How To Deal With Abusive Customers

If you weren’t so abrasive and rude, I would’ve refunded your money – even though we are under *no* legal obligation to do so.

I am now marking your email address as spam and your communication will no longer get through. If you don’t want to use our service any more, please cancel your account.

I have taken this conversation completely out of context because context doesn’t matter in customer service (the bold bits are mine, too).  The only thing that matters is you keeping your cool, and this can frequently require having the patience of Job and less ego than a blade of grass.  The above conversation is not one I would consider a good example of conflict resolution on the part of the representative who sent it.  That was Ryan Carson of Dropsend, incidentally, and you can read the context on his blog post about it.  Ryan asked publicly how other folks would have answered.  Here is my response, and the rationale.

The initial stimulus:

Refund me the 5 dollars ASAP

This would set me looking in my transaction records, where I would find that the customer has just done an instantaneously upgrade/downgrade for a subscription service and been charged a pro-rated amount to the end of the month.  Here is my response.

Thank you for using Dropsend [the name of the application at issue].  I received your message asking for a refund of $5, and have instructed our credit card processor to refund you.  Is there anything else I can help you with?

What did that cost me?  $5, thirty seconds of research time, and counting to five before allowing someone’s lack of civility to ruffle me.  The $5 I will get back from this customer next month, and even if I don’t its $5 and that is below my care threshold as a business owner (or as anything, really).  The research time was a sunk cost the moment he said “refund” because I have to check that he is a customer to be physically able to process a payment.  The five seconds is the expensive bit for most people, because that requires suppressing your ego, and that can be irksome.  Regardless, this response a) totally resolves the problem for the customer and b) keeps them happy and ready to pay me next month.  As an actual bonus if the customer is having some support related issue they might email me back and allow me to fix it, improving the quality of my service for the thousands of  customers I have who are not in on this email exchange.  If they don’t mail me back, thats OK too — I’m doing things that matter for the business and not swapping a series of hostile emails with someone which will gain me nothing.

Oh, sure, you can go searching for a rationale on why allowing yourself an ego (I’m using this in the non-pejorative sense of the word) is a good idea.  “They’ll walk all over me”.  “We have a policy against this.” “If I do it for him I’ll have to do it for everybody”.  Hogwash, irrelevent, and don’t care.  The overwhelming majority of your customers in the software business will never ask for a refund or contact support (I’m talking about packaged software or services here which are substantially identical for all customers).   Suppose some fraction of your support requests walk over you — so what?  Support requesters make up a tiny fraction of your turnover every month, and a tiny fraction times a tiny fraction equals a “cost of doing business”.  Your blood pressure is more important than that .1% of customers who want to wheedle over $5.

Another reason to kill this exchange after the first email is that it prevents escalation.   Escalation is what takes you from “My, didn’t this chap’s mother ever teach him manners?” to “FINE!  I DIDN’T WANT YOUR MONEY ANYWAY!”  Its easy to see it in hindsight but, in the heat of the moment, most people don’t recognize they are doing it.  As a result, you want to practice what the IR/polisci buffs call a commitment strategy — basically, you decide beforehand that if someone has an issue you are going to be obsequious about it.  Obsequious.  What a lovely word — did you know that there are several ways to say it in Japanese and that not all of them are considered negative?  I often wish English had a word for when you need to be a spineless craven lickspittle in a good way.  Learn from the Japanese, they have the “I can put a polite reserved face on this for the sake of our continued relationship even though I’m absolutely fuming on the inside” down to an art form.  (That face is called tatemae, the feeling on the inside is called honne.  There, you learned your bit of linguistic trivia for the day.)

See, if you start escalating, you will allow yourself to be drawn into an argument with your customer.  You can win an argument with your boss.  You can win an argument with your wife.  You can even win an argument with God.  But you will never win an argument with your customer.  You might get the last word in, and puff out your chest, and then find that they cancel their subscription and/or chargeback you.  And in the pursuit of a lousy five stinking bucks you’ve just lost a $50 revenue stream over the next year, which is almost pure profit because you are selling a software service which requires no marginal work, you’ve risked getting bitten for $15 by Visa when they chargeback and having to waste an hour of your life repeating the argument to a series of bored Visa representatives who are all thinking “Why did I sign up to do this job?  Everyone acts like children” (you’ll lose the chargeback, by the way), and worst of all you’re stressed.

