like conflict, but somehow knowing that they can’t take a swing at me so it’s not the worst I’ve dealt with makes staying dispassionate much easier.

              1. IL JimP*

                yeah probably not the best strategy it would be more for me to make a game of it on the phone which is seems like these are phone convos not in person

              2. ophelia*

                Yeah, in this case (when it’s possible that they will be getting calls from a mix of customers and people who just want to call to rant), I think a script that includes, “I understand that you disagree with our policy; do you have tickets you would like me to cancel?” might work for this technique, because it moves them to either an action (canceling the tickets) or a very neat way for the rep to say, “In that case, I can’t be of further assistance, have a nice day.”

        3. AnonInCanada*

          While I agree wholeheartedly with the “kill them with kindness” approach, it takes a very thick skin in order to pull it off. But I’m sure anyone who’s ever worked retail or in customer service obtains one in a hurry! That pleasant smile they greet you with? Trust me when I say it’s about as phony as a politician’s promise!

        4. Not So NewReader*

          “I understand that you are concerned as are some other folks. However, I am not in charge of policies so there is nothing I can do here.”

          One thing that sometimes works for me is saying something to indicate I heard the person. NOTICE, “heard” which is not the same as “I agree”. People do need to be heard. And it’s fine to acknowledge, “I realize you just said something.” The unspoken part, “…. you just said something about something that is NOT going to change.”

          Where it fits, I have also gone with, “I am sorry to hear that” [which for reasons that are not obvious to them I actually am sorry they said that to me]. And the unspoken part is, “and I won’t lift a finger to fix it because it’s not under my watch.”

          It also works when I say, “I have someone else/another call waiting for me, so I really can’t stay on the line, is there anything else I can help you with right now?”

          I think it’s good to realize that some people are just not going to calm down no matter what we say. The answer there is to hang up, just after checking the number on the caller ID.

      3. LDN Layabout*

        If possible, alongside the script, it can help to have some additional training/roleplay on how to handle these calls.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I would also make sure the script includes (and staff practices) techniques for NOT getting dragged into the black hole of a political argument. I think “don’t JADE: Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain” could be useful here. THIS is the policy. HERE are the customer’s options for dealing with said policy. NO, the policy won’t change, so what would you like to do given that?

          But do not allow yourselves to respond to things like “you know Covid is fake/masks don’t do anything/insert conspiracy theory here, right?” Whatever they try to argue you down with, the ONLY response is “this is our policy, it won’t change, we won’t make exceptions, would you like to attend with your mask and vaccination record or would you like a refund?” And if they won’t choose an option because they’re too busy arguing politics, your staff can just tell them “it seems you’re not ready to decide which option you’d like, I’ll be happy to help when you are, please call back if you decide you’d like a refund.”

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            (Also if the caller hasn’t actually purchased a ticket to refund, but has only called to argue with you, make sure your staff know that can be a REALLY short call. No one’s paying your staff to be someone’s therapist. If the caller wants to rant, they can rant to their friends or family.)

          2. Remember Neopets?*

            I’m taking a screenshot of this advice for my team! We’re very lucky so far and haven’t received many angry phone calls, but sometimes it seems like when they don’t happen for a while the next one takes you more by surprise.

          3. BabyElephantWalk*

            Yes to this. A lot of customers will get angry, but if you’re dealing with irrational people over the phone it’s the only way I’ve ever found that works.

          4. TootsNYC*

            the “cut and paste” / “rinse and repeat” technique can work here.

            “I’m sorry you disagree with our policy; do you want to [insert organization’s suggestion here]?”
            and then repeat exactly the same script, not even changing the words, is one of the fastest ways to shut people down.

            And the organization needs to decide what actions it will allow:
            would you like the address of the board?
            would you like to cancel your membership?
            I’ll make a note of that in your file.
            Whatever–and have those options scripted.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Yep, the key is to be very boring and immovable. If you don’t rise to the bait, don’t argue, and just repeat repeat repeat “This is our policy, what would you like to do about it,” it is very Not Satisfying for them to argue with you because you’re not arguing back. They can’t “win” if you won’t play. And once they realize they can’t get what they want (to “win”), they will get their own selves off the phone faster.

              1. TootsNYC*

                yes, you can’t deviate; you can’t give any sort of indication that you are doing ANYTHING other than repeating the same thing to them. It’s not a conversation.

      4. Momma Bear*

        When I worked in customer service, we had a script for certain things and if the person really pushed, we could escalate. I also appreciated the blanket option to hang up on someone who was swearing at me. You will not make everyone happy. Remember – they are free to choose not to abide but they are not free from the consequences of that choice. They can *either* follow policy or not attend (and getting a refund is a really nice thing that not all companies would do). Rinse and repeat. Try not to take it personally. They are just looking for someone to be mad at.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          There’s an old saw in retail:

          80% of your problems are caused by 20% of your customers. Get rid of that 20%, and you’ll double your profits.

          The customer is not always right, because the customer is not always a customer.

          1. Mimi Me*

            This! I find that when I say things like “Well, we definitely don’t want you to be so angry. Let me refund your money and hopefully you can find a company that can work with your needs” in the most pleasant tone possible it takes them by surprise. Most angry customers are sure that our company will fail without their business and once you take that wind out of their sails they don’t have any place to go with that anger.

            1. Mad Harry Crewe*

              YES. I used to take escalated calls, and this sort of language can absolutely deflate someone who’s mad. You’ll get a lot of back-pedaling (although maybe not in this case) from people who thought that if they pushed harder they could get a different option, but when it comes down to it they’re willing to take the thing they were angry about.

              And for the people who really aren’t willing, it gives you a very clear-cut way to end the call – for those, I recommend a calm and pleasant “unfortunately, that isn’t an option”

              “Well, we definitely don’t want you to be so angry. Let me refund your money and hopefully you can find a company that can work with your needs”
              — “I don’t want a refund, I want to see the play!!! But not if you’re going to require masks and microchips!!!”
              “Unfortunately, that’s not an option we can offer. Can I go ahead and refund your tickets? I don’t want you to feel stuck, here.”
              — “What, you don’t want my business??”
              “We appreciate all of our patrons. At this point, your options are to attend the show with proof of vaccination and face covering; gift your tickets to a friend; or receive a refund. What would you prefer to do?”

              And basically just keep routing them back to variations on “your options are to keep your tickets or receive a refund. What would you prefer to do?”

              This is for someone who is upset but not yelling or swearing. As soon as you get to yelling or swearing, your team needs to be able to end the call. “I understand that you’re upset, but if you keep yelling I will need to end this call.” And if they keep yelling, disconnect. “Ok, I’m going to need to end this call. Goodbye.”

              1. Pikachu*

                My favorite thing about this is the idea of presenting limited options and asking for them to choose is literally a parenting technique for toddlers. That’s how we have to handle these kinds of attitudes. Like toddler tantrums.

                What a time to be alive.

                1. Momma Bear*

                  Exactly. We also had people get told no, come back, and be surprised that another coworker also told them no. Made me think that they played their parents like that when they were children. A favorite line from a supervisor, “They got the answer they needed, not the answer they wanted.”

                2. Mad Harry Crewe*

                  Eh, I was using these techniques years before the pandemic. People are still people.

                  The toddler thing is usually providing an illusion of choice: do you want to wear the red coat or the blue coat today? Unstated, and likely to be unchallenged, assumption: a coat is mandatory.

                  In this case, it’s more about unsticking people who aren’t able to let go of an impossible desire. I used to work in travel. It happened… multiple times a year, that there was a big event in some location and all the good hotels were booked up. When we let a customer know that they could have a 3-star in the suburbs, but that was the only option, a lot of time they could not let go of the desire for a secret, better, option (city center hotel with charm and historic character, typically). “I completely understand that this is disappointing, but I assure you that we have looked at all possible sources and these are the options that we can offer. Since it doesn’t sound like this is going to work for you, should I go ahead and release the room we are holding at Suburb Inn?”

                  Normally, it’s a bad idea to tell someone ‘fish or cut bait’ because once you’ve given an ultimatum you don’t have a lot of control over which one they pick. In this customer-service case, I really don’t care what they do as long as they stop complaining to me about it. They want my answer to be “oh no you’re right, the Secret Other Option is [thing they do want]” and instead it’s saying “alas, the other option is nothing at all. Do you want to suck it up, or do you want to walk?”

                  A lot of them suck it up and take what you’re offering. If not, you’ve got an out: great, you pick nothing at all. I’ll cancel/refund/whatever and we’ll go our separate ways. Bye bye!

            2. D.B. Cooper*

              Former retail store manager here. You’re spot on about taking the wind out of their sails when they try to hold “You’ll lose my business” over your head. Whenever a customer would threaten to go elsewhere, I’d just matter of factly tell them, “That’s fine. It sounds like you’d be much happier shopping elsewhere in the future.”

              So often they didn’t know how to react, like they’d found that particular threat was a cheat code to always getting their way with businesses — and suddenly it had stopped working. The willingness to let a problem customer walk out the door was probably one of the (last few) things that kept me sane in that environment… As they say, “You can’t please ‘em all.”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                These things are great if management is supportive of this line of reasoning. One place I worked for had no problem saying, “Take your business elsewhere.” But there have been a few places that acted like each customer was The Only Customer who could save the entire company from bankruptcy. sigh.

                OP, it’s good to know where the company stands. A good company is very clear, “our place is not for everyone as we will not be able to accommodate all wishes/demands. We try to address as many concerns as possible, but there are concerns we will not be able to address.”

                It was funny/odd, when I knew that one employer would tell people to go somewhere else, I found myself more patient and tolerant. I knew if the customer got too far out of hand the company would say, “Leave and don’t come back.” We never kept a list of the Banished Ones, but they did not come back either.

            3. Pdweasel*

              Reminds me of when I worked in customer service at a grocery store. This rude old geezer says to my coworker, “My money is the reason you have a paycheck!” To which my coworker replies, “Sir, take a look around. See all these other people shopping here? I think I’ll be fine.”

              1. Kikishua*

                As someone working in local government (UK) I always like it when someone says “I pay your wages!”, because then I can say “so do I!”

          2. Wired Wolf*

            ExJob had “The customer is not always right. [Store] is not always right. Through those differences we create harmony.” on the salesfloor in full view of customers as part of their manifesto/mission statement. Sounds pithy, but I think it actually worked. It made customers realize that we were there to help them, and they had to help us help them. It also helped us to figure out how to work with a customer and be pleasant even if they were trying to rile everything up. Very, very few jerks customer-wise in that job.

      5. Yellow*

        Completely agree that having permission to end the call and a script are key. It sounds like you’ve made it clear to your staff that you support them- but also be willing to take over a call if and when it’s needed.

        Also, keep in mind that any patrons you may be losing by enforcing this are probably patrons you’re ok with losing in the long run. They’re the ones who would probably wouldn’t follow rules anyway and be disruptive in a theater- texting, talking, getting up. The kind of people who may ruin the experience for others, and may cause other people to not come back in the future.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. When I want to do business with people I roll with whatever they have going on. The sign on the door says, “Don’t let the cat out” then I make sure the cat does not sneak out when I open the door. Yes, a very simple example, but people who want to maintain a working relationship with a particular business realize they need to work with that business.

          People too set on the mask discussion are not that interested in what the business is offering.

      6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Let me add that all employees having access to that script is just as important. The last time I had to do phone bank work they gave the script to me on the last day, so for nine days what I was saying was completely different from everybody else.

      1. Typing All The Time*

        Yes, make it a rule that they can end calls if someone is being abusive to them. Also if your calls are recorded and monitored, let them know.

    2. Neon Dreams*

      My company has this policy as well. We have to give them fair warning, but if they keep at it, we re allowed to hang up. No service rep should put up with that behavior. It’s easier said than done in the moment (been there multiple times) but having back up while doing that is super important.

    3. Gipsy Danger*

      I second the idea of a script, and of making it clear when you can hang up on someone. My personal rule from years of retail is is someone is swearing or using insulting language, I give them one warning (“Sir, if you continue to swear/insult me, I’m going to hang up”) and then I hang up.

      If this is happening in-person, you as the manager should be stepping in to deal with the person, to make sure no one is abusing your staff. Be firm about asking people to leave, and again, have a script for that.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Never *ask* someone to leave. If you *ask*, they have the option to say *no*.

        *Tell* them to leave, with no ambiguity. And only tell the *once*. Then it’s time to look them in the eye, pick up the phone, can call information for the non-emergency number of the local police department. Odds are, you won’t have to make that second call.

        (I only had to do that once in 30+ years in retail. But I treasure the memory.)

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I completely agree, if someone is abusive enough that you want them gone, don’t use the word “ask.”

          My standard phrase is “if you’re not willing to follow our customer code of conduct, you’ll need to leave the building.” If they refuse to leave, the next script is “I’m going to call security now and you’ll be escorted out of the building.”

    4. Not Another Wedge Salad*

      I completely agree. Arm the employees with a script, permission to end the call if the caller becomes abusive, and support from the boss if the employee must end the call. But take it one step further. Attach a pre-recorded message to the number so that when the phone is initially answered, the caller hears a kind but clear message that spells out exactly what will happen if the caller becomes abusive by screaming, cursing, becoming divisive or political, yelling or name calling. Once the message has played, the caller is then connected to the staff member.

      1. Observer*

        Uch. that’s going to land very badly with the vast majority of callers who are not and won’t be abusive. Some idiot blathering on a bout the 1st amendment, HIPPA, medical coercion and the like isn’t necessarily abusive. They are WRONG but being wrong is not necessarily abusive. So even if you get a lot of stupid calls about this it’s not that likely that you are going to get a high percentage of calls that actually are abusive.

        1. Joy*

          My former doctor’s office had at least a 30s spiel (felt longer!) about how abuse would not be tolerated and that the staff would decline to continue such conversations that you had to listen to to get through the phone tree. I’d say while I found it mildly annoying, I mostly felt badly that people were so awful such a message was necessary.

          If it’s one caller in 100 who acts this way, I wouldn’t do this, but if it’s creeping up to 1/10, I think it’s not a bad move.

          1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

            The last time my mother was in the hospital (she’s fine now) there were signs everywhere that said, “Abuse will not be tolerated, you will be escorted by security or police.” And the emergency room had a sign saying “If you abuse/harass staff you will not be seen.” Quietest ER I’ve ever been in.

            I don’t work in retail or customer service anymore, but I get an occasional call for my boss that gets abusive. “Your continued abuse/swearing/arguing will now end this call.” Click. The best one was one my boss over heard and took the phone from me, told the caller who he was and then asked him why the hell he’d want to do business with someone who talked to his assistant like that.”

          2. Global Cat Herder*

            My doctors office has introduced such a spiel in the last 3 months. It just makes me sad to think they’ve had to do that.

        2. EmKay*

          What? Why?

          They have this same message at my doctor’s office. It’s sad they need it. I am not ‘annoyed’.

        3. AskJeeves*

          I think it’s a mistake to only draw the line at “abusive.” People aren’t entitled to rant at customer service workers who have zero power to change the policy, even if they stop short of screaming and name-calling.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Most of the places I’ve worked (done tech support for a few hospitality industries although I mostly stick to engineering) have something on their phone lines now that say e.g.

        “We’re doing the best we can in these difficult times. If you are rude or abusive to our staff you may be banned. Please understand our staff do not have the ability to change or alter the rules of entrance”.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Yep. An entity for whom I volunteer had to add the following item to that list: “please do not harass our volunteers about rules over which they hold no power”. (I had a Dad follow me all over the facility complaining about the rules/trying to rephrase his question about the rules so that my answer would change (the rules were extremely clear and at the state level), follow me as far as the players bench during a game at which point I told him he needed to leave.

          I never could understand who the actual heck he thought he was that he should get special treatment.

    5. SoAnon*

      Absolutely this. I worked at a place where we were all performing highly technical veterinary nursing duties as well as acting as our own reception staff at night and on weekends (this was critical care/emergency vet med). My boss was very clear that we were not to take abusive behavior from clients or potential client and were to inform people of this over the phone (“I will not accept abusive language from you. I’m here to help you, but cannot if you continue to speak to me this way.”) and then to just hang up. This was so important for our own mental health and well as for the care of our patients! And, in my experience, hardly anyone calls back after they’ve been disconnected. (I would jot down numbers of any big problem people, just in case). Good luck and I hope you get all the support you need! And I hope people turn out to be kind about this very reasonable requirement!

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yup – this is exactly what I was coming here to say.

      But also, can you do some kind of automated message that people hear before they get to a live person? It might not prevent all of the calls, but it may help some if there’s a message saying “Thank you for calling Theater. We are looking forward to seeing you again. As announced, you will be required to provide proof of vaccination status or wear a mask when you attend our performances. This decision was made by [highest person in the org] and will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. If you abuse our staff regarding this policy, you may be banned from attending future events.”

      1. merula*

        Ehhh, I’m torn about this. On one hand, most of the patrons support the policy (per the LW) so they shouldn’t have to hear that, and it might spur people who were just going to be mildly rude to being nasty since that’s clearly what others are doing.

        On the other hand, it might remind the people who support the policy that the front-line staff are dealing with the other kind and inspire them to be nicer.

        1. Amaranth*

          Maybe a ‘press 1 for our current vaccination/masking policy’ and ‘press 2 for a refund’ and ‘3 for box office’ – and make getting an operator by pressing 0 impossible? Sadly, some people have nothing better to do than complain.

            1. Observer*

              You could put a voice mail on #3. At least, you could rotate who picks up #3, sot that people are aware of what to expect and don’t have to spend the day with it. But if it’s more than the occasional (very occasional) caller, I’d say make them leave a message. MUCH easier for people to deal with.

          1. Need more options*

            So what do I do if I want to talk to accounts receivable about an invoice, or if I have a delivery to make and need a loading dock time?

            1. Cece*

              In those cases you’d be calling finance or operations directly, not the box office (source: worked in theatre ops for years)

        2. Observer*

          On the other hand, it might remind the people who support the policy that the front-line staff are dealing with the other kind and inspire them to be nicer.

          And on the third hand, it’s likely to spur some self-righteous idiots to unload on the poor call taker “How DARE you insinuate that *I* would ever be so stupid. What kind of MORON are you?!” Except worse.

        3. Yvette*

          Maybe cut it in half with a slight modification ““Thank you for calling Theater. We are looking forward to seeing you again. As announced you will be required to provide proof of vaccination status and wear a mask when you attend our performances. Thank you for your understanding.”

          *not sure if it is mask AND vaccination or just either

          Also be prepared for people trying to prove a point by showing up to performances and arguing the policy. Some of whom may not even be actual patrons.

          I had a temp/seasonal position in one of the big membership warehouse stores. Part of my job was to insure social distancing at popular locations such as the butcher dept. I was asking people to give each other space when some guy came up to me “So this is your job?” Thinking he was trying to be funny I played along , smiling “Yeah, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.” But he was serious “So it’s your job to violate my first amendment rights?” He was not smiling, and a little menacing. I said “Sir, six feet apart at the meat counter does not violate your freedom of speech.” I am sure he was referring to the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” portion but that threw him and he blustered and said “Oh I meant 5th amendment”. At that point I just walked away. I realized later that he did not have a cart. (Trust me nobody shopped there without a cart, even paper plates were a 500 package bundle.) He came in for the sole purpose of stirring up s**t. There were similar instance in other locations. Some of which went viral.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Some folks slay me. I guess deli counters are well known spots for rallies? He should have tried the health and beauty aisle.

      2. Observer*

        I would want to change out the last line to “If you have any questions or comments you can email us at covidpolicy@theter.com or call 777-777-7777 x 777″ and have a mailbox that someone monitors. You don’t want people being stuck taking calls that are highly likely to be abusive, but you need to make sure that anything relevant gets picked up.

    7. LTL*

      I was going to say. I’ve never been in a customer service role so I’m not sure if it’s different, but generally human relationships should encourage everyone to set boundaries.

      If someone’s being nasty, the only thing you can do is really tell them that you don’t feel this conversation is productive so you’re hanging up. And then do so. The only real alternative is to let yourself be a punching bag until the person on the other end decides they have something better to do.

    8. madge*

      This plus seconding the script suggestion. I would also get ahead of this on social media when you announce it by making it *crystal clear* that you will not tolerate arguing with your team on this matter. I own a business with multiple locations that relies on live music and events. After the first bit of nastiness last year (our locations are in MAGA territory), we posted something along the lines of, “this is a public health issue and our team is empowered to end any disrespectful interactions”, “if you can’t abide by these rules, we’ll welcome you post-pandemic but our rules are non-negotiable”, “anyone becoming argumentative will be escorted out immediately with no refund”, etc. We had also posted that public health was more important than money to get ahead of the “well, you’ve lost our business” crowd (uh…good?). It may sound harsh but we had a ton of positive feedback and gained new regulars as a result.

    9. AnonInCanada*

      Yes, very much this. Their continual ranting, complaining and bickering to someone who has no say on the matter, either due to policies made by higher-ups or government mandates, shouldn’t have to be tolerated by anyone. Your language is perfect in this situation.

      1. 2 cents*

        The irony is I think many favor strong governmental action on some issues (law enforcement, immigration) and don’t understand governmental authority also can mean they have to wear masks.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          You said it. People cry about “they took our jobbbs!” when it comes to tightening up immigration and demanding the government step in to “protect the people,” yet they cry “muh rites!” when that same government steps in to protect the people from getting sick and overwhelming hospitals/ICUs. Go figure.

    10. Firecat*

      100% this. And of it’s in person being allowed to ask them to leave. I haven’t had to deal with masks specifically, but I use to work repossession and collections so very use to having to deal with screamers.

      Some scripts:

      “That’s our policy do have a ticket question?”

      You snowflake libt_

      Then you speak over them but don’t yell just say calmly.
      “Sir of you continue to yell/be rude/ dispute the policy/whatever the behavior is I will have to end the call.”

      Sheeple that are too scared and cuc_

      “Since you’ve continued (behavior)I’m ending the call now. ” Click.

