It's Halloween let's have some fun. Let me ask you, what's the scariest thing that has ever happened to you at work?

Mine was at the beginning of my career. I was working on the management team for a major wireless carrier at a very busy retail store.

It was an average and steady evening at the store. There were two of us on the closing shift for what seemed to be just another night.

Then out of nowhere all eight phone lines coming into the store lit up simultaneously with incoming calls of customers complaining their phones weren't working. We couldn't answer all of them.

Cars started racing into the parking lot by the dozen. They looked angry customers emerged from their cars and were making their way toward the store.

When people's mobile devices don't work right, they can become frustrated, angry, and irrational. When people's mobile devices don't work at all, they become a bit zombie like.

If you have ever worked in the wireless industry, you are undoubtedly nodding your head in agreement right now.

There had been a major network outage that was affecting all of the greater metro areas. Nobody could use their phones. These zombies were pissed off, and they wanted answers NOW.

And rightfully so, it's not like wireless service is cheap, even back then.

Before long the store was full of between 50-75 zombies all milling about and talking angrily amongst themselves. Others were beginning to yell at us across the counter. Rumors regarding what was happening were starting to fly around.

My co-worker and I were trying to talk to people individually and answer the phones at the same time. It wasn't working. This situation was starting to escalate out of control.

We were being overrun by an angry mob. We were overmatched.

All the characters were there. I kid you not. There was the "zombie bride" who was screaming that nobody in her wedding party could get ahold of her. The "zombie entrepreneur" whose call dropped while he was closing an important deal. He began yelling at us saying we owed him money to compensate him!

These people were getting highly emotional and becoming irrational!

And then there were simply too many to deal with. We were being overrun by an angry mob of zombies.

I was the manager. I had to do something!

Here are the five steps I took to regain as much control over the situation as possible and what you can do too if you ever find yourself on the front lines dealing with a sudden influx of angry customers after a major blunder by your company.

1) Keep Your Cool

When the situation escalates quickly as it did, in this case, it is easy to lose your cool. You must remain calm. If you show signs of weakness by letting your emotions show, the zombies will walk all over you.

2) Attempt to Regain Some Control of the Situation

The first thing I did to begin to regain control of the situation was to forward all incoming phone calls to customer service at the national call centers.

They are set up to handle that kind of call volume. We were not. The sound of eight phone lines all ringing at the same time over and over can be quite stressful. The 50 or so zombies in the store were more than enough for the two of us to deal with.

Start by gaining control over something small. Then work your way forward from there.

3) Get Out the Facts and Stop the Spread of Rumors

By getting everyone's attention and making an announcement, I was able to get out the facts and stop the vicious rumors regarding the situation that were circulating among customers like wildfire throughout the store. In these types of situations, it is important to prevent the spread of misinformation as quickly as possible.

This mitigates the amount of damage control that needs to be done on the back end. The goal here is to minimize the long-term impact to the brand and to not do damage to your personal reputation at the company as a manager in regards to how you handled the situation.

4) Take Action to Defuse the Situation

I had my co-worker make, print, and hang up signs on the front door letting people know about the outage and that our network team was working on it. By informing people of the problem on the front end we prevented more angry customers from entering the store and adding to the chaos and toxicity of the situation

We began to let people use our landline phones to make calls if they needed to, which was helpful to those that needed to get ahold of someone right away. Which just happened to be the people that were the most pissed off. Start by dealing with those customers.

Doing so will de-escalate any situation.

5) Kill the Zombies With Kindness

These situations are stressful and it's easy to lose your cool.

Do not let your negative emotions take over by being too defensive. Lashing out will only stir them up and create potential problems with how management views your handling of the situation.

Being helpful and pleasant to deal with goes a long way to turning zombie back into a customer.

Later that night when it became more than apparent that my co-worker and I were not going to get a break to eat dinner, I decided to order a bunch of large pizzas to the store.

We turned it into a big pizza party! Free food is always a good olive branch.

However, buying pizza, of course, is not always an option. If your company has made a blunder that is out of your control and you end up dealing with the issue on the customer service side, think of ways that you can offer additional value to the customer.

Giving the customer something positive to take away from the exchange will go a long way to minimizing the long-term damage to the relationship.

Customers are not zombies. However, they can temporarily morph into them when things go really wrong and they feel your company is screwing them over.

Things will go wrong at some point; it's how your company handles those situations that prevent the customer from churning.

Published on: Oct 31, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.