You might think you would be stressed if you suppressed your ego.  True, for the first two weeks or so.  After that it just becomes a habit.  You learn to mentally shut out the torrent of abuse in your ear and skip over the written invective, and when you get a word in edgewise say “OK, what can I do to help?”  Trust me, I worked in a call center — if you learn how to do this, you can work in a call center for your entire life and not get tired.  If you don’t, you will burn out in a matter of months.  Just pretend you’re like that character from Firefly who, when faced with a stressful situation, repeats a mantra: “I am a leaf on the wind.  Watch me soar.”  And, well, ignore the fact that those were his last words.

 Ah, the company has a policy against refunds.  Here is the great thing about running your own business: you are the boss.  If your company has a policy against refunds, you can break it at will.  Call it an exception, call it a special accomodation, call it a goodwill expenditure, call it whatever the heck you want — the policy is a few bits on a server somewhere.  If you refund this customer, who will fault you for it?  Certainly not your boss — you are the boss!  And, as long as you’re the boss, why don’t you rewrite your policy against refunds saying that you’ll gladly give out refunds.  Its the key to getting your fantastic customer service to scale.  This chap you’re giving the refund to might tell a friend or write a blog post… of course, he’ll probably tell no one.  However, a nice prominent guarantee like “We’ll refund your last payment anytime, for any reason.” gets seen by every prospect who is worried “Hmm, what if I’m not happy?”

Even if you have some darn good reason to be a Scrooge in print in your policy, don’t get trapped into the “If I make an exception once I’ll have to make an exception for everyone”.  Says who?  Your boss?  You are the boss.  Boolean propositional logic?  You’re a businessman, not a computer programmer.  If the accomodation advances your business goals make it, end of discussion.  Your customers are an incestuous bunch but they mostly don’t talk about how easy it is to screw you over (mostly: in some markets they might.  I hope you’re not doing business in those markets).  Instead, they typically talk in terms of ecstatic, happy, and furious.  If they never have a problem, they’re happy.  If the last time they had a problem, you bent over backwards, they won’t think “This guy is a pushover!” (even though you are!  And good for you!) but they’ll think “Wow, the service here is amazing!”  And if you have a two year long relationship with a customer, without any previous bad incident, and then you send them one teensy-tinesy email saying “I would have refunded your money, but decided to keep it.  Nyaa nyaa.”, now they’re furious.  And they will never ever again be anything but furious.

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60 Comments on “How To Deal With Abusive Customers”

  1. XWMS MetaDesktop Says:

    Many people are idiots. When idiot customers write to tech support, I refund their ca$h, but make sure I make them feel bad for it.

  2. Phil Says:

    I read that entry on Carson’s blog with mouth agape. I’ve had much worse customer service emails, and of course the first thought is to shoot back with how the customer can kiss your ass and they were lucky you even sold them the software… but all a reasonable person has to do is step away from the computer for a few hours, grab a cup of coffee, come back, swallow their ego and just refund the money with a polite message (And then maybe kick something inanimate).

    Incidentally, quite often when I respond to an irate email with a nice message, I get quite a civil exchange going, and that often results in an apology or a reversal of the refund.


  3. Bad Customer Service Example

    Well, I was going to write up a piece on Ryan Carson of DropSend and his poor example of customer service and great example of what not to do, but Patrick already beat me to it. So just go read his post to see what I would have done. http://microisvjou

  4. Kevin Says:

    XWMS is the sort of person who will end up being talked about on a website like Consumerist.com .

    I deal with plenty of people who are a huge pain in the butt. I almost never make them feel bad, at least intentionally. It’s not worth my time. I can hang up and unleash as many profanities as I want. Why would you want to make an angry, stupid, ignorant, baiting customer more angry, stupid, ignorant, or likely to try and bait you?

  5. JScarry Says:

    I heartily agree. It is surprising how much business you get by word of mouth. Customers who buy my software know a lot about their field but sometimes feel intimidated around computers, no doubt in part from attitudes like Metadesktop’s. (He would be fired if he worked for me.) I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to work people thru the steps to get their microphone working so that they could use my software. But I do it because even though it’s not my fault, they can’t use my software unless I help them. You just have to be extremely polite, no jokes and not even the slightest bit of condescention and they are happy. If you treat them right they tell their friends and buy more.

    I also have a no questions asked refund policy on my software and I am rarely asked for a refund. At most I’m out a few dollars for postage, so who cares?

