Show Unruly Customers the Door

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Not much has changed in the world of customer service since Harry Selfridge, founder of Selfridge’s department stores coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  The aim of customer service is to satisfy the customer.  Customers can be hard to please, but the real challenge is determining what the customer wants, why they feel they were disappointed, and then finding a solution that will win the customer over. 

It’s one thing to listen to an unhappy customer complain about service.  It’s another to allow a customer to personally berate a customer service agent or take advantage of a service situation.   The customer may have a right to good service, but does he have a right to treat companies and services reps like doormats?

Certainly no, says Geoffrey James in an article, “No Excuses; Never Be A Customer’s Doormat.”  James cautions against bowing to the unreasonable or unethical demands of a client or customer for fear of losing her business.  This situation is different from going to extraordinary lengths to satisfy a customer.  It’s doing what is right and reasonable while maintaining the integrity of the company and protecting the customer service team from abuse.

Some customers are worth going to extraordinary measures.  Even an unreasonable customer can be turned around.  Sorry, Mr. Selfridge, but some customers aren’t worth the trouble.  Unfortunately, some companies don’t get it, and put the impossible burden on the customer service team of making every customer happy.  The goal is commendable, but some customers don’t want to be happy. 

Alexander Kjerulf, self-proclaimed Chief Happiness Officer and author of books on happiness at work, listed five types of customers that are just plain wrong and should be shown the door.  The heavy toll they take on the customer service team is obvious.  What about the Service Team’s managers and the company as a whole?  Requiring service reps to fight a losing battle over and over can take a toll on the management team as well.

Who has your back?  Service reps have a tough job and little real authority.  When faced with a customer who is unreasonable, they look for a higher authority to handle a situation and back them up.  It’s frustrating when a service rep follows all the rules, makes a decision, and this is undermined by a supervisor or manager who gives in to the customer.  Why have guidelines and limits at one level when they are meaningless at the next? 

Where have the leaders gone?  Leaders support the team.  One disappointing situation is understandable.  If the rules are outdated, or exceptions are more the rule, then leaders recognize the situation and make changes.  Giving more authority to those closest to the customer empowers service reps and gives them the confidence needed to work with customers.

Make the tough decisions.  Some customers just aren’t worth the trouble.  Kjerluf recounts the story of a Southwest Airlines customer who was a chronic complainer.  When her complaint was bumped up to the head of the company, he refused to bow to her wishes and bid her farewell.  Can you image the elation of those service reps?  Finally, someone was willing to make the decision to lose a customer that wasn’t worth keeping.

Customers who treat employees badly just aren’t worth the money.  Customer abuse causes stress, anxiety, anger and frustration, lowering morale and job satisfaction.  This can cause illness, absenteeism and result in high turnover. 

Keeping a customer by giving in to unreasonable demands puts companies in a position of weakness.  Employees feel powerless without supervisors to back them up.  It’s not enjoyable to go to work.  It’s better to lose a customer than the loyalty and respect of the customer service team. 

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  •  carlyne s
    carlyne s
    Helpful article and I agree.
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.  When I was a customer service representative, we were taught to be respectful but assertive with rude, abusive customers.  We apologized for how they felt, but also said were were not required to take abuse from customers, and handed them over to a supervisor.  The supervisors backed us up, which made us loyal to the company and management.  It's a tough job, but tougher if no one has your back.  
  • Barbara G
    Barbara G
    I couldn't have said it any better.
  •  Claudia M
    Claudia M
    Very True! I do think  however; that most customers are pleasant, it is just a few that try to make the rep bend the rules, when they know they shouldn't be trying to make you do something that you cannot. I have always stuck to my company rules and would reiterate this to the customer that was being a stickler this way I was not putting my credibility on the line-because I didn't make the rules, I would say but, I have to go by them! they usually change their tune and accept they couldn't call the shots, but most importantly most stayed a customer.
  • J. Ortiz
    J. Ortiz
    I have worked in retail/customer service for the last 19 years. Some customers are downright nasty, rude and crude. When a customer yelled, swore, or belittled me, I would say,"Let me get a manager for you." Then I would turn and walk away so that the situation would not turn explosive. Needless to say, even at 57, I have returned to college to train for a new career. Stick that in your ear, nasty customers!
  • Clinton D
    Clinton D
    Sometimes the customer is so full of it their eyes are brown.  One of the most effective tools in a Reps arsenal is, "We reserve the right to refuse service...".  Sometimes a complainer is actually trying to scam the company out of unearned benefits, goods or services.
  • Kathy F
    Kathy F
    That's about the way I feel. I felt that the customers didn't treat me right as try to do them right, as I try to occupy them with their needs, well they didn't appreciate what I did for them. Those customers aren't worth my time. They lowered my moral and therefore I went out the door. I said I quit.I didn't like that company at all.
  •  Linda W
    Linda W
    I totally agree with the article, I pride myself in care I take in providing good customer service, however when it comes to being verbally abused by an unreasonable and demanding customer and need a little support and back-up, I feel very deflated and devalued if it is not forthcoming. After all those I work under should after a reasonable period, have a clear idea of who I am as customer service provider and know I have done all I can to make the customer happy.
    I like this article . Been in the food service for over 32 years , I totally agree .. And that's why I had hard time getting a job with companies who have the stupid slogan " 100% satisfaction " , my slogan was " the customer is always .. A customer " , as soon as they try taking advantage of me or my me or my employees , I show them the door . Because once I give in to one of their demands , they will be back with more challenging ones

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