My most memorable Christmas was with my in-laws in 1982. My wife is one of eight children, five girls and three boys. With most of them having their own families, the number of presents you had to by for all the brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces was getting out of hand. So that year it was decided that we would have a structured gift exchange, where each member would draw one name and buy a nice gift for that person. The remainder of what would have been spent on twenty or thirty presents would be contributed to a Salvation Army family.
Christmas Day we all gathered for the gift exchange. Tasteful presents of sweaters, vases, and golf stuff were opened one-at-a-time and fussed over by everyone. Then, my sister-in-law Bridget opened her present from her younger brother Nick. Nick had dropped out of college and was working on the Alaska Pipeline at the time. He was known as the party animal of the family, so I wasn’t surprised to see the framed, 2’x3′ photograph of himself in a Mexican bandito outfit, complete with bandoleers and a fake moustache. It drew a big laugh from the men in the room, including me. The women, on the other hand, weren’t so amused – and Bridget left room, visibly upset.
While one of the sisters went to console her, the others chastised Nick for his rude behavior. Somehow the conversation morphed into a heated discussion among all the sisters about whom their mother loved more. The event ended with half the family marching out, children in tow, vowing never to speak to one another again.
Everyone has since made up, but it reminded me of how stressful the ostensibly joyful holidays can be. There are expectations to fulfill and potential disappointments to deal with. Nick probably thought he was going the extra mile by giving a picture of himself – a truly personalized gift – and expected appreciation for it. Bridget, on the other hand, probably felt that Nick was showing her disrespect by giving her a gag gift when everyone else was getting nice stuff. Meanwhile, the rest of the family was carrying just enough angst about old hurts and injustices that all it took was this incident to ignite a family blow-up.
Even without the weird family dynamics, however, there’s a whole lot of stress that comes with the holidays as a matter of course. Presents to buy, parties to plan, people to see, traffic to fight, crowds to endure, money to worry about, expectations to look great, and pressure to be “happy.” It’s no wonder that we get a bit cranky. Of course the same goes for your customers and co-workers.
So when those hoards of tired and stressed out customers, with crazy family dynamics and too many people to shop for come into your establishment this December, and throw a hissy fit because you’re out of something they want or their delivery is delayed; or your co-workers seem unusually cranky and bite your head off for some minor oversight, just remember, it’s not you they have the problem with, it’s my brother-in-law Nick they’re mad at. It’ll help you stay calm.
Tips for Handling Holiday Stress
According to the folks at MayoClinic.com, Holiday stress can be categorized into three main groups:
Relationships During the holidays, the expectations of normal relationships often become exaggerated. We’re expected to get along with all the “loved ones” in our lives and to be “holiday happy,” even though we’re pressed for time to get everything done and we’re often living temporarily with visitors and family members we don’t regularly see.
Finances There are certainly plenty of things to spend your money on during the holidays. Presents, dining out, parties, entertainment, gas to drive from one mall to another. And it’s all so easy to put it on the credit card. But deep down inside, we know the bill will be coming in January. Unless you’re financially well disciplined, or independently wealthy, this knowledge can make your blood pressure rise. So it’s probably wise to set limits on your gift spending and stick to them.
Physical Demands Ever notice how you feel at the end of a day spent shopping during the holidays? The physical demand of going from store to store, fighting the crowds, hassling the traffic, pushing from place to place to complete the shopping list can be a killer. Combine that with less sleep due to parties and extra holiday activities, and the extra time spent cooking and cleaning (house has to look good for the guests) and no wonder you feel shot.
It’s all very daunting, but what are you going to do? Cancel Chanukah and Christmas? Head for the nearest island for the holidays? Lock yourself in the basement and play video games? If those choices aren’t feasible, here are some suggestions:
- Chill out. Accept that you won’t be all things to all people. You’re not perfect, so stop trying to be so. It’s ok that the house doesn’t look perfect or your special fruitcake turns out like a brick of chalk. Your family will still love you.