  6. blessed1 Says:

    I had a customer try to jump over the counter at me when I wouldn’t refund her money on a very used and old leather coat she bought from the store I used to work at. I signaled my very large employees to come stand at the counter (for protection), and I very politely informed her (with a smile) that without a receipt I couldn’t help her. It was a coat that we sold 3 seasons earlier and was clearly very worn. I gave her a corporate number to call if she felt the need, knowing that A) she wouldn’t and B) they would back me. It amazing what some people try to pull, and then proceed to get angry.

    I didn’t have a lot of cases like this, but whenever I did….I would just kill them with kindness.

  7. vkilla Says:

    I while ago I worked in the technical department for a catalog company. We had the weirdest people call but this one takes the cake. A lady has called and wanted help with some products we had in our catalog. When I was asking what page she was on and I couldn’t find the same products on those pages. Then asked her what month catalog she has and she did not know. Well like after ten minutes of going back and fourth I just searched the products and helped her. Then she asks me what page is the order form on and I said its right in the middle of the catalog. She couldn’t find it, so at this point I’m actually curios what catalog she had and where did she get it. After about 5 minutes of trying to get it out of her she told me this. “I went on your website and others then I PRINTED THE PAGES OUT AND STAPLED THEM TO MAKE A CATALOG”. I was stunned there for a moment and them asked her to repeat herself to verify that I was not tripping. She confirmed what I just heard and asked her how could we predict and what she did in order to make a catalog thats not even ours. Then this lady asks to speak with my supervisor ( the guy next to me) and then she files a formal complaint saying that I called her stupid and was very rude. Mind you I have spend about 30 min helping and explaining our products to her.

    -Vadim

  8. cpptrader Says:

    Despair.com has a lot of fun “demotivators” relating to customer service, but this one will often suffice (not that I work in customer service but did when I was in college):

    Indifference
    It takes 43 muscles to frown and 17 to smile, but it doesn’t take any to just sit there with a dumb look on your face.

    Fun story, btw, vkilla – you may like the one that talks about there being no stupid questions, but many inquisitive idiots…

  9. mranalogy Says:

    The hard part is leaving your ego out of it. It’s so easy to take it personally.

    Conversely, it’s incredibly effective to ask “in what way did it not meet your expectations?”

    Even though I *know* I should respond this way, I still find it hard to stay cool enough when dealing with difficult customers when I’m having a stresseful day.


  10. Dealing With Abusive Customers Via Email

    I agree with many of the commenters in that I would have simply refunded the $5 – no questions asked. This would have prevented wasted energy over a measly $5. Now that person who obviously has issues with controlling his/her anger is going to tell ten…


  11. In most of my previous jobs of selling things, I’ve found it’s always easier to measure the customer’s level of idiocy. Refunds were always given, but the customers with common sense were treated with much more respect and understanding. There was a lot more apologizing and attempting to come to terms. That way, there would be no “bad blood,” so to speak, between the company and the customer. The ones that couldn’t be reasoned with would also be given a refund, but with a near total lack of communication and care. Trade thing for money — as quickly and cleanly as possible with a minimum of words spoken.

    vkilla — I think someone like that calling you “stupid and rude” should be considered a compliment and be worn as a badge of honor. Great story.

  12. addiepray Says:

    Oh yes, it’s the same everywhere, even at my little pop stand.

    Ilike your perspective


  13. When I worked in tech support fulltime (I still do it part-time) it was unbelievable how many people would assume it was a problem at our end. You’d think that with computers being so common nowadays, people would be a little more savvy about them. OTOH it’s analogous to the auto industry; in 1919 you pretty much had to be your own mechanic to run a car. Nowadays, cars are ubiquitous and the technology has advanced to the point where you don’t have to know a blessed thing about them in order to own and operate one. Still, many of the tech support calls I’ve fielded were the equivalent of someone calling the Toyota dealer to complain that it stopped running and they should send them a new car (they never put gas in it, or they ran it into a tree). Worst customers/clients? Middle-aged women, sad to say (and I’m a woman in her 30s, just so you know). They don’t understand what they’re doing, so it must be OUR fault they can’t do anything, and they almost invariably threaten you with the husband. “I’ll call back later and you can speak to MY HUSBAND!” So? What’s that gonna do? Is he going to beat me up over the phone because you’re too stupid to grasp that the online course isn’t working for you because your computer is full of viruses and spyware, and you’re too gormless or arrogant to follow my instructions for getting rid of the crud? Oh no, lady, PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME TALK TO YOUR SCARY HUSBAND! Seriously, wtf?!