      It’s also best to note the number in case they call right back. If I notice they called right back then I’ll answer with a polite and breezy “So did you decide you wanted some tickets after all? And if thay start up again disconnect. If they keep calling after that I will answer and put them on hold and leave them there so they don’t tie up the line. Depends on your software/phone set up.

    11. AskJeeves*

      This, but I would broaden it – the employees don’t have to defend or justify the policy to customers, don’t have to listen to arguments about why it’s wrong, etc. So they should be coached on cutting off the flow and redirecting to the business purpose of the call (refund, etc.). If there is no business purpose and the person just wants to argue and rant, hang up. But it shouldn’t have to get to the point of yelling for the employee to be able to say, “I’m not able to discuss the policy any further. Can I help you with your refund?”

    12. Thick skin*

      Or having managerial back-up to stand up to those people. For example, in the last place I work I was mid-management but I knew the owner didn’t give a rat’s arse about retaining rude customers. So when I politely asked a guest to put on a mask and they made waves and asked if I was wearing one why did he have to, I could very clearly tell him “No, the science says that wearing a mask protects other people. Not myself. So wear a mask so you don’t give me Covid.”. When he argued I could say, “You’re wrong. The science says otherwise. Put on a mask or leave.”.

      Having management that backs you up and a thick skin ARE NECESSARY for dealing with the public. I do not care what people who are against public health recommendations think of me. I just don’t! That helps a lot. Reframing the conversation in your head as, this person is irrational, they aren’t mad at me they are just taking it out on me, people who act like this aren’t deserving of my brain space, would I care about this person’s opinion out of work?, etc, will help.

      Also, being able to laugh at particularly rude people with your coworkers helps.

  2. kanej*

    Is there a way to create a “request refund” email inbox, where your customers send refund requests? Reading someone’s rant is at least less emotionally exhausting than having to listen to them on the phone.

    1. Olive*

      This could be helpful, or a screening option on the phone system, asking them to leave a voicemail to be called back to discuss a refund. After working in a call center, I know that people are much calmer when you call them back late, and heat of their anger is lessened.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This, we implemented an “all calls go to voicemail” system where I was allowed to check the voicemail a few times a day when I could brace for it instead of constantly answering the phone.

        1. Me*

          Yep. One of the reasons we send ours to voicemail. Of the few angry people I have had to call back because they actually do have a legit question and aren’t just yelling in colorful language how much they hate us, all have been suitably pleasant when I’ve returned a call with my sweet as punch customer service voice.

          Most people (in my experience) do know when they’ve acted like absolute asshats and tend to behave better once they got it out.

    2. Temperance*

      This is a good idea in theory, but in my experience, the kinds of people who object to things like wearing a mask or showing proof of vaccination are also the kinds of people who want to shout at someone. I’m not sure that it would do any good.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        This is very true. After retirement, I took a civil service position for a local municipality. It was a public facing position for taxes grievances, building permits, parking violations etc. The people who came in person were either very lonely or very angry. The angry people tired themselves out pretty quickly…but that was before we entered the Age of Angry Entitlement. I feel for the LW.

    3. Empress Matilda*

      Definitely this. And can you also set up your phone system to route these people directly to voice mail? Something like “if you have questions about our mask policy, press 3.” Then they get a recorded message about how your highest priority is the safety of your staff and customers, and you don’t have a policy yet but you’re looking into it, etc. Then they have the option to leave a VM if they want more information – at which point they can hang up, or rant into the mailbox all day if they want.

      1. S*

        Segregating those calls to a single line is a great idea, even if you still have a live person picking them up. Operators can take turns being on the hot seat, or management can handle those calls. You don’t want all your people to be bracing themselves for yellers every time the phone rings.

      2. TWB*

        The recorded message could also say something like “Please be aware that the staff answering calls did not set the policy. Their job is simply to relay the message coming from management. We ask that you be courteous to our CSRs. We have given them permission to end any verbally abusive or threatening calls. Thank you for your understanding…:

      3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        I like this option – and even more so, if people taking the call are given the option to transfer someone to Line 3 whenever someone complains about the policy. So:

        “Blah blah blah! Freedom! Microchips! Mah rights! I’m the customer!”
        “Certainly, sir, let me transfer you to the department that handles that policy.”

    4. Chauncy Gardener*

      Love this idea, plus the script. Also, can whomever handles PR for your org, perhaps in concert with other similar orgs in your area, publish something addressing this? I’m sort of the thinking of the restaurant on Cape Cod who recently closed for a day because customers were being so abusive to the waitstaff and they publicized why. I do think things improved for them. C

    5. PT*

      Yes, I was going to say this. Have a way for them to make the request that does not require human interaction. Be it a web form, or a voicemail, or an email, or they can log into their member portal, or whatever.

    6. RagingADHD*

      It is also quite easy to have a webform create a pre-filled message like “please refund my ticket,” so they can’t add commentary.

    7. Yorick*

      Yes, a webform to request a refund would prevent some of the ranting, and it would be easier for patrons and possibly also easier for staff processing the refunds. You could possibly include a multiple choice question about why they need a refund and have “the vaccination and mask policies” as an option. Then they may feel like they’re getting their complaint registered and not be motivated to call and complain.

    8. Esmeralda*

      You don’t even have to have a space for ranting. If you don’t need a reason for a refund, don’t even ask. Just the pertinent info. And set it up so that info you need to process the refund and to get back to patrons is required before the request/form submits.

    9. Aerin*

      This was my first thought, too. Normally there are equity issues with forcing things to go through an online venue, but given the way this misinformation is being spread, the overlap between “but muh freedoms” and “don’t have reliable access to the internet” has to be close to nil.

      And that makes it easy to shut down if they do try to call anyway. “I’m sorry, any requests for refunds have to be processed through our online form. If you don’t have questions about anything other than this policy, I’m going to go ahead and disconnect.”

    10. nnn*

      Building on this, is there a way to automate the refund process? “Click here for a refund”. Their credit card is automatically credited, their ticket automatically goes back in the pool of tickets available for sale, no human interaction needed.

      I know computers can be programmed to do this, but I haven’t a clue what the timeline or complexity of implementation would look like.

    11. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Yes! A dedicated mailbox for refunds is a great idea, or better yet, something that is automated entirely (at least use a ticket tracking system for requests, so someone can’t request a refund twice).

      Ideally, set up an automated system with a “Please input your concerns here” webform that will auto email a “director@organization” email address – then set up a rule for your director that bundles those into a folder they can look at and respond (form letter responses are perfectly acceptable for this sort of thing!)

  3. Catthulu*

    Do you have to do calls? Is there another way you could process refund requests that eliminates or substantially reduces the calls? Talking to people about this is a losing proposition. Can you encourage folks to email their refund requests (paper trail too!). People can be very cruel and myopic. Sorry you’re going through this!

    1. Keyboard Jockey*

      This is what I was thinking. If you set up something like a Google form, you could even make all of the options minus the name and email fields multiple choice/dropdowns so there’s no opportunity for someone to go on a written screed right off the bat, either.

      1. foolofgrace*

        You could give an option for “I’m really angry about this policy and would like to yell at you.” Not.

      2. Lizzo*

        Yes! Set up a very clear path for a refund request (e.g. a Google Form or an email, and maybe those emails get sent to a very specific email address such as refunds@yourorganizationname.com), and then set up your incoming call line to voicemail only, with clear instructions about what to do if a refund is being requested, e.g. we need your name, phone number and email address, plus the performance date for your tickets. Someone (maybe you, OP?) can gather the info from these emails and calls minus the ranting, and triage them to another staff member(s) for processing. That way the refunds are handled, and staff don’t have to interact with angry patrons directly.
        Eventually you can go back to answering your phones like normal, but this seems like the easiest way to cushion the blow of the bad behavior in the short term so that staff don’t feel beat down on a daily basis.

  4. Justme, The OG*

    My mom works for an arts organization where some of their performers are requiring patrons to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test before they can attend. She’s had a similar reaction from some customers who will scream and swear at her or the others who answer calls (she’s management and has been in this type of work for a long time). They have had to have police presence at their in-person offices because people have made threats. No real advice, other than that people suck sometimes.

    1. Mynona*

      Echoing the possible need for on-site police presence when your doors open. A restaurant in my blue city/red state only admits vaccinated patrons, the story hit the local news, and they received violent threats. Three weeks later, and they still have a cop at the door. I want to think this will change as time goes by and more businesses adopt these policies, but who knows?

  5. mcfizzle*

    I’d recommend making it *very* clear to your staff that they do not have to tolerate abusive customers, and have specific language they’ll use before they hang up. Something like “I will not tolerate this language/behavior, and if it continues, I will hang up this call”.

    I’d also recommend they say as neutrally as possible “this is the policy” and just stop there. Don’t justify or explain (they know it anyways and just want to argue!). The silence afterwards is what should just hang there and deflate the emotion.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep. Stick to scripts, don’t tolerate abusive language, and stick to “this is the policy” with a side of “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I cannot change the policy” if needed.

      (I haven’t personally dealt with covid-related issues, but I have done my share of customer service work with angry people, and it’s roughly the same idea.)

    2. Glorified data entry*

      My local opera house sent out an email detailing all the safety measures and saying, “We implement this policy in consultation with public health officials, strong patron feedback, and along with many of our peer organizations” to keep everyone safe. I really like that “strong patron feedback” line for a script to remind people that their fellow theatergoers do not want their germs either.

    3. Audrey Puffins*

      Yes to neutrality; they shouldn’t get sucked into a debate, it can help if the ranters can be misled into thinking “oh the poor phone jockey is on my side but they’re just not allowed to say it”, just keeping it factual about what the situation IS and what they can DO and not giving the ranters anything to argue with is going to be key.

      And +27575 to the “give your staff permission to not be abused and make sure they know you have their support if they need to cut anyone off” principle, knowing management has your back has ALWAYS been my most important thing working in customer service.

    4. d*

      I disagree. Hearing “this is our policy” followed by silence doesn’t deflate anything for me, in fact, I usually feel MORE angry that I’m talking to an actual person who is treating me like a robot would. What I want in that moment is CHOICE. So, is there a way to offer choice? Proof of vaccination, or recent negative test result. Vaccinate to watch in person, or watch a live stream from home? Even using it to incentivize vaccination, like, “our policy is to require full vaccination before you attend, but we will allow you to use your tickets for X performance if you can show proof of your first/next dose.” What about people to can show a doctor’s note saying vaccination isn’t appropriate or safe for their health situation? Are they barred from performances forever? Allow creativity to meet people where they are to the greatest extent possible.

      1. in the air*

        Offering choice is great for people who are calling with reasonable concerns, but many are not calling looking for choice at all — they simply do not want to mask up or get vaccinated, and they want to yell at someone about it. It’s usually pretty easy to distinguish between the two groups and when dealing with abusive callers, a repeated “I’m sorry you feel that way, but this is the policy” is a good tool for not getting pulled into engaging with people on the topic of “mask bacteria”.

        (Also: I do think the rise in livestreaming of performances has been great for many reasons including accessibility, but I also know that getting set up to do it in the venues I work at cost tens of thousands of dollars. It is enormously complex to do well and out of reach for many venues.)

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Yes, this. It can be effective to take a “we’re both together on team solving-this-problem” approach, and I would definitely recommend this as a starting position. But the unfortunate thing about customer service roles is that a lot of people are there looking for a punching bag. You can’t solve their problem, because their problem is that they want to abuse someone.

          In America, for better or worse, this “customer is king” thing means that retail or service workers are considered safe victims. It’s socially acceptable to be an absolute monster to your server or a phone rep. If nobody’s mentioned it, there was a good Atlantic article recently on the roots of this attitude and why people cling to power over service workers. It’s by Amanda Mull and is titled “American Shoppers are a Nightmare.”

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Yeah, this is where supporting your staff in hanging up on the jerks is crucial. It’s absolutely a good idea to start out from a position of “we’re both on the same team against the problem, let’s see what we can do,” but the minute it becomes clear that the person on the phone does not want a solution, they want a punching bag, the phone rep needs to be able to say, “I’m unable to continue working with you if you [yell, use such language, or whatever they did] so I’m going to have to go now,” and hang up.

        2. Feral Fairy*

          At the end of the day, the people who are calling and berating customer service workers about vaccine and mask mandates have made their choices. If you choose not to get a vaccine, you are also choosing not to go to events where vaccines are mandated. If your employer is requiring vaccines and you don’t want a vaccine and don’t qualify for a medical exemption, you are choosing to lose your job. I absolutely support any effort to make things more accessible to people from a disability justice standpoint but expecting establishments to accommodate people who have decided not to get vaccinated on their own free will is ludicrous.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. The option to provide a negative test result might help. Obviously that can be a matter of availability and cost, but at least in many parts of Germany they have implemented a policy where people are able to get one free quick Covid test per day so they can enter restaurants, etc. They get the result in 15 minutes after the test.

      2. mcfizzle*

        This scenario is if people are already escalated and stopping it from there. *If* the customer is being calm, then sure, have a discussion about a doctor’s note or other possible exemptions. Of course! But LW is specifically asking about the “nasty” customers.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, the number of people with genuine medical exemptions is quite small, and they strike me as less likely to be abusive than those who are choosing not to get the vaccine. OP isn’t writing in because people are calling up and politely asking if a doctor’s note and proof of a negative test within 24 hours could be substituted for proof of vaccination due to a medical condition.

          I don’t know much about medical reasons for not vaccinating, but wouldn’t many of them make someone very high risk and unlikely to be interested in attending live theater performances at this point in time?

          1. LCH*

            the only people medically ineligible are those who’ve had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past and those under 12. so it seems like no many from this group would be calling up the theater.

            I am curious how places are handling these policies in regards to kids.

            1. Mike S*

              I have a Facebook friend who can’t get intramuscular vaccinations at all. Until there’s a nasal or subdural vaccine, he’s SOL.
              He also regularly posts rants for people to get vaccinated because he wants herd immunity.

          2. Chinookwind*

            Rare is not zero or even a tiny number. I am someone who has had an ongoing (multiple months) reaction to two different versions of the covid vaccine and is dreading the rollout of boosters because I will be medically ineligible (and am currently not eligible for travel to the US due to the combo). The amount of contempt I received from a medical professional thinking that this makes me an anti-vaxxer signals to me what will probably happen when I am dealing with customer service about medical exemptions and I fully expect to be leaving a venue or two in tears as a result.

            So, while I would never yell at a CSR, having a clear “our policy is X and do Y for a refund” that is both clear and judgement free will go a long way in getting my business back when things are safe. As it stands, the blood donor clinic where I was treated so harshly has lost me as both a donor and a volunteer because of that one nurse’s treatment of me.

      3. aebhel*

        Sure, if the goal here is ‘make every customer hang up happy no matter how unreasonable their demands or abusive their behavior’. But that’s not the goal. The goal is ‘protect my staff from being verbally abused by people who don’t want to comply with our vaccination and mask policy’, and refusing to get sucked into a debate is Dealing With Unreasonable Customers 101.

      4. turquoisecow*

        If you can’t get vaccinated because of a legitimate medical concern, you probably shouldn’t be attending live performances in person. Or other crowded indoor events.

        There isn’t really a choice available here and people need to realize that. Get a vaccine, wear a mask or don’t attend and have a refund.

      5. Zephy*

        What about people to can show a doctor’s note saying vaccination isn’t appropriate or safe for their health situation? Are they barred from performances forever?

        No, but they should probably avoid (or, I hope, continue to avoid) public spaces as much as possible, until this deadly global pandemic that has killed over 4 million people and counting is under better control, which is only going to happen when we get everyone vaccinated who can be. “What about medical exemptions” isn’t the gotcha you think it is.

        1. Chinookwind*

          But only if you can guarantee that these vaccine requirements will be rolled back. These laws aren’t coming in with sunset laws and some are quite sweeping. I would love to think that they will be repealed when this is over, but government doesn’t have a great track record of repealing outdated laws.

          As well, I am aware that, if I am under vaccinated in the future, I will need to be careful, but the prospect of being segregated from general society due to a medical condition seems wrong on a personal level.

      6. Dawn*

        Whether or not that’s a valid concern, it’s not the customer service employee’s decision to make and they shouldn’t have to argue about it and that’s what this letter is about.

        I may agree or disagree with individual policies where I work, but arguing about them with customers isn’t my job. I don’t set those policies. I don’t have influence on those policies. You can agree or disagree with them but I have no ability to change them and I don’t have to put up with you badgering me about them, end of discussion.

  6. Seashells*

    Person who answers the phone at part of my job: Please make sure your employees know that is it ok to hang up on people who become abusive, scream, use profanity and insult them (you are all a bunch of *beeping*sheep blah, blah, blah). And back them up if they need to do so! What these folks do not understand is the person answering the phone and trying to help you did not have say in the decision (even if we agree with it!) or any decision making authority, so screaming and cursing us may make you feel better, it’s not actually going to change anything.

    In the 5 questions/5 answers post this morning other readers pointed out this is basically a health and safety issue. It may even be life and death in some cases. Your right to not wear a mask and not get vaccinated does not trump my right to stay safe.

    1. 2 cents*

      Depending on the state, the person doesn’t necessarily have a “right” not to wear a mask. Unless there’s a vaccine mandate, they would have a right not to get vaccinated.

    2. cncx*

      thank you, i found out earlier today that an unvaccinated coworker has been coming in to our mask free office and…it is exactly like you said, her right to not get vaccinated isn’t more important than her not breathing on me at work. i’m the one who now has to spend money on tests, change my home office schedule and basically rearranage MY life because of her “freedom.” I’m furious

  7. Been There, Got the T-Shirt*

    “We’re so sorry that this policy has become necessary for the owners? managers? of the theater to implement. I absolutely understand your dismay here. However, I’m only able to help you with matters regarding tickets and have no power to change policy on this. Here’s an email address (create one just for this purpose?) to send your comments. I also wish this could be different, but how can I help you with your ticket inquiry today?”

  8. MechE*

    Make an automated, un-skippable telephone message about your policy before anyone is connected to a human. If anyone gets remotely abusive, you need permission to hang up.

    Alternatively, make it an un-skippable message that refunds are only handled online and create that capability. There shouldn’t be an avenue for abuse. Or go only email. Try to minimize avenues for abuse.

    1. soup of the evening*

      And refunds-only-by-email could easily be done through an online form on the website. The form only requests information pertinent to the refund process, the confirmation is sent from a no-reply address… I’ve seen that at work in my city. They say it cuts down on listening to (or reading) angry rants!

    2. Cinderella Sparklepants*

      If you have the technical know-how (or have someone on staff who does) I really like the option of directing everyone to a form online to get a refund. Honestly, there are plenty of people in the younger age range who would probably prefer that. You’ll still have to listen to some rants, but fewer is certainly better.
      And I’ll second what everyone else has already said – a clear script and explicit permission to hang up on people who are abusive.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          I disagree. There needs to be a phone avenue as well. Many people do not have reliable internet or phone internet and filling out forms on the phone can be hard. Simply have the voice mail explaining and directing to on line and then have the abuse policy and then connect to a person.

          1. Windchime*

            Yes, this. My mother is older and doesn’t have a computer or know how to use one. She is perfectly fine to talk on the phone or to fill out a paper form and mail it in. Restricting people to computer only is ridiculous. It was horrible this spring when the ONLY way to get a vaccination appointment was via computer. My sister spent days getting our non-computer-literate relatives signed up.

        2. Observer*

          Why not? Just because someone can’t use the internet for some reason doesn’t mean that they should not be entitled to get a refund if they need it. Especially since refunds are not only the province of people who won’t follow basic public health procedures.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            It doesn’t have to be the phone, even if there should be a way for the non-computer crowd to get their refunds. Offering a snail mail address to write to should be fine.

            1. Observer*

              Sure. But you have to offer it when someone calls in. It’s fine if it’s the recorded message “If you need a refund please go to http://www.refund.theater.com and fill in the form or send a letter to Refunds Department, Theater, 1234 Theater Drive, City, State 11111″

              Just to be clear, I was responding to the person who said that there doesn’t need to be an option for mail.

      1. Ariaflame*

        If they’ve already found the phone number I’m sure they can find an address to send a request to by mail.

      2. Growing old but not growing up*

        My aunt, in her 80s, does not have computer, email or smart phone. There needs to be a way for people like her to get refunds.

        1. Snailing*

          There absolutely should be exceptions to the rule, but frankly it’s your aunt’s choice to not have those things, just it’s someone’s choice not to get vaccinated. In making that choice, she probably understood that sometimes she’ll need to maybe ask a friend (or her niece!) for assistance refunding her ticket through their computer, or call the venue and leave a voicemail that she would like a call back to process her refund because she doesn’t have a computer to do so, etc.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            That’s not true. Despite what many in AAM community think, vast swaths of the US do not have reliable internet or cell coverage. Think the Southwest, Native American reservations, mountainous areas, rural areas, etc.

            1. Snailing*

              Yes, I live in one of those areas. But presumably OP’s business would still accept regular voicemail (from a landline) for other messages, where someone could leave a message like I do not have internet; can I process my refund another way? My call back number is 555-1234.” The point still stands – if you don’t have something like internet, whether by choice or because you can’t, you understand that you need to find a work-around. And in a situation like this, OP’s business needs to set up check and balances for their employees’ safety.

              1. Black Horse Dancing*

                There is nothing wrong with having a phone agent to do this–simply have an abuse policy. The phone agent is the work around. I have dealt with companies who have no phone and it’s a PITA. Usually, I need a quick, simple answer. Nope, no way to get one. Puts customers off in a hurry.

            2. Splendid Colors*

              I have a friend who lives 10 minutes outside a small town east of San Diego who can’t get home internet or LTE/4G data. She’s not out in the middle of the wilderness, as she can drive to San Diego in maybe an hour and the suburbs in half that time.

          2. Nea*

            I think Growing Old’s aunt shouldn’t be shamed for being old herself. My parents are in their 90s and it’s not a deliberate “choice” to not be equipped and familiar with the latest tech, it’s because they are old and have trouble understanding things, especially if it is on a smartphone with a screen far too small for them to be able to accurately focus on.

