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IN-DEPTH 2 November 2015
Facilitating a positive interaction
Liz Karter, specialist in gambling addiction in women, offers expert guidance for gaming industry staff dealing with problem gambling customers Ever wondered why your most difficult interactions can be with customers who have a gambling problem? I regularly provide talks, training and workshops to the gambling industry and consistently one of the most popular themes is how to handle customer interactions. From an operator perspective, it can be exasperating to be dealing with a customer that is angry, irrational and indecisive; one day desperate to close their account and the next equally frantic to reinstate it. Before you know it there can be two angry and confused people on the end of the telephone call or email communication; not only the customer with the gambling problem but the operator team member, too.
By Liz Karter

What can help staff is to depersonalise the interaction by understanding that although the operator team member is on the receiving end, the reasons for the customer’s reaction are complex. Having a basic understanding of general issues that are causing the intense response from the customer with the problem is valuable.

Problem gambling is about so much more than money. What the person with a gambling problem has become addicted to is the way that they feel when they are gambling. A win provides a high for anyone, but for some it is very tempting to want more and more of that feeling, especially if life outside of the bookmakers, casino or online world feels like a bad place to be – life crisis can often trigger a gambling addiction.

For example, many women I treat for gambling addiction use the absorption of slots and online gambling to self-medicate stress, depression and anxiety. Whatever the original trigger for the gambling addiction, the nature of gambling is, of course, that sooner or later they will lose. It is then not just the loss of money that drives the cycle of loss chasing, but the loss of the absorption in gambling or the high. The high is swapped for a crash down into a very low mood and so a cycle of craving more gambling begins, to repeat the feeling of the high and so escape life’s problems.

Why do some customers close their accounts and then the next day demand for them to be reinstated? When somebody is addicted to gambling they are always in two minds. One part of them rationally knows that their gambling behaviour is now destructive and that is the part of them that wants to stop gambling and will ask for cool-off time or to close their account. This often happens when they hit crisis and at that time they genuinely want to stay away from gambling. Another part of them is still addicted to the high from gambling or to the sense of escapism, or hanging onto the hope that they might win back the money they cannot afford to lose. This part is driven by overwhelming cravings to gamble again – very similar to the cravings of anyone addicted to drugs going through withdrawal. It is this part of them that will the next day be desperately trying to reopen their account.

The anger expressed by the customer with a gambling problem is often covering up their embarrassment and shame that their gambling has got so out of control
If it’s not just about money, then why are some customers so obsessed with demanding their money back? When unaffordable amounts of money have been spent, it is then that gambling addiction becomes all about the money. Deeply in debt, bills piling up and perhaps their gambling addiction still a secret from family and partners, winning back enough money to pay the bills and cover their tracks becomes an obsession. It is then that the operator team member taking their call can become a target for the anger and frustration the customer feels at their desperate situation.

To hear a customer in desperation begging for a bonus or threatening terrible things will happen if their money is not refunded can feel intimidating and frustrating. Many operator staff share with me that they feel at a loss as to how to begin to help. It sometimes can help the staff member to bear in mind that underneath the anger, the customer with the problem is feeling much the same as they, the staff member does: overwhelmed, anxious and at a loss to help themselves.

The target for the feelings of the customer with a gambling problem can be the staff member with whom they are interacting. Underneath it all, it really is not personal. If we stop and think for a moment, is it not true for us all that we feel stronger when we are angry and more vulnerable when we are sad or scared? The anger expressed by the customer with a gambling problem is often covering up their embarrassment and shame that their gambling has got so out of control and also concealing the deep-rooted fear of facing up to the mess that their addiction to gambling has made.

Here are seven ways that you can facilitate a more positive interaction:

1. Try not to take it personally. Remember that whatever is being aimed at you is not really about you, but about how the customer is feeling about their situation.
2. Try not to get hooked into arguing back. Remaining calm and using slow, calm tones can sooth and help prevent an escalation of an anger-fuelled situation.
Never underestimate what you can do just by providing a non-judgemental stepping stone to a customer who needs help with their gambling addiction
3. Remember you will often be dealing with somebody in crisis, so keep information simple. They are unlikely to be able to take on too much information.
4. Summarise the key points of what you have heard. It can be reassuring to the customer that you have really heard their concerns and what they are wanting from you and your company – even if you cannot meet all of their requests.
5. Know your referral and signposting procedures. You do not need to be a problem gambling counsellor. The most helpful thing you can do for those who need it is to refer them to someone who is able to provide that service.
6. Know your debriefing process and feel ok to use it. It can be hard to hear somebody in distress. Talk it through with your team to make sure you do not carry it home with you.
7. Never underestimate what you can do just by providing a non-judgemental stepping stone to a customer who needs help with their gambling addiction. Both men and women I have treated have told me of how their recovery started with a positive interaction with an operator team member. A listening ear and a helpful sign posting to a treatment agency started their recovery process.
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