- Decide what is most important to do and make a list. Prioritize the list with the must do’s first, nice to do’s second, and don’t even write down the others. Make that list now and start working on it today. The earlier you start, the better. My sister does all her shopping on-line in August. Then, in December, when the rest of us are drowning in the hoard of holiday shoppers at the mall, she’s addressing and writing her thank you notes for the presents she hasn’t received yet (she leaves the name of the present blank until the day after Christmas). Of course, the rest of the family considers her obsessive compulsive to a fault, but she sure has the last laugh during the holidays.
- No matter how busy you are, take time to exercise, even if you have to get up at 4:00 AM to do it. The endorphins you acquire will help you get through the hassles of the holiday rush with a smile. You’ll be one of those people you see at the mall during the rush who actually look like they’re enjoying themselves.
- Allow for downtime – even fifteen minutes. Between the shopping, the cleaning, the entertaining, the calling, the cooking, and the decorating, give yourself little mini-breaks where you can sit quietly and de-stress from the holiday rat race.
- Understand that everyone else is stressed, so cut family members, store clerks, rude drivers, slow cashiers at the grocery store, and everyone else who is bugging, you a little slack.
- Have some fun, no matter how much fun you’re not having. For example, you’re standing in a slow checkout line. You could fume about the inadequacy of the cashier, or beat your self up because the guy who got in the next line over when you got in your line is now checked out while you’re still waiting. Or, you could start a conversation with the person behind you by telling her how much you admire the electric Christmas tree hat she’s wearing, or by making funny faces at the screaming child in the basket in front of you, or by getting everyone in line to join in a rousing rendition of Oh Come All Ye Faithful. You’re going to be there anyway, you might as well enjoy it.
Telling Customers You’re Out Of Stock And Surviving The Ordeal
Given that your customers will be more stressed out that normal during the holidays, it’s likely that you will incur the wrath of a few when you’re unable to fulfill their requests. No one likes to hear the word “No,” especially customers.
Although it is wise customer service to make every effort possible to give customers what they want, when they want it, and where they want it delivered, sometimes the impossible is the impossible. In those cases, telling your customer that you can’t do it becomes necessary. Your challenge is to do this in such a way that your customer, though disappointed, will continue to maintain her good will toward you and your company. Here are some things you can do to minimize the damage.
- Take the customer seriously. Even the most outrageous request makes sense to your customer. Your tone of voice, facial expressions, and verbal responses all send a message to your customer that says whether you care. So when the customer asks if he can get more peppermint baklava shipped in today, and you know that there’s none to be had, don’t smirk, or look at him like he’s crazy, even though you might think he is.
- Acknowledge the customer’s feelings. By clearly letting him know that you understand how he feels, you’ve put yourself on his side, rather than in an adversarial position. “You were counting on that product. I don’t blame you, it is wonderful stuff.”
- Decline without saying “no.” Most of us have a psychological aversion to this word, dating back to when we went through our own “terrible twos.” By explaining “why,” the reason for the decline will say “no” for you.”That peppermint baklava seems to be unusually popular this season. There was a huge run on it over the weekend and we’re completely sold out.”
- Offer alternatives that address the concern. This not only facilitates the problem solving process, it also gives the customer a way to save face. It’s also a chance to demonstrate that you’re willing to go the extra mile. For example, “I can call our warehouse and have it over-nighted to you directly.” Or, “I can offer you another kind of baklava.” Even if none of the alternatives you offer the customer satisfy him, the very fact that you are trying says that you care.
- Recycle the process. The customer may not want to accept the limitations of what you’re telling her. You may have to go through the steps several times. Always deliver the message with a caring attitude and a helpful tone.
- Tell her what you CAN do. By focusing on what you can do, rather than on what you can’t do, you move the conversation from negative disappointment to positive problem solving–and give yourself the opportunity to say YES.