            It’s nobody’s choice to be elderly when you consider there’s only one way to opt out of that.

            Not to mention – how accessible is this website to be? Accessible enough for people with visual and fine motor control disabilities to also request and process refunds?

            Phone numbers are vital for perfectly legitimate non-abusive customers. An automated message and the option of the callee to opt out of phone calls gone wrong are better than basically saying “We don’t want your custom because of who you are not anything you’ve done.”

            1. Snailing*

              I apologize if it seemed I was shaming someone for being elderly. Not my intent at all, and certainly not something I believe. (Or replace elderly with disabled, or incapable of having internet/computer, or whatever else fits there.) It’s absolutely true that many times, it has nothing to do with choice. But I have not advocated at all for there to be no option to reach the business by phone; one of the alternatives I mention is exactly what other commentors are suggesting — to leave a phone message if this hypothetical online refund process is inaccessible for any reason

              1. aebhel*

                You’re advocating for the phone number to be treated as a workaround, not as a valid option in and of itself. People without internet access should not be required to use ‘workarounds’; it’s far better to have a clear policy and empower staff to end abusive calls than to make people who have done nothing wrong jump through a bunch of byzantine hoops just to get something processed because they don’t have internet access.

                1. InTheaters*

                  So in this industry in general, allowing a refund in the firstplace is generally an exception to a rule, and in a sense, a workaround itself. Someone who wants a refund because they can’t or won’t comply with venue policy on vaccination and masks is already getting special treatment. It was one thing when literally everyone offered refunds because performances were cancelled entirely due to COVID, but generally speaking, it is extremely rare for a refund after purchase for a performance that is happening to be on the table. 99% of tickets/order confirmations in this space are no refunds for any reason.
                  So the phone number is a workaround for a workaround. Yes, there are swaths of places with unreliable or no internet – or people with unreliable or no internet. What we’re looking at here are people who do not have reliable internet AND have tickets AND will not or cannot comply with the venue policy AND want a refund AND have some sort of problem that prevents them from requesting this via mail and thus must do it by phone only. Then of those people, how many do not want to call primarily so they can be abusive? Those are people you want to actually let get through via phone.

                2. Dawn*

                  Forcing people who may have various mental health issues to TAKE any and all abusive calls that come in is also an accessibility issue.

                  Just because I can end a call doesn’t mean I don’t get a panic attack when an angry man starts threatening me.

                  You’re treating the customer service representatives as if they’re less human and less deserving of accommodations than the callers in this instance.

          3. aebhel*

            This isn’t accurate. Loads of people do not have reliable internet access for a lot of reasons (including just not wanting to pay for something they won’t use), and it should not be a requirement for participating in public life.

            Unlike, say, vaccinations, which is frankly an insulting comparison.

          4. Them Boots*

            Sorry Snailing, I respectfully disagree. My aunt is only 76 but her brain is not flexible enough to make the jump to smartphones. Some centurions can and do, but others just don’t have that mental flexibility to go from phones that utilized a live operator to a rotary phone to a car phone to a flip phone to….Yeah, her brain is now fully occupied with survival and dealing with other stuff. Just thinking about figuring out how to use a smartphone stresses her out. Not worth it!! My mom finally got a smart phone, but only after we kids got her an iPad for Facebook and scyping with grandkids and her siblings. After a few years slowly getting comfortable with navigating the iPad apps, she just got her first smartphone this year! This is in addition to other areas of the country without reliable internet, computer access-and classes for learning it (that require transportation to get to said classes), as well as funds for computers or smartphones. If the choice is food on the table or using a neighbor’s phone once in a while, then tech is out of reach. The US & Canada are HUGE countries, and running physical cables to every location is impractical, as are satellite dishes in some areas that either don’t have funds or the dishes are going to be hit by weather on the regular. (I’ve lived there and can remember some doozies of weather vs tech. One place had a standing policy of RUNNING to MANUALLY unplug the power strip for the computer and unplugging the phone line whenever a lightning storm was on the horizon after we lost our phone, credit card machine (there were sparks as it blew apart!) & single office computer with the new database due to a lightning strike that killed the lightning rod that should have saved those lines among other stories of life in Wyoming)

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Thank you for this.

              In my area the cell phone companies BRAG that they will NEVER give full service to the area. Likewise with cable service. It’s like they are so proud of this. So people in my area get it from both sides, the service providers that are full of themselves and the outsiders who have no idea what battles are raging in these rural areas.
              Frankly, it’s exhausting.
              One cable company told a friend it would cost 20k to bring the cable line down his road and to his house. The friend said, “Here’s the 20k.” And jawdroppingly, the cable company said, “Nope. We’re not going to do this.” And that was the end of that discussion.

          5. classical orchestral musician*

            If OP’s brand of performance is anything like mine, most of our audience is firmly in the senior citizen category and a good percentage of them are not digitally savvy. Making an online process the default would alienate a large portion of the audience at a time when institutions have already just dealt with a year and a half of lost income.

            1. InTheaters*

              Do you know what percentage of your org’s ticket sales are already done online? Because my understanding the average is about 80% at this point (in non-profit arts: opera, ballet, symphony, theater). Even those orgs that still skew heavily senior, the vast majority of their ticket sales happen online. Are there still plenty of people who aren’t able to deal with this online? Absolutely. But the idea that the majority of these tickets weren’t purchased online to begin with is not the case for the vast majority of venues.

        2. Snailing*

          And I say this with kindness. My grandmother, age 85, regularly asks me for help with stuff like this and I happily help her.

          And more to the point, OP’s business needs to center their employees’ emotional/mental safety when they know for a fact that they will get verbal abuse about this, especially because it is already happening. This is temporary, and I’m sure they’d work with someone like your aunt to get a refund another way when necessary.

          1. Observer*

            The idea here is not to make exceptions to allow abuse but to make exceptions to allow people to ask for refunds in ways other than “fill out an on-line form”. Just because you’re happy to help your grandmother, and she’s happy to ask you, and it all works fine just doesn’t work for everyone.

            It’s not so hard to figure something out. All it takes is the willingness to recognize that some people really do need at alternative that they can access on their own, and that doesn’t make their issue less important or legitimate.

            1. Snailing*

              I guess I’m coming at this with an assumption that there is a voicemail inbox somewhere for this business so if someone is unable, for whatever reason, to make a request online or get help doing that, there is still an option to leave a regular old voicemail asking for a call back to do a refund.

              We can acknowledge that there are people who need an exception/alternative while still recognizing that OP’s business needs a way to screen calls to minimize verbal abuse.

              1. Emily*

                If there is still a phone number for people to call (and I think there should be), the people who want to yell/rant at someone will just ignore the online refund option and call anyway. I do think having both an option to request a refund online and an option to call is a good idea. Having all the calls go to voicemail is an option, but I don’t think that’s great customer service for all the customers who aren’t jerks. I work in an office so it’s not the same environment, but I backup the phones occasionally, and what I’ve noticed is that people who have to leave a voicemail are much more likely to call back again more quickly, or call multiple times than people who get to speak to someone, even if the person they are speaking to is just taking a message to give to someone else (the phones in our office are answered by a live person, but there are only two of us who answer the phone, so if both of us are on another call, the phone goes to voicemail or if someone calls when we are closed). Also, having all calls go to voicemail mean that there is a much higher likelihood of playing “phone tag” with someone, which can also cause people to become aggravated. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people don’t check their voicemail, so they will call back and become accusatory that no one called them back, even though they were called back and a voicemail was left. I think the best solution is for the staff to be told that they are allowed to end a call if someone is becoming abusive, and also not to get into arguments with anyone. Basically “This is the policy. You can wear a mask to the show or we can process a refund for you.” If the person refuses to choose one of those options and/or keeps being rude, then the call is ended.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I think that it’s not reasonable to aim for zero complaints and it sort of feels like that is what this discussion here is aiming for. But I also think that management support and written scripts can go a lot farther to help the employees than people might think.

                1. Emily*

                  I don’t see anyone saying that it’s reasonable to aim for zero complaints. I see some solutions being offered to try to find ways to avoid talking to the complainers, but I agree that there is no method that will mean you never have to speak to someone who is angry at the mask policy. I agree that management support and having a few written scripts is the best idea. I do think trying to keep the script as short and to the point as possible is a good idea.

      3. LCH*

        I think they should offer the same venue to refund as they did to buy the tickets in the first place. Unless it was all done in person way back before the pandemic hit and these are old tickets. but it’s pretty likely most were purchased online?

    3. Youth Services Librarian*

      A lot of stress can be generated by not knowing what you’re going to get when you pick up the phone. Are they going to scream at you or not? If you can’t do online with a snail mail option, why not send everything to voicemail, tell people to leave their information, and then call them back so you control the interaction?

  9. Nicotena*

    I wonder if it would help to have an “alternate option” that you can offer; even if they don’t want to take it, sometimes it can give a sense of control and choicemaking that can help (not people who are irrational though). For example, “if you can’t attend in-person, we do have a recorded performance available on our website” or something. I am organizing an annual event for our org and the in-person is mask and vaccine mandatory, but we did create an online component. So we’re not telling supporters to go jump in a lake, we’re telling them that they have chosen door #2.

    1. Tiny American Flags 4 All*

      Unfortunately most live theater is licensed by companies that do not allow recording or streaming rights at all, or at such a high premium it would make it financially impossible. It needs to be an industry wide change, and I don’t see it happening any time soon. It’s a great idea!

      1. in the air*

        Plus the equipment acquisitions and additional labour costs! Most people don’t want to view (or pay for) a single widescreen shot of the stage from a static camera at FOH. To create something people will pay for, at minimum you need multiple livestream-quality cameras, a video switcher, stable streaming software, skilled camera operators, and a show caller. It’s expensive to set up and there generally isn’t enough interest or ROI to justify the setup cost. I really wish it was a more viable option though! The Broadways of the world have the capital to pull it off but smaller venues generally don’t.

    2. LRC*

      They do have a choice. They can get with the program, or receive a refund and not attend. There is already a door #2!

      1. Aldabra*

        My local (large) theater is offering streaming for sure for the first two productions this season (masks/vaccinations required for in-person attendance). My mother and I have not yet decided which we’ll do, but I’m okay with a sub-par experience if it means I don’t have to sit around a bunch of germy people. I think it’s a good option, if the theater can do it. We’re going to wait and see how the pandemic goes locally – we still have over a month before the first play.

  10. CanWeHaveSinglePayerNowPlease*

    Honestly, being polite but authoritarian works best with those types. Don’t escalate, don’t be a jerk, just be firm and insist that the rules are the rules.

    A script that has worked for me is something like:
    “I don’t want to wear a mask! They don’t work anyway!”
    “Unfortunately they are required here, can you please put your mask on?”

    “I can’t breathe in it! You’re causing me harm!”
    “In order to enter the building you have to wear a mask. I have one that I can provide you if you don’t have one.”

    “You’re violating my rights!”
    “This is private property and you do need to wear a mask to be here. Will you put this on while you’re here?” *hand them a mask*

    The line about private property is especially good with the angry “Muh rights!” crowd. They respect private property like nobody’s business.

    1. Temperance*

      I think that your scripts are a little too soft on anti-maskers. “We require a face covering or mask in order to enter our building” as a statement, without the “will you please stop being a total dong and follow basic public health measures” question is stronger and more concise. And it doesn’t give them the option to say no, actually, I will not wear a mask.

      1. CanWeHaveSinglePayerNowPlease*

        Well if they say no to the mask then I tell them they have to leave.

        Then we usually talk some more about their rights, and I explain the private property thing again.

        Finally they either put the mask on or leave.

        Basically I hammer home that they can’t cross the threshold without a mask, and keep offering one / asking them to put one on.
        It wears most of them down.

        1. rnr*

          Dang, I wish the stores around me had someone like you at the doors! They have “masks required” signs, but so many people just ignore them. Good on you for being firm! It really sucks that you have to deal with this at all though.

      2. Yorick*

        While we all want to scream at anti-maskers, that’s not going to help customer-facing staff have a pleasant time at work. These scripts are meant to contribute to public health by telling the person that they have to wear a mask or leave, and that’s all that we should expect these employees to do. It’s far beyond their responsibility to change people’s minds or shame them.

        1. MsClaw*

          Yes. This is one of those situations where it’s very easy to type ‘well, here’s what I’d say’ but honestly most of us wouldn’t *actually* say those things when confronted with an angry person all up in our face at our job. We might *want* to say those things, but we also don’t want to get fired, socked in the jaw, or otherwise escalate the situation.

          SinglePayer’s scripts are good ones for the people who have to actually be on the front line with jerkfaces. Same thing over the phone. ‘I am sorry you feel that way. We can offer you a refund.’ even if you might want to say much less friendly things.

      3. Observer*

        “We require a face covering or mask in order to enter our building” as a statement, without the “will you please stop being a total dong and follow basic public health measures” question is stronger and more concise

        And far more likely to get someone SCREAMING in the person’s face. It’s more important for the people on the front line of this to have a script that’s clear (this is) bust as non-inflaming as possible. You can’t get to zero, because some people are just nuts, but it’s more important to aim for that than for MAXIMUM ZING.

    2. SlimeKnight*

      THIS! I work in the public sector supervising front-end employees and we get this constantly. I always resort to, “I’m sorry, our [Governing Official] has mandated all employees and citizens to wear masks in this building. We can assist you remotely if you are not comfortable wearing a mask.”

    3. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

      This, plus looking into hiring designated security rather than trying to have your staff act as bouncers. If actual security staff isn’t possible and/or not in the budget, assign a few people from your staff (preferably on a volunteer basis) to act as security and make sure they have a uniform that shows that clearly, even if it’s just a t-shirt that says SECURITY. The people most likely to cause disturbances respond better to perceived authority where they would argue with someone they see as ‘beneath them’ (servers, cashiers, and, in your industry, ushers/ticket takers).

      For the phone line, definitely a script and management support is the way to go. If for some reason you want to have them transfer the line to someone else in the event of “I will not tolerate this language/behavior, and if it continues, I will hang up this call” (or if they keep calling back because they want a refund but want to rant first and never get to that part of the call), have someone be the designated a**hole. Manager or not, they would be the person comfortable breaking through the rant. Maybe even have them pick up the line saying “This is so-and-so, you are on mute and I cannot hear anything you say. My colleague transferred you due to your disruptive behavior. Our policy is [details here]. I will unmute you now and will be able to process your refund, but if you continue this behavior I will end the call and place your name/number on our ‘do not respond’ list.” You may get some people who are then upset that they cannot get a refund, but I see that as a natural consequence of not being able to act like a rational adult for 5 minutes to make that request.

      1. Observer*

        The people most likely to cause disturbances respond better to perceived authority where they would argue with someone they see as ‘beneath them’ (servers, cashiers, and, in your industry, ushers/ticket takers).

        That’s gross. But it’s also unfortunately true.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      One of the more delightful moments in my city life was going to a multiplex movie theater that had signs up stating that you would have to open your bag for a security check. Despite the proliferation of these signs, one young patron decided to hold up an entire line of people in order to cause a scene and rant about “Unreasonable search and seizure” and his constitutional rights. The young ticket taker calmly replied “Well sir, this is a private facility so the fourth amendment does not apply.” He then recited the fourth amendment verbatim and added “If you do not wish to enter, we will refund your money. If you do wish to enter, you will need to open your bag.” The guy threw up his hands and said “Fine!” It was awesome.

      1. Observer*

        I absolutely LOVE this. I would love to know what this person was thinking – I *SURE* they didn’t expect this “peon” to actually KNOW the text of the 4th amendment!

    5. TinLizi*

      I’ve used the private property line too. It’s worked most of the time. I did get the person who yelled about suing me and I told them I was merely following my employer’s policies and she would have to take it up with them.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      This, except the word “unfortunately.” You need to be firm and not give the anti-masker any ammunition to argue.

      “Our policy requires all patrons to wear masks while in our facility. We have some here if you need one. Please make sure it covers your nose, mouth and chin at all times while in our facility, for the health and safety of everyone here.” Repeat as required. If they insist on coming in maskless, no more need to be polite: “we have explained the policy, and if you refuse to comply, I must ask you to leave. If you refuse to leave, I will call the police to have you removed, by force if necessary, and you will be charged with criminal trespassing. Make your choice now.”

  11. Funny Cide*

    I think something that could go towards your staff feeling very supported in handling these situations is if there’s any way to establish a banned list (assuming you catch a patron’s name or the number they called from).

    1. kevcat*

      Greetings, fellow Saratogian! Or perhaps not. Either way, I’m gonna go find myself a racehorse username now. :)

  12. Clorinda*

    Protect your staff. Protect yourself. Your jobs do not require you to be anyone’s pandemic punching bag.
    Clearly state the policy, do not negotiate it, and if a phone call becomes abusive, say (and encourage your staffers/volunteers to say) “I’m hanging up now,” and do it.
    For in person events, when and if they happen, invest in some extra security. Your ushers are not bouncers and should not be required to function as such.

  13. EO*

    My advice would be to figure out the best way you can to move the conversation along. Maybe something like “I completely understand that you’re disappointed that you won’t be able to attend the show. Since unfortunately the rules are not going to change, I’d like to go ahead and start processing your refund. I’d hate to make things worse for you by making you have to spend a long time on the phone sorting this out.” You might even be able to throw in something like “Many people feel the way you do, so I’m afraid I need to go ahead and get your refund processed and wrap up this call so I can help the next person.” That may seem a bit rude but it will likely make some of your callers feel vindicated and let you move on/-you’ll just have to listen to some “Ha! See?! Your other customers agree with me! Expect to lose a lot of business over this!” comments.

    Also, do everything you can to be kind to yourselves and each other. As someone who has been having this conversation with people for months, the reality is that it sucks and there’s only so much you can do about that, so anything outside of these calls that you can do to make your work place more pleasant will be vital.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      “Many people feel the way you do, so I’m afraid I need to go ahead and get your refund processed and wrap up this call so I can help the next person.”

      This is brilliant!

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Edit: on reading the replies below, I have to agree that it’s probably a bad idea after all. Still fun to imagine, though!

    2. Justme, The OG*

      I would leave out the “may people feel the way that you do” part because then you’ll get the argument that if many people feel that way, why don’t you change your policies for them.

      1. Doug Judy*

        This so much. It gives validity to their beliefs if they feel there are many of them. You don’t need to make them feel justified in any way. The less you say to them the better. If you say there’s many of them that opens the conversation up more.

        Just a simple “This is the policy, if that is something you cannot do, these are your choices” If they yell, let them know you’re ending the conversation.

      2. CG*

        Agree! (My snarky response preference would be: “Many new patrons have been trying to support our organization because they appreciate our alignment with science and support of our community’s public health, and because they share your love of opera/musical theater/Scandinavian snow dancing/competitive yodeling/whatever, so I’m afraid I need to go ahead and get your refund processed and wrap up this call so I can help the next person in our exceedingly long queue of patrons hoping to purchase tickets to this show.”)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        “…why don’t you change your policies for them.”

        This is too easy.

        “Because I am not the one making the decisions. We can set up your refund now if you would like.” (Pattern: Answer the question, then redirect the conversation.)

        But you are making me think. OP, why not have group meetings where people can roll play the things they have heard and answer each other as practice. And if they all end up laughing before it is over, consider the laughter therapeutic.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      I wouldn’t try to sugarcoat your reply with words like “I understand you’re disappointed” and “unfortunately, our rules aren’t going to change.” That’s going to bring the angry one into full-on rant mode: “SO YOU KNOW IT’S
      UNFAIR AND YOU GOT TO STOP IT NOW!! FIX THIS [expletive expletive].” You need to tell them “this is our policy, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.” Repeat once more, and if they continue to bitch: “I cannot help you if you continue to use abusive language. I will now end this call. Good night!” (click) <– is that still a thing anymore?

    4. Feral Fairy*

      I work in the restaurant industry and from experience I feel like saying “many people feel the same way you do” will further escalate the persons anger and sense of self righteousness.

      If you want to throw in the word sorry to sound less harsh, I’d just say some variation of “I’m sorry to hear that. I will go ahead and process your refund.” Just keep it vague and stick to the script.

  14. MainelyProfessional*

    I just want to point out that the OP isn’t alone. The Maine State Theater in Portland was just deluged with complaints about their vaccination and mask policy, and had to refund $36,000 worth of tickets, and ultimately decided to cancel most of the fall season. So…it’s not outside the realm of possibility that your org will find itself in similar straits. As for dealing with the customers, the advice above is sound–I would add to the script that this is going to the policy in most performing arts venues going forward, from Broadway on down.

    1. Another Mainer*

      Yes! I’m at another arts organization in Maine, and we’re watching what’s happening with Maine State Music Theater and feeling some of the effects at our own organization, since we just made our own COVID policy announcement. The advice others have given is great, and I hope you know you’re not alone, OP!!! I’d also add that we’re explaining to angry patrons that many musicians, performers, comedians, etc., who are coming to our venue are requiring proof of vaccination, masks, etc., and that if we don’t comply, they will not come to our city. I’m not sure if that applies to your specific arts organization, but the thought that the performers won’t come without these requirements has helped calm a lot of our angry patrons.

    2. WellRed*

      I was coming here to comment on this. I felt so naive thinking Maine arts lovers would be nasty. Silly me! (Also a Mainer).

    3. InTheaters*

      Yep. All the orgs I know of who were initially planning to go with a policy of “whatever the state/county requires, no more no less” changed their tunes the second Broadway announced its mask and vax policy. As soon as “our policy is the same as Broadway” was on the table everyone wanted in on that.

      1. InTheaters*

        Also, while this doesn’t necessarily help with the angry people, it does give a good sense of the direction things are going:
        adaptistration.com/vax-policy
        It’s a database showing the policies of major venues, by org type, and who they require to be vaxed (staff, performers, ticketholders) etc.

    4. Beth*

      At least the new policies will allow those of us who DO take Covid seriously to consider attend events. I hope that we’re in the majority. (I suppose that, over time, we inevitably will be.)

