The Road to Vegas – Part I: Hot Buttons

Grand Prix Las Vegas.

These four words invoke a flurry of emotions. Elation! Anticipation! Excitement! Our souls are steeled as we dig our heels in preparation for a record breaking, earth shattering, time altering event! And if you are accusing me of hyperbole, just wait until you are standing in a building with approximately 10,000 players. The number does not include judges, staff, vendors, media, or guests. Those who recall the first Modern Masters Grand Prix remember the rushes of adrenaline as a non-stop momentum pushed us through a weekend of intense action as the perpetual motion machine of an event cruised on to be a huge success.

I remember lying on the floor of the hallway on Sunday evening. I was exhausted. I¬†hadn’t quite known what to expect back then. But we know now. And we can prepare.

Welcome to the Road to Vegas.

I present to you, dear reader, a series of articles regarding my forte of customer service. As a primer, I suggest you read my two previous articles on Customer Service and Burnout. Though I will go into details during these articles, all information will be based on the presumption that you have read those two articles.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Hot Buttons

I hate cocky people.

Seriously. I hate them. With a passion. Now, don’t get me wrong. Confidence is a trait I admire. Joking bravado and “humble bragging” at least show attempts to subvert narcissistic traits. But arrogance… oh boy. If I have a conversation with a genuinely arrogant person, I zone out. I begin to imagine bad things happening to them. Involving lava. And bees. Lava bees.

Cocky people are my hot button.

I have several hot buttons. We all do. Hot buttons are behaviors, traits, words, or anything that causes us to become intensely, emotionally reactive. Conversely, we all do or say things which can be hot buttons to other people. It’s a natural part of a thriving society. We exist to annoy each other.

Our hot buttons can interfere with customer service in two ways. Some customers can passively press them. Some customers may actively search them out and seek to hold down the button as long as possible. Either way, the customer may not consciously know this is happening.

Passive Pressing

Sometimes your buttons can be pressed by the mere presence of someone. Their appearance, their speech, or even their smell may remind you of something/someone. If you notice this occurring, be mindful of how it is affecting your presence to the customer. Make note of body language, eye-contact, and your rate/tone of speech. Don’t be afraid to use your Exit Strategy.

An Exit Strategy¬†is a combination code-word and way-out-of-a-situation. By using this technique, you can simultaneously remove yourself from an emotionally reactive situation and inform fellow Judges of what’s going on without directly stating it for bystanders to hear. The benefit of creating your Exit Strategy beforehand is twofold: You don’t have to create it on-the-spot, and it lets you share it with other Judges you’ll be working with.

Let’s say, for example, that I am dealing with a very cocky customer. I may look towards a fellow Judge and say, “Would you mind helping this person out? I think I have something in my eye.” This code would let my colleague know that I am currently experiencing a deep-seated urge to dip the customer in lava bees, and I cannot calmly handle the situation.

When using this tactic, be sure that another Judge is attending to the customer. The goal isn’t to avoid the situation. The goal is to resolve the situation in the best way possible for everyone involved.

Active Pressing

Occasionally, you will have an upset customer. Occasionally, that upset customer will attempt to engage you in an argument. Not all arguments are unjustified. However, some people use argumentativeness as a power-play to get what they want. They may get louder, be sarcastic, curse, become physical, or get “intense.”

IMPORTANT NOTE: No matter what the situation may be, take proper measures if you feel unsafe with a customer. Call for assistance or remove yourself from the situation immediately.

These types of people, let’s call them Power Players, will often try and “bait” you into a fight. They will say things specifically aimed at Hot Buttons. These things may be targeted towards your physical stature, your intelligence, your sex or gender, your ethnicity, your religion, or anything else.

The first order of action is to de-escalate the customer. Validate their emotion, address their need, and attempt to meet it. “Validating the emotion” means you attempt to understand what they are feeling, and you acknowledge it. “Addressing the need” is similar, wherein you attempt to understand their need and then acknowledge it. “Attempting to meet the need” means you attempt to resolve the issue.

The key word here is “attempt.” It may be impossible to meet the need of the customer. Sorry, we can’t refund your tournament fee. Sorry, you were late for the tournament. Sorry, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. In these situations, I recommend a very common but very powerful Exit Strategy.

“Let me talk to my manager.”

The power of “Let me talk to my manager” is threefold.

1) It provides the customer with the assurance that action is being taken and their need is being considered seriously.
2) It allows you to remove yourself from the situation, calm down/plan ahead, and consult with management.
3) It allows you to “join” with the customer. Even if management is unable to accommodate the customer’s need , you can now provide an explanation while simultaneously not having the rejection be personal.

Note: Adding personal touches to this approach tends to help. Again, be genuine. But letting them know that you tried or that you are sorry can help you form a bond with the customer and let them know they are heard. One I tend to use is, “Unfortunately I can’t change the situation, but it’s definitely feedback we can implement for the future.” And I always follow-up on that feedback too… don’t just say it. Do it. Most people don’t get upset because they aren’t getting their way. They get upset because they feel dismissed.

Once the customer has calmed, be sure to set and reinforce your boundaries. Boundaries are the rules of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Let’s say the customer screamed loudly. After that person had cooled off, you would remind them that screaming angrily is not tolerated and may be means for removal from the tournament hall. This is a very important step. As Judges, we have a duty to customer service but we also have a duty to maintain a safe environment for all the players and staff. We cannot let inappropriate behavior go unaddressed.

Remember that in some cases, the boundary needs to be reinforced first. This is especially true in situations where a customer’s actions are upsetting or even endangering other customers or staff. Again, if there is ever a situation where a customer is a danger to others, including yourself, take the proper measures. Your safety is priority.


Now that we’ve explored how Hot Buttons can be pressed, here are some tips to reduce the chances that these will affect you.

1) Be aware of your Hot Buttons. Go so far as to make a list. I encourage you to discuss with close friends for anything you may not be aware of.

2) Come up with an Exit Strategy, and share it with your team. Some of you will think this is a corny idea, and that’s fine. But for a lot of people, this is a useful tool.

3) Know if you’re a fighter, a flee-er, or a freezer. How do you react to danger? Do you want to fight? Do you want to run away? Or do you freeze? If you find yourself doing any of these things, then you are probably emotionally reactive. Cue your Exit Strategy.

4) Know your management staff. Know their names, and know where they will be during the tournament. If any issues come up, you will know who to go to.

5) Don’t dip people in lava bees.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.