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Opinion: Rude customers should cut it out

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When Amy, a client’s granddaughter, turned 16, she got her first paying job as a hostess in an area restaurant. Barely 2 minutes into assuming her new hostess job, an irate customer confronted her.

The customer’s face was cranky and fuming as she approached the stand; her eyebrows arched, her eyes locked in, ready for a battle. “You obviously don’t know what you’re doing, and I demand that you get your manager right now!” she yelled at Amy.

Indeed, the restaurant inconvenienced the customer 30 minutes earlier when another employee took her to-go order but left out an item. Amy got her manager involved, and he calmed the woman and resolved her issue.

After several more unhappy customers, Amy remarked, “I had no idea there are so many rude people in the world.” Sadly, rude behavior may be growing. An online video search for “angry customers throwing things at employees” produces numerous examples of the problem’s extent today.

Recently, my wife and I placed an order for a grocery pick-up service while on vacation. The young lady who dealt with us was excellent, and I asked how I could leave her a tip. She thanked me for being thoughtful and then told me what had happened just hours earlier when a customer came to get his order.

The young lady had explained to the customer that they were shorthanded and swamped and asked for patience and understanding. But after waiting for several minutes, the customer became furious. As the young lady unloaded his items, he yelled at her and spewed profanities, calling her “a stupid idiot” and saying, “you’ll never amount to anything.” Then he threw 23 cents into the young lady’s face, yelling as he drove away: “You’re nothing but a loser in a loser job!”

Undoubtedly, poor service or problematic products will bring out the worst in our customers, but nothing justifies caustic behavior like that.

There are several possible reasons why rude customer behavior occurs today. Here are six.

  1. The problem isn’t solved the first time. Frustrations build, understandably, when we bring an issue to the attention of the business, they promise to solve it, only to produce a second or even third disappointing outcome. When our problem goes unsolved, the sheer frustration and wasted time will cause some customers to lose control. Still, it’s inexcusable when customers turn their dissatisfaction into bad behavior.
  2. The lowest level of respect. I’m not a social scientist, but from my perspective, I think we are possibly at the lowest level of respect for one another since the Vietnam War. Perhaps it stems from the impact of the pandemic, economic pressures or social and political unrest. Regardless of the cause, more respect for one another is vital.
  3. Labor and supply shortages. As a customer, I’ve seen a decline in the speed, quality and consistency of my purchase experiences. But numerous clients tell me that the labor and supply shortages intensify the challenge of delivering positive experiences for customers. In time, it will improve.
  4. Weak service culture. Create the people-first culture that great service organizations maintain because that’s the foundation for excellent customer experiences. Some businesses I work with complain about “problem customers,” but they have done virtually nothing to sow clear service values into their culture.
  5. Poor work ethic. Some businesses lack the critical work ethic among employees to deliver the organization’s services reliably and consistently. One client hired wrong, trained poorly and held on to poor performers, which created customer complaints. It took revamping their overall approach to service and mentoring to improve.
  6. Sloppy service execution. Assuming things are good prevents making things better and levels of service drop when managers ignore customer experience details. If Amy’s employer hasn’t fixed the steps causing complaints involving to-go orders, it might explain the recurring issues. Complaints can be reduced by 50% by making easy fixes to your customers’ experiences.

No employee deserves toxic behavior from a customer, even if the individual has a lousy attitude or makes a mistake. We can find ways to be kind even when we’re displeased.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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