  15. Anon this time*

    Has loudly arguing with or screaming at another person ever changed their response? Has the person being berated ever said, “Yes, you are absolutely correct. We will change the policy RIGHT NOW because YOU demanded it?” No. That never happens. I understand that the angry, screaming person has had it with policy or the world or ran out of coffee and is going to take it out on someone, but….aren’t we adults?

    No, I don’t think, “Why can’t we all just get along?” but I do think, “You have made your point, and it is not going to change anything. Now please shut up and move along because you are holding up the line.”

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “Has loudly arguing with or screaming at another person ever changed their response? ”
      Yes. It works in smaller institutions without strong policies. It sometimes works in public spaces because businesses/orgs don’t want “a scene” and will fold just to move things along.

    2. Xantar*

      “Aren’t we adults?”

      Chronologically, yes. Emotionally, I would have to say no. Not everybody above a certain age has the maturity of an adult.

    3. mcfizzle*

      Oh, you wouldn’t believe how many people will cave to the squeaky wheel. Which drives me nuts because it only reinforces the (to me, bad) behavior.

  16. awesome3*

    For in person stuff, give each of your employees a box of masks so they can give them to people who don’t have them. It won’t stop everyone from being rude or refusing to wear a mask, but it is pretty effective for a chunk of people.

  17. middle name danger*

    My venue opened 2 weeks ago. My default has been “This is at request of the tour/artist.” Be prepared for “my test didn’t come back in time” excuses. Just be firm and direct “I cannot let you in without proof of vaccination or a negative test. If your test comes back before the show begins, please show me a digital copy on your phone.”

    No apologizing, no backing down or softening. This is industry standard now, just like I wouldn’t let someone bring a pocket knife or illegal drugs inside.

    The most frustrating thing to me has been that we were given NO guidelines on how to check for proof of vaccination and tests. Nothing on what to look for for fakes, nothing on how to add it into our ingress process. If you’re in a position to, please make your staff a one-pager at least on how to check. Someone on my team almost sent someone away because their card said Janssen instead of J+J.

    1. middle name danger*

      Also, echoing everyone stating you do not have to take the abuse or allow your staff to take the abuse. Tell them, This is the set policy and I am not able to discuss this further. If you continue to speak to me like this I will end the call. I have given you all of the information I have, so unless you have different questions I can answer, I am going to end the call.

  18. JustA___*

    I am sorry this is happening to you! Everyone should be able to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. Access to institutions is a public good, as are vaccines (my apologies to people who can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons, but I’m guessing they are not the ones OP is concerned about).

    Two things that I have seen work to de-escalate an angry caller:
    1. At my previous customer service/sales job, we used to pass the calls between us when we hit a brick wall with a customer. Regardless of whether I was passing the call to my superior, to a coworker, or to a junior employee, it gave the caller the sense that they were moving up the chain/making progress. The next person would basically give them the exact same response. Bonus points for handing the phone to my *male* direct report (hi, sexism!) who I would tell what to say while the caller was on hold and be better able to placate them.
    2. For customers on the phone who get salty, say, “I didn’t catch that last part, could you repeat it?” as sweetly and earnestly as possible. For most people, they won’t be able to let loose a second time, and it kind of reboots that part of the conversation.

    1. JustA___*

      Wanted to add, we were NOT allowed to hang up on abusive callers, which would have been SO MUCH BETTER.

    2. Astronaut*

      +1 to passing a customer to any other employee. At one of my old retail jobs I had a coworker I was very fond of who was a fellow anxious type, and we had an unspoken system where if one of us saw a customer giving the other a hard time, we’d step in and take a turn. I think you get taken by surprise when a difficult customer starts having a go at you, but if you’re jumping in to help out a coworker, you have a moment to assess the situation, take a deep breath, and make the choice to get involved, and that makes a difference.

    3. Recruited Recruiter*

      Previously in a customer service role where we also were NOT allowed to hang up on abusive callers. We also passed callers around to people of the same rank. I (the only male) was also the least hotheaded person on the team, so I got all the most upset customers. Even my supervisor sent me the customers who made her mad. Don’t know if this worked because of customer sexism or my personal diffusing skills, but this worked very well for our department. My personal preference would be to believe that my skills were good, but cultural sexism is very much a thing, so it definitely could’ve been that.

  19. MM*

    I work in hospitality and have a background in communications. I would arm your staff with talking points and standardized ways to answer common questions. Knowing the script takes a lot of the stress off of them because they don’t have to figure out what is “the right” way to respond. I also like the idea of creating a generic “customer feedback” email address that your staff can share with folks who complain so they can send their opinions to the email address instead of harassing staff on the phone. Wishing your team the best as your navigate this challenging issue!

  20. Me*

    I have to deal with angry covid people from a government standpoint. Here’s how we handle it.

    We have a phone line that goes directly to voicemail. If people just want to call and complain they can rant their little hearts out. And we don’t have to listen to it – delete.

    Second policy is, if you are going to be abusive, I will interrupt and warn once that if you cant be civil I will have to disconnect the call. Then I follow through.

    1. Gnasher*

      Same here, also government. If people get too nasty, on our phones (whenever a new covid mitigation is announced) we let it go to voicemail and will call the genuine requests for assistance back.

      We track every voicemail though, because I am going to document and remember if you told me to perform fellatio on the executive branch of state government, in less polite phrasing.

      Another tip is just not to take responsibility for anyone else’s feelings, and don’t feel the need to defend the policies either. I’m a stone wall when these people talk over me. Whether it’s poker face or disassociation at this point – who can tell.

    2. HS Teacher*

      We are having a similar issue about critical race theory, which isn’t even what we teach in high school! My policy is that as soon as you become abusive I hang up. No warning. But I’m also in a union that would protect me.

      I had to deal with some angry parents last year who demanded we teachers get back to work. If I’m not working, how is it you called and got me on the phone? Idjits.

  21. JB*

    Is it possible to set up a ‘policy concerns inbox’ where you can direct people? Either a voicemail box or an email that someone on staff can review when they have the time and energy?

    So as soon as a caller says ‘I have concerns about your COVID-19 policy’ the staff can let them know there’s an inbox in place for their concerns and forward them to it. The customer can rant to the inbox. The customer feels heard, the staff member doesn’t have to sit there listening to someone rant at them for a quarter of an hour.

    Some callers will refuse to be transferred, or might call back repeatedly to find out if their concerns have been listened to, but it should reduce overall how much time your people spend just being yelled at by aggressive callers.

    1. Doug Judy*

      20 some years ago I was a receptionist at a radio station that had many channels. One did a very abrupt with out warning format change basically overnight. The morning of they had already set up a prompt that sent anyone calling to voice mail. If they got to me I was to transfer that to the voicemail. I’m 1000% sure no one listened to the messages.

  22. Miss attitude*

    I work in a customer facing aspect of medical care, and last year during the peak of the pandemic we stopped seeing routine patients. Slightly different, but I imagine our customers were just as mad as yours. We had to turn people away at the door multiple times a day. Most of the staff fell into a routine of not being apologetic in their responses, but remained matter of fact. It seemed to help.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Most of the staff fell into a routine of not being apologetic in their responses, but remained matter of fact.

      This is so against customer service training that it’s hard to get used to, but it does help.

      1. middle name danger*

        It helps so much! My team has been treating it just like we’d treat someone bringing in an item that is very obviously not allowed at a performance venue. Matter of fact, not apologetic.

      2. A Wall*

        100%

        I vividly remember being told by a manager at my first bartending job, “don’t apologize to these people!” It took a while of seeing people’s reactions with and without that customer service apologetic tone to realize that, holy sh–, people really will be more civil if you are dispassionately dismissing them, they only get riled if you do it nicely.

  23. Renee Remains the Same*

    My organization is dealing with some of this as well (we don’t require vaccination, but do require masks). I think the key takeaway is that it doesn’t matter what someone’s opinion is and no one on your staff is an expert in the efficacy of masks or vaccination (regardless of how much they know about it)… unless their job is literally establishing health and safety protocols. So, my advice to my colleagues and yours is to keep it simple.

    Your organization is following the guidelines established by federal (and state) guidelines. The policy is that all customers/visitors/etc must be vaccinated and/or masked when at your location. Your company is not able to accommodate those who are not masked or vaccinated at this time. If they would like to submit a suggestion or complaint, they can contact [insert contact info here]. Say all of this as neutrally as possible, bearing in mind you are just relaying factual information. They may not like the facts. That would be unfortunate, but it doesn’t change the facts.

    Rinse, rather, repeat. Do not enter into a debate. Do not provide your thoughts or opinions or statistics or information. It matters not. Your job is not to change their mind. Your job is to listen to their concern and address it. The solution may not be a successful outcome. That’s not the goal. The goal is to let visitors know what is required to attend a performance.

  24. Murphy*

    I watched someone de-escalate a customer once and I was amazed because it’s not a skill I have.

    One thing I noticed was that she almost never used the word “I”. She always said “we” as in “We aren’t going to be able to accommodate that request…” It seemed like it helped drive home that this was an organizational policy and not this one employee preventing the customer doing what they wanted to do. Obviously won’t work in all cases, but if you’re putting together a script it might help.

    1. Lizy*

      Absolutely. “I” implies that I can do something about it. I can’t (or won’t), so I don’t use it.

      WE can do this or can’t do this. It also implies that I have the backing of my boss/organization (which I do).

  25. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    My advice would be to figure out any exceptions up front and communicate those clearly with the staff. Few things are as demoralizing as being told to enforce a rule, holding your ground diligently for an hour, then having a supervisor cave immediately when escalated.

    Try to avoid the progressive/liberal vs. conservative divergence. It only reinforces the othering that each side does to the other and won’t improve the situation you’re trying to navigate.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Yes to this. When I worked in several customer-facing positions, it was so frustrating and demoralizing when I’d make a solid case for why I can’t do something (company policy, system limitations, or something else), and then the manager would override me willy nilly.

  26. Jennifer Strange*

    Hi OP! I also work for a performing arts organization and we are also moving forward with requiring masks/proof of vaccination for at least the first indoor show in our upcoming season (the second show is a family show, so we’re trying to figure out how to approach it considering it’s aimed mostly to kids under the age of 12, who currently cannot get vaccinated). We’ve already made this announcement to our patrons via an eblast. I work in fundraising, so I’ve not been able to see the response our box office/marketing team likely has gotten (though I did field a single angry complaint in response to an eblast that our Gala will also require proof of vaccination).

    One question I have is how much of the refunds (when necessary) are able to be done through your website? The platform we use made some functions available during the pandemic that allow patrons to log into their account and self-select how they would like to handle any returned ticket requests (so they can choose to get a refund, make a donation, put it onto a gift certificate, etc.). This could somewhat minimize the interaction your staff has to have with these folks (granted someone who wants to complain and be heard will likely choose to get in touch with someone, but some folks may just go this route). I’d say definitely encourage email over phone interaction where possible as that will give staff a chance to take a breath if need be before responding.

    I also would encourage your staff to be as matter-of-fact as possible when talking to angry patrons. They don’t need to defend or justify the decision your organization has made, nor do they need to explain the reasoning, they just need to say “I apologize for any inconvenience, but this is the protocol [org.] has adopted at this time. I am more than happy to assist you in refunding your tickets.” In other words, don’t get drawn into a debate with the patron, just get the refund processed. Also, if your database has the functionality, try and have your staff record notes of those interactions in the patron’s record just so you can reference it later. It’s always good to know which patrons are behaving certain ways.

    Wishing you and your staff the best of luck!

    1. Nea*

      Re your kids show – it’s my understanding that Shakespeare in the Park (NYC) had 2 seating areas – vaccinated was full capacity; unvaxxed was 1/2 capacity, socially distanced, masks mandatory. Perhaps having socially distanced family pod areas in your theater might work?

  27. Former Young Lady*

    Having worked front-of-house for a professional theatre for five years in my younger days, I can say that approximately 10% of performing arts customers are…just overgrown bullies. They don’t go to a show to get their fill of art and culture; they go so they can feel like big shots (mostly by picking on the ticket agents/ushers/concessions cashiers).

    When I was in the business, 9/11 happened, nobody knew when or where the next terrorist attack was going to happen, so my employers implemented a battery of new security measures none of the customers were used to — things that seem obvious in hindsight, like not letting anyone into the lobby without their ticket, and restricting patron access to areas they had no business going in the first place. Like so many other post-9/11 changes, most people rolled with it graciously, but that histrionic 10% threw tantrums unbecoming of a preschooler.

    I think of those people when I hear about how pandemic denialists are behaving in public now. The best hope really is management who will advocate for their reports. This has to include strategies for dealing with unruly people in the moment, permission to disengage with someone who is being abusive, and reassurance after-the-fact that the staff didn’t deserve the abuse and the abuser is not welcome back. That rule has to apply equally to big-name donors and cheap-seat patrons. Tokens of acknowledgment and appreciation should be part of the mix as well, and they need to be meaningful.

    Unit cohesion is crucial. Staff need to have each other’s backs, and leadership needs to have everybody’s.

  28. HotSauce*

    Stay neutral. Use the most boring monotone you can muster. “I am very sorry you feel that way Sir/Ma’am, our place of business has made the decision to follow CDC advice on masking”. Never rise to the occasion, never debate, just keep repeating the policy like a robot. I’ve found that so many of these people are trolls trying to goad people into a fight, or rageaholics who get off on getting people flustered. Whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls. If they become outright hostile or abusive direct them to reply, “Our policy is not to tolerate abusive behavior, I will be ending this call now.”

    Try to remember that it’s not personal, they’re not attacking you, they’re attacking the thought of anyone restricting “their freedoms”, no matter the cost. Remaining calm and neutral is your best weapon.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      And, when it comes down to it, these policies DO respect freedom of choice. The owner of the venue has set the policy for the venue.

      The customers are free to choose whether to comply with these policies and be admitted, or to do whatever else they would prefer, at some other location.

      It’s a matter of respecting each others’ choices, and the people entitled to make the choice for this venue have decided what is necessary in order for a customer to be allowed to enter.

  29. blackcatlady*

    When you do open for business have security guard(s) at the entrance because some whacko will show up and shout. Be prepared to authorize that guard to deny entry and call for backup if necessary. If the whacko physically touches any staff then it’s assault. Sorry, but play hardball. I have a science background and it just amazes me to see the pushback agains common sense safety measures. The nuts have the freedom to stay home. They do not have the freedom to abuse you.

  30. capedaisy127*

    Does your phone system allow a pre-recorded message?
    Can you put a statement on your website or via an email?
    Can you add an online feedback form for people to vent?
    Like a lot of others have said, script something like ‘are you calling about the government ruling about covid safety, or is there something else I can help you with?’
    Good luck and sorry people are turd-buckets and you and your team have to deal with it

  31. Can't Remember*

    Having worked in a call center:

    -Scripts are a game changer!
    -Knowing you have the support of management to end an abusive call is wonderful!
    -Knowing who to contact if it’s an in person confrontation helps the stress, a little.
    -Two of my favorites for irate customers – no matter what, don’t let them see how they are affecting you and keeping a calm, monotone voice will throw them off.
    -Being able to take a quick walk around the building or somewhere to shake off the stress of the call before handling another customer is good too.

    Please know, as a fan of performing arts, many of us support whatever decision is made. We want to enjoy the show again too! Best of luck!

  32. former stagehand*

    Be prepared to lose staff over this. Some people can mentally disconnect and not take it personally . . . I’d say most cannot. Ideas to make it less awful:

    1 – if you have to process refunds make it as easy as possible to do that with minimal interaction. Is an online refund option possible? zero interaction and a place to direct people if you hang up on them. know that some people are calling up just to yell at you so this will probably cut down on your overall volume, the calls you still get will be the ones that are the MOST pissed off. Maybe also a “feedback” section as well? so they can “yell” at the computer instead of a person (you don’t actually have to have anyone read the feedback or care, just maybe skim it occasionally to see if there’s anything in there besides rants)

    2 – empower staff to end the call without repercussions and have their back. Have a script for them. Practice with them saying what is acceptable to your org. “Yes, vaccinations are required for everyone’s safety, if that’s not acceptable we can refund you” . . . “If you xxx I will end this call” practice and a go to makes it easier to deal with in the moment

    3 – remember & reiterate to them all the time that this is not personal. don’t take it personally and don’t get emotionally involved. I know it’s REALLY hard. And especially being in the performing arts industry . . . a lot of people with empathy and big feelings end up in that industry, right? So be prepared to lose staff because no matter what you do, some people are just not going to be able to handle it. call center people (who take the most abuse) are trained and skilled in de-escalation and they are very very good at detaching. if you can find some professional in person de-escalation training for your staff that might help too. and just support them as much as possible.

    Sidenote: I’m so sorry! The entire industry is barely surviving, so many people out of work, STILL . . . and it’s not news. The arts is so important for our soul and we are losing an entire generation of talent. It’s heartbreaking. Hang in there please, we need you even if it seems like you’re forgotten.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I seriously looked into quitting my job last summer (I couldn’t, there were no jobs. I did this summer once there were). People were just being awful. And I am a seasoned customer service person, and I have dealt with some truly awful players…but it’s one thing when it’s like a ridiculous story that goes into the terrible customer interaction file in your brain. Even if it happens every day, it’s not every interaction. Right now we’re at the point where it’s a coin flip whether every single interaction is going to be like this. And we’re all exhausted. And we’re all struggling. It’s just too much.

  33. human*

    “the rants have to be listened to” …

    Do they, though? Do they really? These are people who would rather you, your workers, your talent, and all your families’ get seriously ill and maybe die AND your business fail rather than slightly inconvenience themselves by … following public health guidance.

    Why should any of you listen to a word these a-holes have to say? Seriously.

    Once many years ago I answered phones at a radio station that had switched formats maybe 6 months before. We would still get angry calls about it. I was instructed to transfer them to a special voicemail box that they could yell at to their heart’s content. The decision wasn’t going to change, why should I spend my work time getting yelled at about bluegrass?

    1. Empress Matilda*

      This is a really good point. The customer is not always right! It can take some time to un-learn that little bit of advice, but it’s really important.

    2. Classic Rando*

      When I worked retail tech support (yes, it’s a awful as it sounds) and we got an angry caller sometimes we’d just mute our end and hold the receiver away from our face until the yelling stopped. Then we’d unmute and calmly reiterate whatever policy they were mad about, and that took some of the wind out off their sails about 70% of the time.

    3. Lizy*

      Yep.

      In a similar vein, I have many people try to blame The Government for *insert whatever they don’t like*. I absolutely refuse to engage, regardless of my personal opinions on it. Some will flat out ask me, and I just say “there’s many reasons why prices are high” or “I don’t talk politics” or even “I’m not gonna touch that with a 10-ft pole”. One person earlier this week said “you just don’t respond?” NOPE. “oh… uh… ok!”

      It was very difficult to not have any emotions when GuyWhoSeemedCompletelyNormal started talking about stuff and it ended with Biden was assassinated last year and Jim Carrey is really who we’re seeing as Biden on tv, but he left when he realized I wasn’t getting into it.

  34. LAL*

    I’m going to combine bubbleon and kanej’s comments and suggest having a script that ends with an action for the other person. I’m currently in a volunteer public-facing position for an organization, and while our work is such that vaccinations/masks haven’t been an issue, I get a lot of people who come to me mad about other things. I’ve learned that some of these people want to continue discussing (or fighting it) with the decision-makers, and some are just looking to vent and I am the easy target. Either way, it is exhausting! I’ve learned that having a few good frameworks to guide the conversation that end with “Here is the info of someone better suited to talk to you” (which works for the issues I’m dealing with, I don’t think it would for you?) or “Can you please send me [x information] I need to cancel your membership” are effective! Because it ends their interaction with me and giving the other person work to do often makes them lose steam (no one has ever sent me the cancelation information, maybe half of them get in touch with the higher-up).

    I think if you and your colleagues can be armed with something like “This is the policy that works best for us and we cannot change it. I’m sorry to hear we’re losing your support. You can send your information for a refund to [wherever],” it won’t stop all the vitriol, but it might shorten it. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this; stay strong!

  35. Caroline Bowman*

    Another useful tool is automated call screening. So ”press 1 for opening hours, 2 for upcoming shows, 3 for mask and vaccination policies”. Then when they press 3, a clear, simple directive, pre-recorded, with an option to press 4 for a refund.

    No need to even have a person speak to the vast majority of these lunatics. None at all. Of course there are those who are OTT enough to hang on and take out their unhinged-ness on a human, but it’ll weed out the majority who just want to whine, and it will give them the chance to get their refunds if they so choose.

  36. Ashley*

    Some of the things I did with abusive customers:
    – Let them rant (in phone calls) without interruption and then stay silent about 5 seconds longer than usual when they stopped talking. Next state their options and ask which option they would like you to process. Some people thrive off of your resistance and if you try to reason with them they’ll just keep arguing so don’t try to counter their grievances just try to focus on what *action* they want you to take.
    – Put them on extended holds. Jerk move and I don’t care.
    – write down my responses while they are going on a rant. It helps me to try to steer the conversation into the direction I want.
    -keep a steady and normal voice tone. Some of these people just get off on upsetting you so keeping your composure defeats part of their purpose and helps you feel more dignified.
    -Cone up with canned statements to use:
    “these are the options I’m authorized to offer”
    “That decision was made by our leadership team and I do not have any authority to make exceptions”
    “This is all of the information I was given”

    1. Ms. Chanandeler Bong*

      A few years ago, I worked in an arena venue that made a minor change to its parking lots (instituted one paid VIP lot – thousands of spots remained free). And the calls I got were ridiculous – people just screaming at me.

      The tips here are great. But one thing that helped me, with the angry (but not abusive) crowd was this: “I hear that you are frustrated. What are you asking me to do for you today?”. They’d either spout some garbage that I couldn’t control, allowing me to reiterate their options or they’d totally sputter out because they understood that I couldn’t do anything, they just wanted to complain.

    2. Em*

      For phone calls, I can’t agree more with the “let them rant and stay silent” strategy. Arguments take a lot of energy, and if they’re the only one putting any energy in, they’ll wear themselves out. When I say “stay silent” — this includes all the little “mmm” and “uh huh” noises you’d usually put in to indicate that you’re listening. Your goal is complete and utter dead air.

      Eventually they get worn out and ask if you’re still there.
      “What you have to say is important to me and I didn’t want to interrupt or miss anything. What I’ve written in my notes here is that you are frustrated that masks and vaccinations aren’t optional in order to attend our shows. We can proceed in a couple of different ways: (would you like to refund your ticket? Would you like to donate your ticket to a charity that provides access to arts to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have it? Would you like to keep your ticket and have more information about our mask/vaccine requirements so that you can get set up to see the show? Whatever the options are.)”

      Frustrated people on the phone generally feel a sense of satisfaction when you have written stuff down. If they’re really angry, I let them dictate the notes themselves. “Sir, would you like to slow down? I’m trying to write down your exact words so that we have an accurate record of your feedback.” This usually results in people being sure to speak clearly and slowly, which generally means they’re not yelling at me anymore, and they stop being abusive because all of a sudden they are Dictating A Permanent Note. I suspect this might work in person as well — hand them a piece of paper and a pen.

      “Thank you! We’ll keep this somewhere we can refer to it should the situation change and we decide to review the health measures we’ve taken. Here are your current options regarding your ticket — how would you like to proceed?”

      Obviously not everything is going to work with every angry person on the phone, and being able to hang up is vital. If your calls are recorded, being able to remind people that it’s recorded is a good thing too (that permanent note thing again. People are way less abusive when they know there’s a record of it.)

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        I love the idea of offering the opportunity to donate the ticket. Some probably will, and even the grumpy people might be a little bit reminded of times they were generous. I wonder if there’s been any research into something similar, and how it might affect mood?

    3. Chickaletta*

      All of this, except for the last three which, in my experience, leads to more anger from the customer. If I say something along those lines, then they accuse me of not knowing my job/not doing my job (because I should have the answers to everything otherwise why would I answer their call??) and demands to talk to someone higher up, because in their mind, those people can open up more options for them (ie the option they want to hear).

    4. Jackalope*

      In addition to those people who WANT to get you upset, there are also people who are upset and have a bit less self-control when they call than they otherwise do. This technique works really well for that too. I had a position once where I often used the “pretend the other person was being calm and reasonable” tactic. I actually had a lot of people thank me for that. They didn’t like being over the top either, and me calmly helping them let them breathe a bit and act like the reasonable person I was treating them as. Not everyone is like that of course but I got a lot of thanks (and apologies) talking that way.

  37. Fleabag's Inner Monologue*

    I work in the restaurant industry, and I’ve found that focusing on the economic risks of re-opening to unvaxxed/unmasked patrons tends to be much more effective with people who hold those beliefs. I just keep smiling sympathetically and saying things like “unfortunately we’re not sure our restaurant could survive the financial difficulties of another shutdown” or “well, the margins have always been tight, as I’m sure you can imagine,” and refuse to let them draw me into talking about personal freedom or whether or not Covid is real. I find their viewpoints sad and distressing, but it’s not my job to convince them that there’s a global pandemic on, and refusing to engage them on those points has made those interactions shorter and less gruelling for me personally.

  38. Cafe au Lait*

    Screen all the calls. I’ve been trying to get in touch with my senators to clear up a federal agency issue, and every time I call I’ve gotten voice mail.

    If Washington can do it, so can you.

    (Related/unrelated: I’m glad that PSLF exists, and I so VERY FRUSTRATED at the amount of red tape I’m encountering trying to get an issue resolved. I was denied forgiveness on my loans because one loan was underpaid but the loan next in the sequence was overpaid. The same amount of money was deducted from my bank account every month).

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      But these are the people whose job is to answer the calls. If you add a layer of screeners, you’re simply shuffling the abuse onto another group of people.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        How? If the Org’s staff contact info isn’t anywhere else, then screening the calls funnels them to a single place. The OP can then go in, write down messages that need return calls. The angry people will rant through voicemail but they don’t need a call back.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I guess I don’t understand what you mean by screening the calls – do you mean they have to go to voicemail first? I don’t think that’s the standard definition of “screening calls,” but I don’t work in customer service so maybe I’m not up on the lingo.

      2. LizB*

        I think Cafe au Lait means screen the calls by sending them straight to voicemail, not by adding other people who are answering them before they get to the OP’s team.

    2. Another Govt Employee*

      Oh I have absolutely lost my mind trying to deal with PSLF before. They are infuriating. Sending you good vibes!

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        Thanks! I’m on hold with them now, and if I can’t get my issue resolved (credit the overpaid amount to the underpaid months) then I’m escalating this to my senator.

        1. STG*

          I also feel your PSLF pain but for different reasons. Doesn’t help that FedLoan Servicing is dropping out of federal servicing. Now I’ve got some new consolidated loans under a different servicer, the rest under FedLoan and I’m missing about 2 years of payment credits on both of them. Very frustrating!

    3. honeygrim*

      I have yet to make any headway getting anything forgiven, even though my payments have been deducted automatically each month for ten years. It’s insane, and one situation where I want to yell at people. But you’re right, there’s no one to talk to!

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        Head’s up for you and anyone else applying for PSLF: call and get a detailed payment statement. My loans were denied because some months were unpaid for one loan but over paid on the second loan. The payment amount never differed.

        Now my loans have been flagged for “realignment.” At least the upside is that since some of my loans have reached the 120 payments, it goes to the top of the list for review. The snarky part of me believes that since FedLoan has such a dismal forgiveness rate they’re trying to hardest to improve the stats before PHEAA terminates their contract with Student Aid.

  39. Classic Rando*

    I don’t have to deal with phone calls anymore, but saying “appreciate” can help the powder keg types feel heard. “I appreciate your feedback, but…”, “I appreciate your concerns, but…” etc.

    Having an authority figure to make the “bad guy” can help too. Throwing an anonymous “board”, “management”, or other vague authority figure under the bus can help deflect some of their rage too.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Hint: change the ‘but’ to ‘and’, or just end the sentence there. Even thought the second part may seem to directly contradict the first, it creates space for both to be true rather than necessitating one be undermined. E.g. “We appreciate your feedback. At this time, the policy is X, and we are only able to do Y or Z.”

  40. Paris Geller*

    There are a lot of good suggestions in the comments already. I don’t have quite the same experience with customers over the phone, but I definitely have gotten some experience in the past twenty months dealing with people upset at policies (I work in a public library). Some things I suggest, many which have already been mentioned:

    1. Have a good, robust training for your staff that they are active participants in. Roleplaying this kind of scenario before one is actually in really helps. Look up verbal de-escalation tactics and see what can be applied to your situation (the BEST training I’ve ever had in relation to customer service was verbal de-escalation)

    2. Have scripts that your staff can use. They won’t cover every situation, but having a few go-to lines can really take the pressure off some of the more routine, though still upsetting, calls.

    3. Make your guidelines SUPER clear. It’s great that you tell your staff they don’t have to tolerate abusive customers (and they shouldn’t!) but give examples of when it’s OK to end the call. Leave as little room for ambiguity as possible.

    4. This might not be possible with your set-up since it sounds like it’s mostly (all?) phone calls, but if you can, create some sort of tag-teaming system where your staff can have breaks. This also depends on your team, but hopefully they already have decent culture of cooperation. If, for instance, one staff person has dealt with three upset customers in a row, maybe have someone who hasn’t had to deal with that for awhile jump on and take over while the first staff member takes a quick five minutes to decompress. I will have to say you have to have a really good system for this–I’ve seen it done both really well and really poorly, because it’s not fair for one staff person to always be the “relief” person and never get a break themselves, but if you work it so it’s fair it REALLY, REALLY helps.

  41. Gilbert*

    My first recommendation is to update your portals with the mask expectation, vaccination expectation, and refund policy. At minimum this should include your website, and your telephone answering service. “Thank you for calling Covid Theatre, we are excited to welcome you back. For the safety of our patrons, and talented cast and crew, Covid Theatre will be requiring BLAH BLAH BLAH…” and go from there. I would host standing meetings everyday at the beginning of the day to boost team spirit, and get them ready for the day, and just go from there. Good luck!

    1. Pennyworth*

      I think end of the day debriefings can help too, where horror stories can be shared. Also playing abuse Bingo during the day, where you can mark off particular insults and arguments, so an angry rant can become an opportunity to score several points.

  42. cubone*

    I’ve numbered these but they’re all kind of related. I’ve worked in both customer service and crisis lines, so have dealt with everything you can possibly imagine on the phone:

    1. a very clear script with pathways if possible (eg. if the customer asks for an explanation behind the policy, use this statement, if they demand a refund, use this one). Include 2-3 (max!) statements for abusive customers (as mentioned above: “if you continue swearing, I will have to end the call” -> “as mentioned, I will not continue this call if the swearing continues” –> “unfortunately I am going to have to end our call now”). Short, specific, and as neutral/unemotional as possible. Maybe look up grey rocking and avoiding JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain) for some insights on neutral responses. Obviously don’t think of your team as robots, but encourage them to use robotic responses and be as divorced as possible from these people (I know, MUCH easier said than done). Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel reactions, but find ways in your training/support to make it clear that the goal is not tolerating these customers, but getting them the thing they need with as much distance between their emotional reaction and yours.

    2. Be very clear with your team what the “triggers” are, either for ending or escalating a call. What are the circumstances where they give a warning (and how many warnings? See #1) for ending a call? What are the circumstances where they can end a call without a warning? Try to avoid “use your best judgement” or “trust your gut”, not because they SHOULDN’T trust their gut/judgement, but to remove any additional extra emotional labor from the equation. Make it as explicit as you possibly can what your expectations are and what is tolerated vs. not tolerated.

    3. related to #2: Are there any situations in which you would want them to transfer the call to a manager, or promise a follow-up (you, I presume?), or no? Do you have patrons or donors who you won’t tolerate abuse from, but may need to approach more sensitively, or be handled by senior management? Consider this one carefully and make it clear to your team. You shouldn’t have to take on more abuse than they do, but it can really help to give an out of “if the call is very complex/upsetting for you / you’re having trouble hanging up, you can always transfer to me” (or someone else on your team who is especially good with conflict and manages these calls particularly well? Find those people if you have them and make them leaders!)

    4. If you can, be very clear that people can take breaks or reach out to you (anyone else?) after a particularly hard call. Validate them as much as you can, but try to avoid getting into too much ranting/venting about these angry jerks – not because it’s not valid to feel that way, but because it makes it feel a lot more personal. Refocus it always on your team (“that was a hard call, how are you doing? What do you need? You’ve been doing a great job”, etc). I don’t want to encourage you to be inauthentic/introduce toxic positivity, but are there ways you can reinforce wins/pride in your work, to remind them why the arts are important? How meaningful it is to be bringing people back to the theatre, that art is a way we can process and recover from this terrible experience? Do you have any budget to give people small wins, free lunches, anything?

    5. This is very small, but genuinely helps me: give them permission not to give out their names or use fake ones.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      This is a great list. Just one addition to #2 – sometimes it will be a judgement call, because you can’t plan for every possible option. Make it clear to your staff that you will *always* have their backs if they decide to end a call for any reason. Whether or not you think the reason was justified, *they* think it was, and that’s the most important thing. So nobody is going to get in trouble, and nobody is going to get thrown under the bus if a customer calls back angry that they were disconnected.*

      *Script that last part as well. If Jane hangs up on an abusive caller and they call back two minutes later and start yelling at Fergus about Jane hanging up, make sure Fergus knows exactly how to respond.

  43. Temperance*

    OP: while not in the same industry as you are, we do get clients who want to meet in person in our offices, and some of them can be quite pushy. It’s easy for me to shut them down because, well, we provide free services and would be doing them a favor, not the other way around. I also am part of a 2-person team in an org of thousands of people, so I handle these calls myself and they don’t impact our bottom line.

    My advice to you is to ask for the person’s name at the start of any call, and then use the information while speaking to them. I bet that a good number of the people harassing you and your staff aren’t actually patrons, but angry anti-maskers attacking businesses and individuals who follow public health policy.

    Your staff could probably very easily search in the system to see whether John Smith is already a patron. If John Smith calls and starts raging about how he won’t renew his tickets/season pass/whatever, your staff person could say “Mr. Smith, I’m not seeing you in the system. Could you please let me know when you last attended one of our productions?” or they could say “Mr. Smith, it looks like you actually aren’t currently a member, as your membership lapsed on DATE. If you would like, I’d be happy to follow up with you to renew, once the current health crisis has passed. Your support was very meaningful to us and we would love to have you back once mask restrictions are lifted, in accordance with public health guidelines.”

    If the person has never been a member, it will become clear quite quickly, and then you/your staff could politely end the call with a script that includes something like “thank you for your feedback, have a nice day” before hanging up. These people want a fight.

    1. Southern Girl*

      This is great advice. Harder for someone to get rude when they know you know who they are.

  44. Teapot Repair Technician*

    I’ve not had to deal with angry COVID-deniers, but I worked in technical support for many years and have had to deal with frustrated, angry, and rude customers.

    I would recommend that you end the requirement to always be polite, and lower the bar for when it’s OK to end a conversation.

    If the customer needs a refund, I might say, “We have your contact information. One of our representatives will contact you to complete the refund.” Click.

    Or: “I’m going to transfer you to an agent who will process your request.”

    I’ve been lucky enough to have coworkers who are willing to take irate customers from me (and I return the favor). Getting blindsided by an angry caller sucks, but taking an angry caller off your coworker’s hands can feel empowering.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve been lucky enough to have coworkers who are willing to take irate customers from me (and I return the favor).

      Huge, and underutilized. Being the one who gets caught off guard puts you in an emotional and vulnerable state that makes it much harder to handle these situations. Just handing it off to someone who has a few seconds to prepare for it can make such a big difference.

  45. Mike*

    Tell your staff to immediately hang up if a voice gets raised or a single curse word is uttered. That’s what I used to do.

  46. Lucious*

    Agreed with the other responses. Get management buy-in on hanging up with abusive callers.

    Tongue- in -cheek , but if the firm’s budget and Legal department permits I’d recommend a Fifth Element style sentry system for your box office. This , for when persistently confrontational anti mask customers need more persuasion. Make sure the yellow circles are clearly visible!

  47. EventPlannerGal*

    – try to implement literally any systems that you can to get these tasks done online instead. Have a dedicated email inbox, a big obvious enquiries box on the website, whatever, just try to avoid letting it get to the point where people are actually speaking to your staff at all.

    – scripts, I cannot emphasise enough how much I find scripts helpful when dealing with awful people on the phone. It gives your brain something to fall back on instead of actually getting into a conversation with these people – it makes everything feel less personal. Related to the first point, you can also just keep giving people the feedback at company dot com email address, set up an auto-response and then skim it for non-ranty messages when necessary.

    – I know you’ve said you are already doing this, but be absolutely crystal clear with your staff about what they can say and when they can hang up. Raised voices? End call. Swearing? End call. Verbal abuse? End call. And be clear with them that this is okay even if the caller is a donor or a long-term patron or whatever – I once worked at a place that was all “no verbal abuse on the phone!” right up until I ended a call with a horrible, shouty, sweary man who turned out to be a VIP and guess who ended up in the shit for that? Stick to your policy and be ready to back up your staff.

  48. Jess*

    ” I have assisted you to the fullest extent of my ability to do so. I hope you have a nice day. ” Terminate the call.
    I do not wait for them to be quiet, I say it as they are actively disregarding the professional contract we agree upon as a society. I am here to serve client needs, not act a a sounding bard for their emotional state. But the statement is legitimate for QA purposes.

  49. MissManager*

    Warn you’re staff what to expect and when to expect it. Over communicate with them so they don’t feel blindsided.

    I’d also recommend staffing up so that your team can take extra breaks.

    It’ll probably be really bad for 1 or 2 days then people will lose steam and find something else to rage about anyways… hopefully

  50. Growing old but not growing up*

    My aunt, in her 80s, does not have computer, email or smart phone. There needs to be a way for people like her to get refunds.

  51. Anonymous Koala*

    Do you have to have a call-in service at all, OP? Or could you set up an automated message directing people to submit a help ticket online for an email or callback? That way you could filter out the complainers and send them form replies reiterating your policies, and callback those with real complaints. I know it’s not a perfect system, but it seems like adding some built-in wait time for the anti-maskers might cut down on spontaneous rants.

  52. Rusty Shackelford*

    One thing you might include in your script is to not say “I’m sorry,” because your people have nothing to be sorry about, and they don’t need to feel compelled to apologize to someone who is being rude to them. Consider “I understand” instead. Instead of “I’m sorry but this is our policy…” use “I understand this is frustrating for you, but this is our policy…”

  53. Managed Chaos*

    You and your staff need to disconnect the emotion you feel on the issue from the actual issue. You don’t need to be worked up about people calling and disagreeing with you; you need to provide customer service and move on.

  54. Veryanon*

    Develop a script and train your staff to stick to it. If anyone starts to rant/rave/get abusive, give your staff approval to end the call (politely) and move on.

  55. Nethwen*

    Lots of ideas here already.

    Public library worker in an area that doesn’t think the pandemic should be a big deal; next county over is taking it seriously. Our script is a sympathetic, slightly apologetic, “Yeah, everyone’s got to make their own decisions about that,” immediately followed with a cheerful, firm, “Were you looking to use the computers/find a specific book today?” We haven’t had serious push back, probably because we don’t have the teeth to enforce masking, but if someone didn’t take the hint to stick to library business, the next line would be a polite and firm, “That’s not something I can discuss. Did you need to use a computer/find a book?”

    I’ve also found is important to acknowledge the toll these conversations take on front-line staff and provide staff-only space for people to share frustrations. Not in a doom-and-gloom-forever way, but in a healthy, let’s-speak-truth way. Supervisors insisting on continual forced cheerfulness and dismissing people’s real emotional labor, not allowing people to cry/vent/etc. in the break room, and otherwise acting like front-line staff aren’t full humans will not help matters. Having a system so that people can take a quick break from customer service when they feel their patience wearing thin is helpful, too.

    1. daen*

      Public library worker, in a low-vax area. The local health orders stated that masks were optional but encouraged; the board decided to make them mandatory in the library. We clerks are to tell anyone who walks in without a mask (past five signs that state masks are required in the library) that masks are required.
      My supervisor understands how difficult it is to tell Schrodinger’s Patron (will they say “Oh, sorry, I forgot,” or will they say “oh, so the library supports infringing my rights”?) that they need to put on a mask, so we have at least that level of support, at least. I still dread going to work.

  56. I Herd the Cats*

    Everyone else has excellent suggestions, so I want to add: I’m grateful for what you’re doing. Millions of us out here who are vaccinated and believe in science support you. I’ve tried to thank people (as I go about my daily life) for following and enforcing masking mandates. We salute you.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      YES! My goodness, thank you so much to you and your staff for taking this on. There are millions of people out there who agree with you and support you – it’s just too bad that the minority are so shouty about it. You’re doing great. <3

  57. Ariaflame*

    I’ve never been on the other end of this, so I don’t know. Do USA businesses have ‘This call is being recorded for training purposes’ spiel before you talk to a human, and does it make any difference to how abusive the caller is?

    1. Cle*

      I was a telemarketer for awhile. We had that statement, but it did not deter abuse. However, it did mean that if we had to hang up on a customer and later they complained that it was easy for our manager to say “Yes sir, I have listened to the conversation you’re calling about. It was ended because you were abusive to our agent.”

        1. Cle*

          Kind of. We did not have to warn them before hanging up, but we had a script to do so if we thought it would be useful. The calls really were recorded for training and assessment purposes. Several of them were pulled weekly and listed to by the QA manager and scored. How we scored was tied to our pay.

    2. Pikachu*

      Years and years ago I worked at the catalog call center for a certain popular lingerie retailer. I cannot tell you how many times I had to hang up on people who called the 800 number expecting X-rated conversation.

      Some would just open the conversation with something gross, so that was an instant hangup.

      Others would get all the way through the “pulling up the account” process complete with name, address, and phone number, ask for a specific item, and then start in with the x-rated commentary. We’d report them and eventually they’d get blacklisted, but yeah if you’re trying to have phone sex with a faceless catalog sales associate who has all of your personal information, you’re not worried about who else is listening.

  58. Observer*

    Some thoughts:

    Firstly, when you actually open up, please have staff whose sole job it is to handle this stuff, and try to make sure that the people who are doing this used used to security / bouncer type jobs, with a bit more tact. I know that it adds costs, but most of your existing staff are already handling a LOT, and a lot of patrons seems to be more difficult that usual at this point, so they are stretched thin. Which is a potential problem for your staff and for other customers. Also, the regular staff probably don’t have a lot of experience dealing with people who might need to be told to leave…

    As for the phone stuff, it makes me sad how many people have had to bring up that they need to be allowed hang up when people get abusive. Not because they are wrong, but because they are right. And because too many employers won’t protect their staff. Even when a customer has a legitimate reason to be angry, they should not be allowed to abuse staff who are not the decision makers. In a case like this? I just don’t understand how employers allow it. And let’s be clear, if you don’t let your staff hang up when they get abused, you ARE allowing it.

    If you are in a locality that has legal requirements (eg New York), please also just have your staff keep repeating that this is what is legally required and you are going to follow the law. Lather, rinse, repeat. Politely, with or without an added “I’m sorry about this” (if you can avoid being sarcastic…) but just on broken record status.

  59. Llellayena*

    Other commenter’s scripts might be better than this, I have not worked in customer service where angry customers are a regular occurrence but…

    “I understand, it’s uncomfortable for me too (no mention that it’s not the masks that are uncomfortable but listening to the rant), but the current (or upcoming/expected) company policy is X. I don’t have the ability to change that. Would you like a refund for your ticket? You are welcome to attend with a mask or wait to return to our theater until the mask policy is lifted.”

  60. Cle*

    I was a telemarketer for a cable company for a while. “They have been given agency to stop the conversation if language gets heated or anyone gets downright abusive” isn’t quite strong enough. We were supposed to hang up if anyone was cruel in any way, started shouting, cursed, said anything sexual, or tried to engage us in meaningless conversation. This was also true of inbound calls; if we were feeling generous we’d give them a warning (generally something like “For the safety of our agents, I am required to end this call if it includes cursing, shouting, or other abuse.”), but we could just hang up, and then that person would have to call in again and wait on hold again. When our calls were audited, we would receive high scores for hanging up on customers who were clearly crossing the line.

    We usually didn’t have to hang up, even though everyone kind of hates telemarketers. Almost always, being a broken record towards people who wanted to rant to us would take care of most of it (eg “YOU PEOPLE SUCK! WHY DO YOU MAKE THIS SO HARD,” “Sir, please give me your zip code”), and adding a warning helped a lot too. But engaging never did, and we were encouraged not to do that. We were instead rewarded for not taking abuse. You don’t actually have to be nice to these people. Providing good customer service to them does not include being their personal therapist or punching bag, it’s resolving the reason they are calling. If they allow you to move through the conversation and fix their issue, great. If not, then hang up.

    I would highly encourage making a script for the common variations on this call, and training your people on it. Then they do not have to go through the stress of choosing what to say/do when someone is treating them this way. They can default to the script, and know that they are handling it exactly as they should. We had a script for everything as a call center, and often more experienced folks would go off script, but when you were tired or unsure or just sad, having one was invaluable.

  61. Bagpuss*

    I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this.

    I’m in the UK and am (normally) someone who goes to the theatre A LOT.
    Stuff has begun to reopen here and I have booked a few things .

    Things I have seen which may be helpful:
    1. Clear statement about requirements at the booking stage. For at least one production there was an explicit statement (separate to the general terms ) which said by booking, I agreed and understood that I would be required to wear a mask, have temperature check on entry. You had to check about to confirm the details and agree them before being able to complete the booking. There was a similar script with the one event I booked by phone .
    I don’t suppose it will stop the complaints but it may cut down, and reduce the number of people seeking refunds.
    For others there wasn’t a separate box to check but everything I have booked has had detailed information which is very prominent and repeated , so you can’t book without seeing it.

    2. Reminder e-mail prior to the performance. I am going to the theatre this weekend (Sir Ian McKellen!!) and just got an email which explicitly sets out the theatre’s covid rules, including stating that by attending you are agreeing to abide by them. (They also make clear that they will exchange or refund tickets if you can’t attend because you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone with Covid)

    3. For things which were booked in the Before Times and canceled, I’ve noticed the same things when they have emailed to say when the new dates are – they set out the covid rules and a the new date, and have provision that says “if you’re happy with all this, do nothing and your booking is automatically moved to the new date, if you are not email to select a different date or to ask for a refund or credit note. One of the things I am booked to see is not going to be in February next year – but the updated information still sets out the masking rules etc.

  62. Sam*

    In addition to the above, give people extra time for breaks. Let them take 5 as needed after a tough call. If you can make sure your break room is stocked with coffee, tea, and snacks (fruit and granola bars are great), so much the better! It is truly exhausting to be yelled at all day and really helpful to be able to recaffeinate, grab a snack, and reset mentally.

    Also: do NOT undermine your staff right now. Even if you’re strict on COVID policies, it can be tempting to give more flexibility elsewhere. Set clear rules, enforce them equally, and don’t reward awful customers with special treatment because they managed to reach you. It is deeply soul-sucking to spend hours sticking to the company line and taking verbal abuse only to have your boss cave in.

    1. Sail On, Sailor*

      I was just going to add this below. Give your staff more frequent breaks, perhaps every hour if you normally give them every two hours. Give them longer breaks too. Also, provide snacks and maybe gift cards to show extra appreciation.

  63. mreasy*

    I agree with everyone who says – don’t do phone calls at all, but have a voicemail that is checked a few times a day, as well as an online email form for refunds & other concerns that can be managed throughout the day by reps. This will be less work as well as less stressful for your employees. Plus, as noted – a paper trail will be great, in the event someone goes bat guano and decides to try to sue or make a public stink by lying about what was communicated to them.

  64. Liz T*

    Why do the rants have to be listened to? Even before they get abusive, why can’t employees have a script that the policies aren’t up for discussion?

    I know these patrons really won’t like that…but I don’t think they’re patrons anymore at this point, are they?

    1. Cle*

      100%. “I’m not able to take comments on this line. We can continue processing your refund, or I can end this call.”

  65. jools*

    Years ago I had a job as a conference call operator. We had scripts for *everything*. Not the most personal experience, but from our p.o.v. having a script was great for us to be able to emotionally disengage if things got heated. I still remember ours: “Thank you [name], I’ve noted your feedback, and I’m sorry to hear we haven’t met your expectations today. Would you like me to ask your account manager to call you?” Because I’d rattled this off a thousand times, it worked like a suit of armour and it was easy to keep my tone professional but neutral. If the customer kept shouting, all they’d ever get back is “very good, sir” and “thank you for bringing that to our attention” and “certainly, sir”, and a repeat of the offer to talk to the account manager.

    I’m not suggesting you should aspire to this level of impersonality/formality in general, but in situations where your staff are being verbally beaten up, it could be worth a try.

  66. Sparkles*

    Oh my gosh, thank you for posting this. I’m a performing artist and director of a group and I’m starting the foray into this right now. It is just awful, especially when some of our donor base are conservative and don’t like these rules. Just reading this, and having solidarity among our industries that are at the mercy of this, makes me feel less alone.

    1. Tiny Soprano*

      Ugh and some of them just want to act like they own you! One of the many reasons I’ve sadly had to leave the arts.

  67. Cat Lady HS Teacher*

    I feel you, OP. I work in a state that has a governor that mandated “no school district can require a mask.” However, some are. Mine is not making it a requirement, and I choose to wear a mask, and I have been vaccinated. Over the past week I have received the following parent emails:

    1. “My child informed me you are wearing a mask. Are you a sheeple? Please read the attached information about how the government is controlling you. My child WILL NOT be wearing a mask.” (Attachment was a bunch of right wing insanity curated from Facebook).

    2. “Please do not allow my child to work with or be seated near a child who is wearing a mask or has received the COVID19 vaccine. My family has an immune system and we use it. We don’t want to be around people who are slaves to the government.”
    (I don’t know who has been vaccinated, I’m not going to ask…and wtf)

    3. “My child WILL wear a mask. Please make sure they are wearing the mask at all times and are six feet away from any other student.”
    (Yeah, I don’t have 6 feet of space with 40 kids in here, but whatever).

    4. “My kid is not wearing a mask because we don’t believe in letting the government control us. If you ask my child to put on a mask you are violating his civil and constitutional rights and I WILL SUE YOU.”
    (I don’t ask kids to wear masks who are not wearing them. A bit heavy handed and crazy for a first email, eh?)

    I don’t have any sage advice other than my tequila consumption has gone up considerably.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      If you ask my child to put on a mask you are violating his civil and constitutional rights and I WILL SUE YOU.

      I wonder what these people do when they’re confronted with a “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” sign.

    2. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Thank you for doing on of the most important jobs in the world, and I send you strength.

      1. Grateful*

        ^^^Yes, what Nothing Rhymes said. We all should be writing letters to city and state governments to get teachers hazard pay and additional on-site resources. On behalf of so many children and families, from all economic backgrounds but especially the most vulnerable, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      “My kid is not wearing a mask because we don’t believe in letting the government control us.”

      …The same government is probably requiring the kid attend school of some sort for more than a decade, for the good of that child and society at large? Uneven oppositional defiance on that one.

    4. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Solidarity and imaginary internet vodka to you, Cat Lady. We may be switching to voluntary masks as early as the 15th and I’m guessing it’s going to get very interesting.

    5. JelloStapler*

      Oh yes the doing something to help others= government controlling us trope. yet if the right person told them to, they’d do it in a hurry.

  68. Salad Daisy*

    “It’s also not really a secret that it’s filled with people who are overwhelmingly progressive/liberal.”

    Does that mean they are in favor of vaccinations or not?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It means they’re in favor of vaccinations and likely to be targeted by people who aren’t in favor on a personal level because those people will assume the staff has personal investment in the policies as opposed to just enforcing company standards.

  69. 867-5309*

    Hey OP, In addition to all of the great advice on how to handle callers and thinking through the operations of such comments and requests, don’t forget to thank the team often. We are not dealing with COVID changes but have made a major business decision that affects our customers and their end customers – it is not popular. In addition to the occasional pizza or other treats for our customer service team, their manager has been great at reminding leadership to thank them – via email and in person – so they know the position they are in is recognized by the organization (instead of just, “but that’s their job”).

  70. Richard Hershberger*

    My general strategy for dealing with people who aren’t getting the answer they want and think that repeating it louder will help: Have a set response that is concise but conclusive. Repeat it. Repeat it over and over. Use the exact same words and the exact same intonation. Do not give any reason for your interlocutor to believe the response will change. Eventually they will get bored and wander off.

    1. Nea*

      I really like the “I hear your frustration. We are authorized to x, y, z” script suggested above on repeat. In other words “Yes, I acknowledge your opinion/emotional response, but x, y, and z are the only options on the table here, period.”

      With, if necessary, “If you continue to be abusive I will terminate this call.”

  71. abc*

    I understand the policy is uncomfortable for some; however, we will be enforcing it for the foreseeable future. Would you like to retain your tickets or may I assist you with a refund?

  72. Nia*

    Why exactly do you have to refund them? Is there some sort of legal obligation to? If not tell them to go pound sand and hang up. Problem solved.

    1. Brett*

      It is hard to create a “no refunds for this reason but refunds okay for other reasons” policy that is enforceable. Attending live performances is risky behavior, and many people will want refunds simply because it is risky. My wife and I unfortunately cancelled and refunded our normal orchestra subscription because we realized there was simply no way we would be comfortable attending. This is despite being currently fully vaccinated and willing to wear masks. (We did donate a large chunk of our refund back.)

      For an entire series like that, it’s several hundred dollars that we would have lost without refunds and we sit in the cheap seats. There are definitely a lot of high risk people who hold those high dollar subscriptions (and likely donate a lot too). Not offering them refunds when they are uncomfortable attending is likely going to be costly in the long run.

      That said, plenty of other venues around us have a no refund policy now. Those are for-profit venues that typically trend to younger audiences and one-off tour stops rather than series, so it seems to be a calculate risk for them. Their main issue is going to be dealing with evolving requirements for booster shots.

  73. Amaranth*

    Does insurance come into play at all? Because liability and business interruption and liability insurance don’t normally cover communicable diseases and aren’t making exceptions for covid. I’m just thinking people would more readily accept ‘its an insurance issue’ and blame the big bad companies.

    OP might also make sure that everyone on the email list has been contacted with the new rules and directed to an online form for feedback/refunds so that they can vent without involving staff directly.

    1. BornConfuzed*

      I came here to say this. If you can find a “bad guy” to pass the blame off onto it can significantly lessen the heat.

  74. TV*

    As a season ticket holder to a musical series in my town, I thank you. I already have gotten the texts, emails etc about how vaccinations or a negative test will be required with masks and I am glad to do it, especially since it will be 100% capacity (we also have a very high vaccination rate in this area). I’m sure people will complain that they want to sit without a mask and a negative test in a crowded theater in a pandemic but I’m just glad they figured out a fairly safe way to return the arts to the area. If they didn’t have this policy, I would be asking for a refund on my tickets.

  75. Escaped the call center*

    Former call center manager here. Can you record an automated greeting that all callers will hear before they are transferred to a representative? You can record something that basically lays out what the company policy is, that way people who are calling to ask about it can hear it on the automated messaging system and then hang up without having to speak to/ verbally abuse a representative about it. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve given your reps permission to terminate the call if it veers into abusive territory. However, taking those calls is taking a toll on them. I’m not sure what type of phone system you have, but if you could record a message that all callers will hear when they first dial your number, that might help! The policy is the policy, screaming at a representative isn’t going to change it!

  76. Lizy*

    Here’s the thing about rants – you do NOT have to listen!!!!!! It’s absolutely ok to say “I’m not going to be spoken to that way. Please treat me with respect or I will hang up/you will need to leave.” AND THEN FOLLOW THROUGH. I have yet to have a customer storm back in or call again when I’ve followed through on that (most of my interactions are phone). Also, I am able to do that because I KNOW my boss has my back on it. Don’t assume the employees know – this needs to be explicitly stated.

    Also, referencing “this is our policy” is golden. It doesn’t matter if you agree, don’t agree, or think the policy should be written in purple – it’s the policy. “I understand you don’t like it. However, this is our policy.” Repeat as necessary, and refer to boss/manager.

  77. Badger*

    If there are high level donors/important people who are being abusive that they can’t hang up on, they should have a script for that or a process for escalating the calls.

    I worked at a nonprofit where a board member was notoriously abusive toward administrative staff and the receptionist had permission to immediately forward his calls to one of the higher ups without having to deal with him.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Yes! Speaking as someone in fundraising, please forward any abusive donors to your Development team! They are the ones with the relationship and they are the ones who should handle it. I interned at a theatre where one mid-level donor was so abusive to box office staff that he was barred from calling them. If he wanted tickets his assistant had to call and arrange them or he had to talk to Development.

  78. Precious Wentletrap*

    Defang them by replying with utterly irrelevant topics. “Cool. You see that new Ryan Reynolds movie? I heard it was real good. So anyway…”

  79. Cromulent*

    Hello OP! I also manage a performing arts ticket and sales office and we just announced a mask and proof vaccination or negative PCR test requirement for anyone attending performances. And yes, the majority of our audience is very thankful we are doing this, but the small segment of folks who are not on board are the most vocal and unbelievably nasty. Here is what I tell my reps: you are in control of the conversation not the crank, you do not need to engage, defend, or explain; we are not going to change anyone’s minds and we are not going to change a very important policy that is hands down the only way we’re ever going to get back to live performance just because someone doesn’t like safety. Steer the conversation to what needs to happen with their tickets, subscription, etc. instead of getting into why it is happening. Marketing or PR’s job is to explain, our job is to handle patrons’ orders. If they are upset and being jerks, you’re just going to end the conversation with “Ok, I’ll go ahead and refund your card for the full amount (or whatever your policy is) and you should see that in X days. Have a great afternoon.” It of course is helpful if your administration understand that this is not the year (or years) to fight to maintain audience retention at the expense of staff retention. You ensure that by making sure your reps know you have their backs 100%, if they need to step away they can step away, if they get a huge jerk they can’t handle, you take over the call for them and tell that patron exactly what your rep was trying to tell them. No promised comps or waived fees for the future, no concessions because they asked to speak to a manager. Its a tough time and a tough job when you’re on the front lines and the best thing you can do is show your team that you are in it with them all the way! Give your reps the authority to handle the calls as they see fit; give them as much control over their choices as you are able, and at the end of the day when the phones turn off, you all can share your stories of the most bonkers conversations of the day. You make sure you tell your reps when you see/hear them handling a difficult situation well, on occasion you ask if they’re doing ok if it seems they’re overwhelmed, let them take a few minutes, and just really reinforce you are a team and in it together. If you can, make sure the upper administration is aware of what your team is dealing with and lobby to have them recognize the incredible job your reps are doing. Maybe its just them stopping by and seeing it and saying something, maybe it’s lunch, maybe it’s a small thank you bonus – whatever you can reasonably ask for!. We’re all in the arts because we love it, and I don’t think any of us expected nearly 2 seasons like this!

  80. Some Lady*

    If it’s possible, I’d suggest also doing something to meaningfully acknowledge the strain on your staff, like offering a half day off per week for a period of time, or an additional personal day, or some options that would resonate with the people you work with (for me, that would be getting some time back for myself to process/destress/engage in something positive, but others may get more from something else). You probably can’t offset the stress completely, but supporting your people as humans is important. Also, make sure everyone hears the messages of gratitude for the policy that you get from artists, patrons, other staff, etc., because many people ARE grateful for policies that make doing things possible and safe.

  81. chipmunkey*

    Late to comment, but for some call centers (9-1-1, police, fire, ambulance), hanging up is not an option. We understand that people are likely having their worst day ever, and this sometimes translates into bad behavior and unrealistic expectations. The only option I’ve ever heard of is escalating to a supervisor, but I’d love to hear suggestions from others in a similar situation where you can’t hang up. These calls are absolutely draining, and to OP, hang in there. Maybe you could have a canned message that picks up right away when callers phone in that tell them what standard of behavior is expected?

    1. WS*

      +1. I work in healthcare and yes, people are often having their worst day ever or a whole string of them. One thing that really helps is to take it in turns – a customer is yelling at Bob, so Bob gets Cathy, goes over the situation with the upset person and Cathy takes over. When the customer is getting angry at Cathy, transfer over to Daniel. It defuses the person a bit to be taken seriously, and also there’s only so long you can deaden your emotions while being screamed at, especially in-person as in my industry. Handing off helps with that. Other defusing tactics like standing back, giving them a seat, listening quietly to the whole complaint etc. can also help de-escalate.

      The other thing that helps is having strict lines: violence, threats or personal abuse mean calling the police. Everyone gets trained in exactly where that line is so the moment it gets crossed, you know to act.

  82. Annie*

    “I’m sorry you feel this way, but if we have any hope of remaining open/performing this Fall, we need everyone to pitch in and follow these protocols.” Repeat as necessary.

    1. Observer*

      Terrible script. The fact that it’s true doesn’t change the fact that it is just not going to work, and will just make things worse.

  83. techsupport*

    I work support at a consumer technology company that has made some decisions that many of our customers disagree with. My strategy is: sympathize, and let them know it’s a waste of time to complain to you.
    “What will your mask policy be?” -> “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been announced yet and our team isn’t privy to those discussions – I’ll find out when you do!”
    “I cannot believe I’ll be required to wear a mask” -> “I totally understand your point of view! Unfortunately this is a business decision being made at the very top and our team doesn’t have input into corporate policy.”
    You can also tell a customer we’re “documenting their feedback and will send it to leadership, but my hands are tied!”
    I am totally comfortable exploiting the perception that we’re “just a call center” and don’t have a connection to business policy – whether or not that’s true – to get someone to calm down and move on to a productive conversation. I also know it feels counterintuitive and against your values to “agree” with an anti-masker, but honestly? It’s not your team’s job to fix every caller’s trash worldview (and if it were, we should all get paid a lot more!). Let agents say they understand the caller’s POV, but unfortunately they have no input into the policy decision, and they’re “just customer service” and have to comply with policy.

    In terms of morale, I think it’s best to, whenever possible, make the verbal abuse feel ridiculous, rather than hurtful. It’s not a great long-term strategy, but make fun of the jerks – and celebrate people who handle them. I have one friend who works at a company that has an “asshole of the week” award, and whoever had the call from the biggest asshole that week gets a $15 Starbucks gift card. If you can’t do a gift card, then give them a public shoutout where more stakeholders (not just the team) can see how much they have to put up with.

    1. Ozzie*

      I second this.

      If I get a difficult customer (and it is not my responsibility to deal with them, which is key), I tell them – multiple times if need be – that the decision they are unhappy with was not mine to make, and I am simply passing on the word. They can escalate if they would like – then be ready to back up your staff. Don’t let them go to dad after mom said no. Just say the same things (the script stuff is key!) and get through their call (and refund) as quickly as possible so you can wash your hands of them.

      But basically tasking your staff with getting through the call as quickly as possible – and using basic de-escalation techniques just to get them to stop talking – is a great strategy.

    2. Observer*

      The people most likely to cause disturbances respond better to perceived authority where they would argue with someone they see as ‘beneath them’ (servers, cashiers, and, in your industry, ushers/ticket takers).

      Yes. I think that that’s a problem that comes up a lot sometimes being perfectly accurate and telling the WHOLE truth is just not useless. I’m not one for lying, but the basic fact IS true – it’s the COMPANY policy and the person on the phone couldn’t change it even if they wanted to.

  84. Manana*

    I agree with scripts/workflows that support staff and give them an “out” of hanging up when a caller becomes rude and/or the call is going in circles.

    Also, as someone currently organizing live shows wherein we require vaccine proof and masking, it’s really important that you support your staff by reminding them: you are right and angry callers are wrong. Vaccine and mask mandates are the objectively right thing to do; refusing to get vaccinated or wear a mask is the wrong thing to do and it is based in misinformation, lies, and selfishness. Live shows are not food banks or hospitals, no one NEEDS to go. They are a privilege, and it is a privilege reserved for those who don’t want to kill an entire audience of people with Covid. That is more than fair.

  85. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    Assuming you have a well trained staff you trust, the first thing I would do is see if you can get approval for call reps to *not* give their names. From there, you give them permission to hang up immediately in response to direct insults and profanity, as well as after a single warning about yelling. If people want to call back, fine, but it’s on them to start the whole thing again and be civil; since they don’t have names, they can’t say “Just connect me with Jane, she knows everything we just talked about.” If they keep being pricks, you hang up again.

    Oh, and if it’s at all possible (legally and technically), have your automated system answer the calls and include the message “refunds will be denied in cases of abuse to our staff.”

    1. pamela voorhees*

      Oh, yes, this, absolutely. Please don’t make them give names for this sort of thing. There have been wild reports about people taking out their anger at policies on specific employees. Just let them answer “Hello, Orpheum Theatre” or whatever so callers know they’ve reached the right place.

  86. Ozzie*

    Giving your staff time to take a breather if they need one is key. Sometimes after a heated exchange with a customer, they might just need a second or two to regain their composure and cool down. Dealing with one such customer already takes a toll, but doing it over and over and over again…. Obviously it’s not realistic to have people taking a break after every call, but figuring out some way to allow just a little more time somewhere to chill back out would probably make their lives just a little bit easier.

  87. Mainah*

    I’ve worked the phones for years, and dealt with plenty of anger. Stick to the script, make it clear that you are the messenger not the policy maker, and don’t be afraid of silence on a call. After you’ve read the script and acknowledged the anger with something like, “I understand, please understand that it’s my job to deliver this news not create the rules” feel free to let the silence get awkward.

    What you want to hear is a sigh, like hearing a toddler give up after a tantrum. It’s the same dynamic.

  88. Liz*

    I answer the phones for a public park that is also an outdoor performance venue. My manager has told me that I am allowed to hang up IMMEDIATELY on anyone abusive – no scripts, no attempting to explain, nothing. I highly recommend this approach, because it will make it less rewarding for the abusive people. They want the opportunity to be assholes. Do not give it to them. Once I was given permission to do this, the worst repeat offender immediately gave up.

    I was also told “it’s ok if this affects you, and if it happens you can totally transfer the phones and take a few minutes to decompress after.”

  89. The Last to Know*

    The abuse from anti-maskers is something I have not seen in my 18 years of working in tourism. If your budget allows for security, please have it. What I’ve been telling my staff is that someone gets belligerent to come get me immediately because no one deserves to be treated like that. Personally, I have found that the best way to handle masks is to approach the situation with a smile right off the bat and a sincere, sweet tone, and cushion your request. A friendly greeting, request, and appreciation: “Hi, we are so glad you are here! Just so you know, we do require masks to enter. Do you have one or would you like me to get one for you? Thank you so much for your understanding”.
    There will be some that will give you grief, but stand your ground and do not stop smiling (Yes people can tell you are smiling with a mask on). If they still refuse, sincere empathy will sometimes work, and after that a firm request to leave (this is where security or a manager should have your back). I have had guests claim they will never come back, they will have me fired, threaten to sue, and I just reply, “I understand. You do what you need to do, but I can’t let you in without a mask.” And keep smiling. (I don’t know if the smile helps at this point, but it makes you the bigger person). Good luck.

  90. E.P.*

    As many have already said, set your policy soon and get it in writing. Make it clear, concise, amd then put it everywhere. Website, signs at the door, scripts for those who are public facing, answering machine messages, even publish them in the local paper! Then stick to it. Some problems I and coworkers faced working at a state owned and operated historical site included some staff being more lax than others on policy or using varied wording. NO! Have an official written policy and follow (and repeat) it to the letter. Model good behavior. By this point, whether they agree with the policy or not, they know it exists, it isn’t a surprise. Masks, social distancing, etc. has been here for a year+, they should know what their limits are and plan accordingly.Disagreement is not an excuse to be rude or act like a toddler.

    We were (mostly) clear from the get go about masks, social distancing, and limited # of people in the building. We had rude people, but I always reminded them that 1. The world is weird right now and the onus is on you to prepare accordingly; 2. We did not set the rules, the State government/department did; 3. They did not have to be there.

    3 is most relevant to OP. It has already been tough and it will stay tough. I know you may really need those bodies (and their wallets) in the building, but ultimately if they feel that strongly about your covid safety policies, they do not need to patronize your business. It hurts me to say but technically no, seeing a play or live music or whatever is not an absolute necessity to live. They will survive if they don’t see a performance because they won’t mask up. You and your coworkers and your business do not need to suffer their disrespect and abuse. Of course stay polite and give good customer service when dealing with their complaints, but don’t feel that you need to cater to them.

    Last, take care of yourself and your coworkers. Don’t make one person take the brunt of it. Take regular breaks and find ways to decompress, both at home or at work. Kitten videos on repeat in the breakroom?

  91. Suzy Q*

    As well as scripts you need to build some decompression time into staff schedules so they can wind down, share, vent and release before going home. This will pay dividends in staff morale and team spirit. Give little prizes and awards, support each other and tell compliant customers how much you appreciate their support.

  92. Solitary Daughter*

    One thing I’d add is: don’t be afraid of a bad Yelp/Google/whatever review. We try really hard to make all of our customers happy, but this is an unsolvable problem for people who don’t agree with mask mandates. The best thing you can do is listen (unless they become abusive, then let them know you’re done), give them the options they DO have, and don’t engage on REASONS. Reasons are for reasonable people. One thing that works well for us is to say, “I appreciate you sharing your feedback with me, and I will be sure to pass it along to management.”

    Something that helps me a lot when people want to argue over this nonsense: Don’t get in a pissing contest with a skunk. You won’t change their minds, and at the end of the conversation, you’ll just be covered in skunk spray.

  93. pamela voorhees*

    Encourage your staff to be depersonalize these interactions. I volunteer at a performing arts center, so it’s a little easier because my job doesn’t depend on it, but we have to deal with the same vitriol and what I always picture is that I am a little signpost with the written policy on me, or a robots who only has preprogrammed scripts and can’t process anything outside of those scripts. Someone starts screaming about “your policy is wrong because I found on Google etc. etc. etc.”? That’s not in my programming. That’s not my problem. There’s nothing I can do about Google searches. All I need to do is neutrally say “the new policy is masks and vaccines required” and do not get emotionally involved in any way beyond that. No arguing back. No apologizing for it. Just, here’s the policy. That’s that. What I always tell myself is, the person on the other end is not yelling at Pamela Voorhees. They just want to yell, and they also happen to be in the vicinity of Pamela Voorhees. If someone else had picked up the phone, they would be yelling at that person. If it had gone to voicemail, they’d yell at the voicemail. It’s not about me. Your only responsibility is to be the little signpost with the policy, and stay standing while the wind keeps blowing.

    1. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Someone above said quite dismissively that people need to stop being emotional about abuse from customers. Your comment shows, cogently and sympathetically, how someone who has to deal with this treatment can do so. Thank you for this excellent advice.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        I’m really glad it helps. If my robot/signpost metaphor doesn’t help, one of my friends alternatively refers to it as “don’t chase the rabbit”, meaning don’t get caught up in the moment and don’t meet their energy. She also told me that she tries to picture it like there’s glass in between the person who’s yelling and her, and they’re yelling at the glass, not her.

        The bottom line is there’s nothing you can do to fix it. I know that sounds kind of fatalistic, and you need to offer refunds, of course, but what I mean is there’s absolutely nothing you can do to keep someone who is determined to yell from yelling, which … is a good thing? Because it means there’s not some combination of words that would make them kinder, it’s not your fault they’re yelling, they’re going to yell no matter what you say or do, and it’s not on you to calm them down or make them less angry or, generally, to fix what’s upset them. You’re just a sign post/they’re just yelling at the glass.

  94. KellifromCanada*

    Can you set your calls up to be automatically recorded? The recordings might prove useful for the truly abusive calls.

  95. Bookworm*

    I don’t have any advice, but just want to say I’m so sorry you have to deal with that. I do appreciate you and your company holding the line–I have been adjusting my shopping habits because I don’t want to patronize places that aren’t upholding the masking/vaccination status, etc. But I also do get it if you don’t want to confront customers, either.

    Good luck. Please stay safe.

  96. Elizabeth*

    I work in a medical office and oh boy. It’s been a wild ride. Daily, people push back against mask mandates and our ‘wait in your car until we call you in’ waiting room approach. We try to keep calm and just let them know we are trying to keep everyone safe. If it gets heated they are asked to leave, after that? We’ve had to call the police a few times to escort people out and ban them from returning. It can be exhausting, especially if you’re new to it.

    Vent to each other when you’re alone and no patrons can overhear you, have a chocolate bar for a special treat after dealing with a rough one, ask your coworkers what they would find helpful also! Everyone handles stress differently.

    Best of luck to you!

  97. RB*

    So you say your staff “have been given agency to stop the conversation if language gets heated or anyone gets downright abusive.” Couldn’t you also give them agency to end the conversation earlier and not wait until the language gets heated or abusive? They could be given a short script to read that effectively ends the call after a sentence or two explaining the policy. The script could direct them to a longer explanation on the website, which would have links to additional information. It is not their responsibility to justify or explain the policy on behalf of the organization, and a longer explanation isn’t going to convince the person.

  98. PinaColada*

    I’m curious if there is a way to direct these folks to an online form or email address where they could request the refund?

    Then you could adopt a policy that you don’t do refunds over the phone, and whenever someone calls in you can say, “I’m sorry you feel that way! We understand and can process a refund for you. You’ll want to go to [site]/[email address]/whatever and we can process it that way. We don’t do refunds over the phone because we require a written record. (Or something something bla bla bla.”

    You could even set up a phone tree and have this there:
    “For COVID related refunds, please press 3”
    And then
    “To request a refund, please visit [site form] or email …”

    Then you can drastically decrease the amount of time your staff spends talking to jerks.

  99. Lynn*

    If it’s ranting and not swearing….

    Interrupt the rant with:
    “I understand you’re not happy with it, but this is our policy right now for all guests”.

    And if / when they keep going, interrupt again:
    “Since I can’t change the policy, did you need any other information like where to park or how to get a refund? If not, I need to let you go and take the next call”.

    If they still keep going, interrupt a third time:
    “Like I said, that’s the policy. Thanks again for your call and have a great day! Goodbye!”

    Even if you’re not allowed to hang up, just saying Goodbye and staying silent afterward will often prompt them to hang up.

  100. eons*

    I work at a small company (less than 10) and we are not allowing people into our building yet. We are authorized to tell people who ask that “we have a team member who is immunodeficient due to a serious illness and in order to keep that person safe we are not allowing the public access to our building quite yet.” Anyone who began the conversation being defensive has almost 100% backed right off and said they understood the policy. I’m not sure it would work in a theatre setting but maybe it could if you said one of our front line staff? Not that I am pro lying to customers but it really does seem to cut off any argument they may have against our policy.

  101. ForgetMeNot*

    I used to work in arts administration, and we had some patrons who were real pieces of work. Once, a caller made the (competent and level-headed) ticket services associate cry. As soon as she heard, 0ur CEO marched right down the hall, called the patron back, and politely informed him that it was unacceptable to speak to our staff like that, and we would be canceling his order and refunding his ticket subscription in full. It made a huge difference to morale to see org leadership step up and shutdown mistreatment of staff. I would also say, handling a high volume of calls like that is going to be emotionally taxing, regardless of leadership support. I would strongly advocate for giving those employees an additional personal day, longer/more flexible breaks, etc. Or hiring temporary additional staff to give them extra coverage. Whatever is possible to afford them the ability to step away from the phone when they can’t deal with another angry customer.

  102. TinLizi*

    I’ve heard that some restaurants and entertainment venues have had luck referring to mask policies as “dress code.” For example, “Our theater has a dress code that requires patrons to wear, shirts, shoes, and masks. Thank you for dressing appropriately for the venue.”

    For some of the anti-vax/anti-mask people the issue is that they “don’t want the government to tell them what to do” . I’ve occasionally gotten, “I understand, but I am merely following the policies of my employer in their privately owned business.” However, this has been more hit or miss.

  103. MMB*

    This is a script that I have found helpful. It covers almost any circumstance.

    “I understand your frustration, but this is our policy and I’m unable to debate the issue with our customers. If you’d like a refund/return I understand and can process that for you immediately.”

    If they push to know who they can argue with tell them that they would need to write a letter addressed to the management.

  104. HailRobonia*

    I’d be very careful of “softening” the message by saying things like “I understand this is an inconvenience but…”

    The anti-masker may take that as a tacit sign of support for their bad behavior and misguided beliefs.

    1. Observer*

      So? It’s not the job of the OP’s staff to educate people on the benefits of masks, vaccines, etc. It’s their job to enforce the policies in a way that engenders the least abuse for them.

    1. Black Horse*

      Thanks for this–I laughed really, really hard, especially after reading all these comments about dealing with awful, entitled people.

  105. Utahn*

    This would probably apply to some more casual businesses, not necessarily all businesses running into this issue.

    There’s a local restaurant that has a Vaccinated guests only policy (technically they’re a bar, not a restaurant, so they legally can’t have anyone under the age of 21 on the premises).

    Their website has information on their guidelines and a page of “Frequently Argued Points” and a sampling of complaints they have gotten so that you can be more original instead of duplicating someone else. It is comedic GOLD.
    Frequently Argued Points:
    https://www.utahbayou.com/faps
    Sample Emails:
    https://www.utahbayou.com/crank-mail

    Now, not every company could get away with something like that and I don’t know how effective it is, but it sure makes for a fun read for me!

    One line in particular about their decision:
    “If this decision makes you not wish to support The Bayou in the future, we understand your decision. There is no need to let us know.”

    They also discuss medical accommodation–they’re a restaurant, if you can’t/won’t get a vaccine for any reason, you can order pick-up!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s hilarious. If fish and chips were on the menu, it might be perfect. I don’t see a wine list, but they’d let me bring an unopened bottle, right?

    2. LizB*

      Pure gold. I also adore the point they make that they are a bar. You have always had to show them paperwork to patronize their establishment!!

    3. AnonInCanada*

      I read this, and I was about to fully agree to it until I read when they took apart a question with a pair of [sic]s making fun of the poster’s grammar. In the same FAQ they posted this:

      What part of “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” don’t you understand. This has been an important part of the freedom of America since it’s beginning.

      You know what they say about people who live in glass houses.

  106. Blame me*

    I work in healthcare and this has been an issue for us throughout the pandemic. For reasons I don’t understand, the word “policy” seems to have magical powers. Maybe because it makes it feel official? It gives our staff something to point to and basically say “I’m sorry, but it’s against policy. I don’t make the rules, but I have to follow them or I could lose my job. You can read the policy on our website.” (You have to have it posted somewhere and labeled as a “policy” because people WILL demand to see the policy.)

    Invoking “policy” seems to send the message that whatever they’re complaining about is out of the hands of whoever they’re complaining to and can even create a sense of camaraderie–“this is causing headaches for both of us!”

    If possible, you should also provide a means for contacting the policy maker/person up the chain who gets paid enough to deal with this BS (can be an email or a VM–don’t give out personal cell numbers!). It provides the ranter an outlet for their frustration and allows the employee to give the ranter something they perceive as helpful.

    I am that person up the chain and I would say less than 5% of the ranters take it as far as contacting me. Once they’re no longer in the heat of the moment, they lose steam. I also have the leeway to make decisions that those on the front lines can’t: I can decide to ignore someone completely, make an exception, tell them to get bent–all things those on the front lines would get in trouble for. It’s a lot easier to take a hard line when you don’t worry that doing so will get you fired. Plus, it saves them having to bargain with/explain to someone who’s being unreasonable. As soon as someone starts to argue, they can just be passed off: “Yes, we’ve been hearing that a lot. I’m afraid it’s out of my hands, but let me get you the contact info for our VP, who signed off on this policy.” If you use an email for this, you can even have a form letter response explaining the reasoning behind the policy for anyone who contacts you. You want enough hurdles to make it not worth it for someone who’s just a jerk, but not so many that those with a real concern can’t get to someone who can help.

    Overall, just try to take as much of the burden as possible off those on the front lines and give them as much power as you can to make decisions. They’re already doing a difficult job and in most cases, they didn’t make the rules and they shouldn’t have to take the heat when people don’t like them. Front line employees should be given as many tools as possible for shunting the jerks off to someone who is in a better position to manage the complaints. Heck, they can even tell the ranters that they agree the policy is stupid if that helps them end an escalating encounter. Employees in all industries are literally quitting jobs every day because of this. It isn’t fair to put them in this position without arming them with the appropriate tools, scripts, escalation plans, etc.

    1. Ellie*

      Referring to policy was my go-to argument as well. You can’t argue with policy, and the higher up you can go then the more impersonal it will feel (company policy, restaurant chain policy, corporate policy, etc.) I’ve had some luck by being empathetic, even if I don’t particularly feel that way. But some people just want to vent.

      It is company policy where I work to follow the government health recomendations. As such, masks are required at all times when you are away from your desk, or otherwise unable to socially distance (we have huge desks at work, and the building is only about 20% full. We also haven’t had many outbreaks). People have accepted it, but it helps a lot to make it easy (so warn people ahead of time, have big signs set up outside, and if possible, supply masks and hygiene stations at all the main entrances.

      Confronting people who aren’t wearing masks is difficult though. Honestly, I tend to avoid it – I don’t know if they have a medical condition or not, so I try to just give them the benefit of the doubt. But if you can’t let people in without them, then I think hiring security is the only way to go.

      1. Lara*

        Our office reopened for in-person visits (law firm) two months ago, on the understanding that masks were optional-but-encouraged since we were all vaxxed. Last week, someone came in, drank our coffee, met with my boss for two hours in her office, and tested positive (breakthrough, they were fully vaxxed) the next day. Everyone in the office is negative, but my boss *immediately* sent around an email saying “masks required whenever anyone other than us is in the office, masks required for any client who wants to come in person, let me know if you need to go back to remote. You can tell anyone who complains that they can go find another attorney if they don’t like it.” Which I have done, if politely. Being able to pull the “this policy comes from above me, there is nothing I can do for you and no higher authority you can appeal to” card has been a blessing.

  107. meagain*

    This is happening in my job/industry too, particularly around concerts and music. We are also now requiring negative tests or proof of vaccination. People are terrible and call to voice displeasure. The best way I have found is to matter of fact, unapologetically say things like that it’s happening all across the industry and this decision was made in conjunction with artists, performers, etc. It’s covid safety protocols in the artist agreements. We are following industry standards, along with all city mandates and ordinances etc. They are welcome to a refund if they no longer wish to attend. Have a great day.

    But it’s very annoying. Call after call. Who calls a business to complain about how they are doing things? I just want to snap, THEN STAY HOME. DON’T COME.

    One helpful thing I want to note is that if you have a large event where proof of vaccinations or negative test is required, consider hiring nurses or medical staff to do these checks. People are way nicer to health care professionals than putting some 22 year old staff employee at a table checking cards or tests. Some people are angry, crazy, and unhinged over this. I would spend the money to hire a professional health care worker (and security) and not ask any staff to deal with this. It’s also more professional.

  108. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    I haven’t been customer-facing for some time, so I haven’t had to deal with Covid-specific mayhem, but I will say that one of the best things my managers did when working retail was back me up. Even if they decided to go against policy as a courtesy, the managers who would preface it with, “Musk Ox is correct, this is our policy, but we can take care of you this one time,” were the best (one of those would also answer threats of going to our competitor with, “Well, you’re free to shop wherever you’d like, but our policy is ____”, which was just *chef’s kiss*). I had one manager who would say she’d take care of things without explanation, which just solidified the idea in the mind of the customer that I was being difficult or straight-up lying.

    I do think equipping your team with the ability to hang up if necessary as well as sample scripts for what to say when they’ve decided to do so is a great idea. Maybe setting up a separate voicemail box or phone line, as others have said, so people can easily swap out regularly without getting too overwhelmed. I think the main thing is just clear messaging that you’re on their side, you know that what they’re having to do is really hard, and that you’ll support however you’re able.

    Also, as an aside, something that I did find that worked at times when I worked retail and had to talk on the phone with grumpy people who just wanted to complain was to repeat exactly whatever my first answer was verbatim until they chilled out. Having no reaction to react is boring, so anyone looking for a fight will probably deflate after a bit, and it really hammers home the, “I said what I said and the answer you’re looking for does not exist” message. (It’s also, coincidentally, something my therapist has suggested recently for conversations with manipulative family members, so maybe younger me was on to something .)

  109. JSPA*

    No-nonsense yet upbeat–of course there’s a reason, and you are serene in the conviction that people will understand–is effective (on many/most, even if they start out with polemics and bluster and shame) and also psychologically grounding (for staff).

    “Yes, due to our need to project our voices / sing / play instruments / breathe heavily, masking quickly became the norm in legitimate theaters throughout the country.”

    Industry-specific best practices are a solid, convincing way to avoid the larger conversation of whether people should or should not have to mask at the gas station, restaurants, schools, etc.

    Even shorter?

    “We’re complying with our insurance policy.”

    There should be room for the hard-core to assume that the staff person might even be somewhat on their side, if there were wiggle room on the issue–but in fact, there is none, so we will move along to discussing the show, available seats, dates and times. If someone’s really angry, staff should feel free to say, “if you know of other companies who are doing it differently, we’d be glad to chat with them, about how they’re managing to do that.”

    You could have people visualize what they’d do if they were working in a kitchen, and had to deal with people berating them for covering their hair. It’s a compliance thing, and it’s part and parcel of working in that type of workplace. But just as it’s bad form to bring up food contamination as a worker a restaurant, your people should avoid engaging in discussion of medicine, politics, etc.

    1. Flying Fish*

      “We’re complying with our insurance company” is a great response. I use a version of this with patients who want impossible/unreasonable things.

  110. BabyElephantWalk*

    If all your customer interaction is via phone, set a script and repeat it. Your manager should write one.

    Something along the lines of “While we understand that there are many opinions on the wearing of masks and value the concerns of all out customers, our company has decided to go ahead with X policy.” And repeat. The reasoning doesn’t have to be laid out as it’s not up for debate.

    Empathize (even if it’s fake), provide policy, do not engage in argumentation (even if you could be convinced, you likely don’t have the power to change the policy), repeat, and HANG UP if they are rude or abusive. Have your supervisor help come up with answers to common questions (What happens if they show up unmasked? How will this mandate be enforced? Can I get a refund?)

    Don’t get pulled into debates on the topic. Don’t stay on the phone and let people be awful to you while they try to kill you.

    If on the other hand any portion of this takes place in person – what is your work’s safety plan? How are they getting aggressive customers out of the box office/equivalent? What are they doing to protect you. I’ve worked both in person and phone customer service and the one thing I will say in favour of the phone is that the customer cannot see you, nor can they physically endanger you.

  111. Mad as a Hatter*

    Ugh. The dreaded phone complainer. In these situations, it is horrible that others feel the need to be nasty in general to the retail/service/front end of the house. I feel horrible for your employees. Just keep positive and just let it roll off your back. But there was a comment in your OP that stood out, I had to say something.
    When you mention that, “ It is not fun, it is exhausting, and it is also pretty emotional for all of us who have been struggling for so long and have to be polite to people who feel so differently than we do”, you are absolutely right until the last part of your sentence. Having to be nice to people that feel differently than you? Is it really that hard? In general? This is common decency and it’s being a human. You can’t be nice to someone unless they have the same feelings and opinions as you? Or is this just in the context of COVID/vaccines? I mean either way, thats not a good thing. If you had an employee that had differing opinions than your own, would you not be nice to them? Or would you just not hire someone with differing opinions in the first place? I don’t feel a manager or anyone in a position of authority should be making judgments on who to be nice to based upon them feeling differently than you on any myriad of subjects.

    1. nothing rhymes with purple*

      This is about a deadly disease, not a choice of ice cream flavors. OP was trying to delicately mention the utterly horrendous ‘opinion’ of people who are so against trying to prevent disease transmission that they would verbally berate front staff at a theater over it.

    2. pamela voorhees*

      It IS pretty hard to “be decent” and “be a human” when someone started the conversation by calling you slurs and giving you death threats (both things we’ve gotten, repeatedly, over our mask & vaccine policy). This isn’t “they don’t like our selection of shows for the season and pointedly asked when we were going to do musicals again”, the problem absolutely isn’t that front line staff aren’t being nice because they disagree with patrons, and also, this isn’t about “opinions”. The problem is front line staff being abused by bad actors who are not operating in good faith and cannot be changed by any amount of “niceness” or “decency” on the part of the front line staff.

  112. A Wall*

    I can give you/everyone my big secret trick from working in bars long before the pandemic, which is that people can’t keep building up steam if you’re not engaging with them, and providing polite service is often a trap. Do not, under any circumstances, explain anything to these folks. It will never ever make them less angry or make them complain less, it only gives them openings through which to fight you. Do not apologize or act apologetic for the inconvenience of the policy. In an effort to be polite and provide good service, you are giving people who are not ever gonna be polite back to you tools through which to continue being crappy to your employees.

    This is really hard to train yourself out of when you’re going from regular customer service to the kind of customer service that necessitates keeping people from getting into fights with you & your coworkers. The important thing to remember is that, in these cases, there is not an amount of polite and apologetic that will diffuse the situation. You have to redirect them and/or remove whatever or whoever they’re targeting so they have no way to keep going. They’re going to get off the call mad no matter what, so protect your employees first and worry about upsetting the ranters never.

    When you get one of these people on the phone, get to the point of the call as quickly and dispassionately as possible, even if that means interrupting them repeatedly. If they start ranting, butt in with a question to get to that point, redirecting them. “And you would like to refund these tickets?” “Can I get the name on the order?” “Can you please confirm the last four digits of the payment method?” If they’re just asking to know and are still going on once they have the answer, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Don’t engage with anything else they say in between. Act as though the conversation has already ended. Basically, pretend they aren’t still trying to complain and go from there. Even if they are still trying to keep it going with whatever the grievance is, “Thank you for calling Performing Arts Company, have a good day!” *click*

    1. Mad as a Hatter*

      A Wall, you’re used to dealing with belligerent drunks. If you even equate that to the unvaccinated, you’re definitely apart of the problem that everyone is complaining about these days…Drunks are different, as I used to be one. There is no logic dealing with them. But when you encounter someone with differing views, you’re not encountering a person without logic..it’s merely a differing view point. Different altogether.

      1. Tali*

        People who call up a theater to berate employees about a government-approved, medically-safe vaccine are people without logic.

      2. wurtzel*

        Nah. A Wall’s advice is about managing a situation where a customer is trying to pick a fight with you. It’s for customers who refuse to accept that what they want isn’t an option, and it’s extremely effective.

      3. pamela voorhees*

        Front line staff can’t change the policy so there’s nothing to be discussed. A patron’s “view point” doesn’t matter in this situation for the same reason that my view that I should be allowed to take a bath in the lobster tank at a nice restaurant doesn’t matter — the rules say I can’t do that. The rules of the theatre say they have to wear masks/get a vaccine/follow procedures/etc. That’s it. That’s the end of the conversation.

  113. Scott*

    a phrase I’ve found useful for keeping detached from these situations is “reasons are for reasonable people” – there is no point trying to argue logic and facts in the face of unreasonability so don’t waste your time and stick to policy/rules.

  114. nnn*

    If I were the customer service rep in this situation, the most useful thing my manager could do is authorize me to lose the customer’s business. You did mention that they’re authorized to hang up, but being able to say “If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to leave!” would also be helpful.

  115. lockhart*

    I write for a newspaper, often about COVID, so I regularly get emails from anti-vaxxers and anti-vax adjacent people. Some of them are totally unhinged and we can completely ignore them. Others are much more reasoned, cite (misleading but well-intentioned) sources. The second group I will occasionally respond to and try and sway their viewpoint. One of the tricks I’ve found is to latch onto whatever minor detail they present that you actually agree with — even if you agree in a way that’s not really their intention. Like, if they are ranting about Trump say it’s great that he did so much work to accelerate vaccine development with Warp Speed. It tends to lower the temperature significantly.

  116. anymouse*

    As a retail worker I can say that 2020 was the worst for customers acting terrible and while 2021 hasn’t been bad they still are just acting like asses. We weren’t even enforcing our mask rules or mentioning masks to customers and they still would get pissed off. And then there was the fitting rooms being closed.

    You need to get clear guidance from management on how to handle things and what you are allowed or are not allowed to say or do. Make sure that this is management who will follow up and back what you say rather than undercutting it. Last year we had more leeway to say No to customers and our store manager was very eager to use his new power to say No and was like “please, please call me so I can tell them no” (I think he did kick out at least one customer for being over the top verbally abusive to someone).

    Once you know what you can and can’t do and how management will back you tehn you can come up with a plan.

    A long time ago when I was dealing with phone calls and difficult customers a manager told me to offer 2 options and then jsut repeat the 2 options until the person picked one or picked the unspoken third option (hang up). You may not have 2 options and for awhile I did a variation of this.

    Because I knew my manager would come and deal with customers as soon as they started to make an issue of the fitting rooms being closed or whatever I would go straight to “I can call the manager if you want to talk to him”. No one ever took me up on my offer and I would jsut repeat that until they went away or bought something or stopped complaining.

    I would suggest coming up with a script of what to say on the phone or in person and make sure all your employees are on the same page about what to say. They don’t need to repeat it verbatim but that way no matter what day or time someone calls or is in person they are getting the same message. This cuts down on “well so and so told me. ..” when you know that everyone is saying the same thing.

    If it’s just phone calls and there is no public around then you have some leeway. Like you can pull the phone away from your ear while they are ranting and just listen for the pause where they are waitign for you to respond-and then just respond with your script.

    The big thing is that none of this is about you or anyone else who works there. It doesn’t matter where they went or who they were talking to the anti mask ranters and rude people would still be rude. It could be Elmo telling them this about Seasame Street and they’d still act the same way.

    Even then it does wear on you. I know it was just ground us all down. And so if there was 2 store employees with some kind of privacy we would bitch about the customers and their attitudes and talk about the most outrageous behavior- “Can you believe I had a woman coming in to complain about Wal Mart’s mask policy and how she was
    going to boycott them and just kept going on and on until her husband was trying to pull her away?” “oh her! Yeah she came by my counter too… I think she went to every open register to try and get people in a debate…her husband seemed embarrassed. Although not as embarrassed as the girl whose mom tried to return her jeans while the girl was still wearing them.” and then it segues into the most outrageous stuff we’ve seen.

    Yes those scenarios were real although they didn’t happen that closely together.

    If you can hang up on people who just rant and rant then that’s good and you should do that. there is a lot of satisfaction that comes from hanging up on someone who is rude and unreasonable. At a non retail job I had a customer call and yell at me and cut me off any time I tried to talk, I wasn’t really trying to help him but just wondering if he was going to let me say something and finally he say “Nod if you understand ” and I hung up on him. We had caller ID so I made a note of his number before I did that and when he called back I didn’t pick it up.

  117. Breadline or picket line*

    I would go super practical to avoid these interactions. I would have a pre-recorded message that includes to announcment. Then a prompt to say that they can cancel their tickets online. If that have any complaints, direct them to an online form or a part of the phone service where they can leave a verbal message. Then I would add a kindness reminder. Something like “we are so glad to have you back. We understand navigating the requirements are difficult. Please be kind to our customer service staff as they are here to help. Abuse will not be tolerated”.

  118. I poop on anti-maskers*

    I also work a customer service job and have had the same issue. There are two things that have made it easier, having boss’s that will 100% back you up, and being able to go “These are our policies and are required to come here. If you have any other questions I can answer you but if they involve our non negotiable polices I will have to hang up the phone.” and if they continue/ are crappy just hang up.
    It got to a point where I was allowed to answer and if it was anything about our policies regarding safety I’d say “Our policies are on our website” and hang up.
    The thing with people like that is they won’t go if they have to be vaccinated/wear a mask, you’ll lose a client but at the end of the day, you’re only losing a shitty client who’s okay with putting your life at risk… And who wants clients like that?

  119. Essential Worker*

    I 100% “blame” the policy. “I don’t want to wear a mask.” It’s the policy. “I hate the new rules.” It’s they policy. “I don’t have to wear a mask in my home town.” (Yes, you do!) It’s the policy. “This is all fake.” It’s the policy. “I didn’t have to make an appointment to see you back in 2019.” It’s the policy. “I don’t want to wear a mask.” (I don’t actually want to wear a mask AND gloves AND a face shield for eight hours a day AND listen to you moan because you have to wear a mask for twenty minutes. I also don’t want to die, or kill my family, or kill random people at the grocery store.) It’s the policy. “I want to complain.” You can go talk to a supervisor. (So they can tell you it’s the policy.) wash – rinse – repeat untill it’s boring.

  120. Feral Fairy*

    I work in customer service currently at a restaurant but I also have retail experience. There’s a lot of good suggestions in this thread. A lot of people are saying “allow your staff to hang up if the caller is being verbally abusive”. I fully agree with this idea, but if for whatever reason it isn’t possible, you should encourage your staff members to put people on hold when they need a minute to breathe and center themselves before responding. For example, if I was doing this job and a customer who called to get a refund starts getting belligerent or verbally combative, I would say something to the effect of “I am going to put you on a brief hold while I pull up your information” and then I’d take a moment to calm myself down before continuing with the conversation.

  121. Princess Zelda*

    I’ve worked front-line in retail and at a library for most of the pandemic, and here are some things I found worked, in no particular order:

    * Have disposable masks! Have them in different colors if you can, and in both adults and kids sizes. If you can give someone a choice between a blue mask or a green mask, you can divert the conversation from “mask or no mask” to “blue mask or green mask” I’d say about 50% of the time, and having different sizes of mask will help deflate the people who say “Oh masks just don’t fit me!”
    * At the store, when a customer said “[President/organization/the internet/etc] said I don’t have to wear a mask!”: “As this is private property, the company has the right to set their own rules about proper attire. We have added masks to our ‘no shoes no shirts no service’ policy.”
    * At the library, when a expressed the above: “I understand there’s a lot of conflicting information. This building is owned by the City, so the rules for this building are set by the city council, who have decided that masks are required for entry. Here’s a copy of the decision, if you’d like it.”
    * “I have a medical condition that means I can’t wear a mask!”: “I’m sorry to hear that! Our ADA-approved accomodation is X.” For most of the pandemic, it was curbside pickup; now, it’s curbside for the retail store and a clear plastic face shield for the library.
    * [Conspiracy theory]: “I hear you. However, a mask is still required to enter our facility.” said with a very sympathetic tone. Like, “I would change it if I could, I don’t agree either” *tone* but still enforcing the rule.
    * This one is my favorite: When someone’s mask does not cover their nose, approaching them and quietly gesturing to the nasal area on my own face and saying “your mask slipped!” in the same tone I would use to convey “your bra strap is showing” or “your fly is undone.” People adjust their mask 99.999% of the time.

    Phrases like “I hear you” and “I understand” help a lot of people who are just frustrated but aren’t actively abusive yet feel seen and lessens the chance they’ll yell at you; so does a sympathetic tone of voice. So does blaming “policy” and “management,” but only in combination with those things — otherwise, blaming policy & management seems to make people *more* likely to yell.

    Once people are actively abusive though, you have to empower them to hang up if it’s over the phone or walk away if it’s in person. If they’re staffing the ticket counter and some jerk decides they’re going to scream at them, they have to be able to walk away from the ticket counter and get a supervisor to deal with and/or kick out the jerk instead.

    Good luck!

  122. Kella*

    There’s tons of good advice here. If anyone wants to go the snarky route, I wanted to share this gem I saw on another site that a customer service rep in charge or enforcing mask use was using:

    Customer: You know that thing doesn’t even protect you from anything, right?
    Service worker: It protects you 100% from being kicked out of [establishment] for not wearing a mask.

  123. LondonLady*

    Could you introduce a recorded message to screen calls eg “In line with policies across our sector we are requiring proof of COVID vaccination and the wearing of masks at our venue. Further information can be found on our website. If you are happy to continue to book a ticket with these conditions, please press 1. If you wish to request a refund, please press 2.” And an equivalent poster for people making in person bookings? That might take some of the heat out of it? Also I’d suggest building in shorter shifts or longer breaks for staff on the phones / on the desk if possible. You are doing the right thing to keep your patrons, colleagues and performers safe!

  124. singlemaltgirl*

    we have been clear with our policies all along. that helps ensure our staff are familiar, have their scripts, and it’s said in a matter of fact but compassionate tone – we want to everyone who comes to our office to feel as safe as possible and that is staff and clients. some of our clients can’t be vaccinated (under 12’s) and those who choose not to be so we have all our protocols in place despite what our province has mandated (they’ve dropped masking and other protocols). and there is no confusion about what we offer/what we do and we allow people to make their choices accordingly. if they are adamant about not wanting to wear a mask, etc. we offer alternatives for them to try. we’re firm.

    i think that lack of clarity, not having clear policies to refer to, and bullies thinking they can take advantage of that can be very difficult for front line employees to navigate. so ask your org to be clear, figure out what it is you’re going to say, what your policies are going to be, and stand by them.

  125. CountryLass*

    The best adivce I was given when I worked at a theme park was to remember that the customer was usually angry at the situation, not me. I think this would hold especially true in this scenario, YOU have not made the regulations, you are just responsible for making sure it is followed.

    Think of yourself like a police officer responsible for making sure 5 year olds don’t drive a car. It won’t help when the toddler is screaming at you, but it might help in the long term to keep reminding yourself, and the customer, that you did not make this decision. This is not your fault, and you cannot bend the rules for them. The fact that you AGREE with the rule is both irrelevant and none of their business.

    Make it clear to them that you are just doing your job, and that you will not tolerate being shouted at, sworn at or abused. But also be aware that some people swear as naturally as they say thank you, and if someone states that “this is F-ing ridiculous” or whatever, they may not be directing that at you, just venting.

    Above all, don’t take it personally if you can. Picture yourself like a rock in a sewer, let the sh*t flow around you then shake it off. make sure you and your colleagues get a few minutes to decompress after bad calls and make sure your bosses know what you are dealing with and that they offer support.

  126. Red 5*

    I used to work customer service for a parking enforcement agency. To say we our “customers” got heated would be a huge understatement. We had a panic button to call the police when they started to threaten us. It was not the best time.

    But I found that the principles of good customer service were largely universal. I mostly did the same things I’ve done in every retail or food service job. Don’t interrupt and let them feel heard (unless they threaten someone or they’re hurling abusive language). Stay as calm and neutral voiced as possible and don’t return their anger at all. Most people will have their anger sputter out when it’s not returned. Then when you have your opening to speak (again without interrupting) you explain the best course of action, and how long it will take. “I understand, I’ll give you your refund now, it will go on the method of payment you used and it can take up to two days to appear.”

    If they want to just keep on yelling about policies, the magic words I’ve found are “I’m not able to change policies like that myself but I would be happy to pass your concerns up to my manager.”

    You would not believe how many people instantly calm down when I say I have heard them and I will at least tell someone else. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really works.

    And I did always pass those concerns along, though sometimes the conversation looked more like “this guy came in today who thinks he should be allowed to park next to fire hydrants, I know that’s never going to happen but I told him I’d tell you and now I’ve told you.” With your employees it actually would be good to track how many refunds or angry calls they got for your own records, so just marking it down in a ledger would be “passing your concerns to my manager.”

    If that doesn’t work, then I would say just tell employees they’re allowed to say that it wasn’t their decision and they are too low in the organization to have been consulted and to have an email or voice mail dumping ground to transfer them to. But tell them to never actually debate the policy with the angry people. It’s super tempting, but that’s what they want. As many people as I dealt with who wanted to park in handicapped spaces without a permit because “I was only there for a minute” I didn’t debate the reason that was illegal, even though I thought they were jerks who deserved a larger fine. That would just escalate the situation. I might point out it was a state law, but mostly I just gave them an appeal form and told them the appeal process like anybody else. Because they want you to argue with them and tell them they’re wrong, and when you don’t is when they deflate.

    It is hard to get yelled at and just passively take it. But in a way it’s also satisfying because it really throws them off and in the end you come out the winner just by refusing to play their game.

  127. Morning Reader*

    Question: why do you have to offer a refund? If I bought a ticket and couldn’t make it to a performance, I don’t think I’d be owed a refund. These people are choosing not to comply. It’s nice to offer the refunds,but, if people call and are nasty making the request, can’t you just hang up or say no? We don’t owe the anti-maskers diddly squat.

  128. meagain*

    One of my friends who works at a bar has a mask that says “This is bullsh*t” which is pretty funny. She is not anti-mask at all and wears a normal one, but if she has a group of people who are griping about masks, sometimes she puts that on which is really funny. Like hey guys, I’m on your side, this is dumb! Which she’s actually not like at all, she just winks at her coworkers and puts that one on when she has to go to an obnoxious table. It’s the kind of place where you can get away with that though.

  129. SimplyAlissa*

    I’m in insurance, so different customer interaction, but anyone who calls ahead for an appointment or wants to come in the office who has anything to say about mask coverings, I say “Sorry you feel that way. We’re interested in keeping both our team members and customers healthy and alive. If you don’t feel the same, then sadly we be limited to phone interaction only.”

    Repeat ad nauseam if they keep on about their rights.
    Thankfully only a few people have given me any gruff over the phone when I remind them that a mask is required for the appointment they’re setting, AND our city mask mandate just went back into affect this past Friday.

  130. Miguel Valdespino*

    As somebody whose job has long included phone duties, I treasure the time after I’ve seen the light on the phone go out. Once I’ve made sure that the call is disconnected, I use a choice few words that I would never use with them on the line. Knowing that I will be able to say the words afterwards helps me to keep calm in the moment.

  131. Donkey Hotey*

    Late note:
    My wife and I have season tickets to an itty-bitty theater company in a semi-rural town near our home. Last month was the first performance. They mandated 100% masks, regardless of vaccination status, and every person attending had to show proof of vaccination. The person at the door also took down names for contact tracing. I was very pleased to see that there was zero pushback on any of this, especially given the stereotype of rural/conservative areas being more resistant to such measures.
    Bonus: the play was a hoot! 9-to-5, the musical!

  132. Fiddlesticks*

    As a government worker, I very much appreciate the fact that in my state (Washington), it is a FELONY to threaten a public servant, per state law (RCW 9A.76.180). And yes, people have been reminded of this by me both on the phone and in person, with the followup “… and if you say anything else like what you’ve just said to me, I will be contacting law enforcement and reporting you”. Amazing how people on unhinged rants can somehow manage to regain control of their mind and their mouth almost instantly. I wish everyone who worked for government had this recourse!

  133. Red*

    Have a firm script that the people answering the phone can adhere to. Any attempts by the customer to debate or subvert the script should be met with, “I’m sorry, but that’s the policy. Now, what can I assist you with?” Give them 2 or 3 tries to get to their point of wanting a refund. After that, “I apologize, but I have other calls i need to take. Please call back when you have an actual question or request we can assist with.” Then hang up. All of the above should be said with a tone of ‘I am so sorry’/’I just work here’. It’ll defuse 99% of angry callers. For the remaining super butt berets direct them to email the supervisor with their complaint (let it be a generic email created just for this purpose) or if necessary pass it on to a ‘supervisor’ (w/e person on staff whose willing to be firm and shut the caller down). In my office I’m the problem caller wrangler cause Im willing to repeat ad infinitum w/e they’re not hearing in a ‘oh gosh, that’s terrible’ voice until the customer gets it out of their system and to their point.

  134. Karon Hightower Halama*

    Completely agree with the scripting, empowering people to disconnect the call, and providing easy access to supervisory staff.

    A script that I’ve found helpful: “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t discuss COVID policies while on the clock. When I put on my uniform, I cease to hold an opinion about the policies.” (I’ve used this when patients want to discuss politics or religion, as well.)

    In this case, you could follow that up with: “I understand that you are unhappy with our COVID policies. Unfortunately, the only option I have at this time would be to refund your tickets. Can you please provide me with your account / ticket information so I can take care of that for you?” If they push? “I’m very sorry, I know this isn’t ideal. These are the company policies. If you don’t wish to obtain a refund for your tickets, I’ll need to end the call.”

  135. Anxiouscounselor*

    It depends. If someone isn’t even willing to have a conversation with me and try to understand that more than 100 people come in and out of my office suite on a weekly basis and I have to protect them as much as I can, I’m not sure I can take the risk of allowing them in my building. I’d probably offer them telehealth or a referral if they’re so angry they won’t listen, but I haven’t experienced that yet, and I’ve had people question the policy pretty hard. I always fall back on “yes, I understand your feelings, because I don’t want to wear masks either, but you still need to while you’re in the public spaces of this building.”

  136. dan*

    Ahhh, the benefits of owning your own business. I own a used bookstore and I love that I can require mask wearing and enforce however I want. If someone comes in without a mask(rare), I politely ask if they have one. If they say anything other than “Oh sorry, I forgot” and put on their mask, I get nasty in a big big hurry. I don’t tolerate idiots in any way. Fortunately, in my experience book people are overwhelmingly great so I don’t have to worry about this very often. And yes, I enjoy kicking these morons out of my store.

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