    Yes, it’s easier in the long run to just bite your lip and try to work out the issue without snarking back. Some people were just routinely abusive and I really wish we could have barred them from every calling us. To customers: Yes, you’ll get what you want if you’re an a-hole about it, but if you intend to call us again, we’re going to remember, and we’ll help you again, but you’ll be waaay down on the priority list. It is not big or clever to crap all over someone who cannot/will not respond in kind. This does not make you a big person, or “assertive”. It makes you a boor.

  14. drmike Says:

    The issue though is when you’re caught in the middle. For your example, you’re the boss. But what to do when you’re not teh boss but just the middle man or the manager on duty. Your corporate has a policy where they do not do refunds and they can sit in their offices but you’re the one on the front line that as to take the abuse from the clients. And I don’t remember any company where the highups actually backed their employees.

  15. ih8reality Says:

    Hey, if the company doesn’t allow refunds and the customer doesn’t give up, give the customer the number to the corporate office. Their policy, their problem. I’m a manager for a food store. One time, this lady had bought a medicine that we aren’t allowed to sell over the counter or give a refund. One day, the lady tried to exchange the product for another one. She even had the receipt. We couldn’t do it because our policy said that we don’t do refunds or exchanges for medicines that aren’t sold OTC. We gave her the number to corporate office, and let them decide.

    And yes, companies RARELY back up employee decisions. But if you work for a company that does, stay with it.

  16. Scott Meade Says:

    Patrick – you are exactly right. I too would have immediately refunded the $5. How many people will be reluctant to deal with Ryan’s companies now that this press is out (which makes you wonder about how “transparent” a business owner should really be on their blog).

  17. StefanoX Says:

    Well, customer care should mean customer CARE … do we really care about customers ? Most of the times, not …


  18. Between that customer service post and the “get rid of your freelance dev” post, I’m starting to wonder if Ryan’s developing a swollen ego.

  19. Sam Says:

    What about dishonest customers that are truly taking advantage of you?

    Here’s a true story that happens every day at Lowes hardware store where i worked for a few months in the building materials department.

    Customer walks in and buys an 8 foot piece of wood. Customer takes wood home, cuts off the 4 feet he needs, then returns the other 4 feet for a full refund. I guess its worth letting a few customers cheat us to keep our service good, but it made me so angry to see them getting away with it!

  20. Patrick Says:

    That would inwardly enrage me too, Sam. Here is the thing: the marginal cost of wood to Lowes isn’t zero. They probably have a sick markup on it, but wood costs money. Marginal software copies do not cost money. Accordingly, inconveniencing real customers to get moral satisfaction regarding thieves is a losing business proposition every single time. (This is the same with some situations in the real world — McDonalds doesn’t police people putting cola into water cups for the same reason — as an ex-manager explained to me once, the 3 cents of cola syrup wasn’t worth the 10% risk of the punk relieving himself on the bathroom floor in protest at being made to pay for his meal).

    Ultimately, for that sort of thing, you have to either a) believe in ultimate justice someway, somehow or b) sulk. Just make sure you sulk very quietly and are capable of smiling while doing it.

  21. Sam Says:

    Thats a great example. I guess the inward sulking is a skill that comes with experience :)

  22. Sher Says:

    Word on the entire post!

  23. Martin Says:

    I disagree with Scott, where you said: “How many people will be reluctant to deal with Ryan’s companies now that this press is out (which makes you wonder about how “transparent” a business owner should really be on their blog).”
    I think it is very commendable what he has done. He is being honest with the world and at the same time taking people’s advice. I think it is great and a blog post like you’re referring to would never stop me doing business with him. Later on he also notes what he has learnt from the experience. I think that’s a good thing. It’s a level of transparency I really respect and I feel a lot of customers would too. It’s a breath of fresh air when compared to bigger companies that build impenetrable walls and make it impossible to actually speak to someone at the company.


  24. [...] perusing the blogosphere today I came across an article regarding dealing with abusive customers on the MicroISV blog hosted on wordpress.com. I definitely agree with his response to the original [...]


  25. You are absolutely right. Great customer response theory.
    What works in tech software business works in retail and many other places.\
    For instance, I shop at Costco. I’ve returned several things I didn’t have a bill for and they will still stand behind it if they know it’s their merchandise. I’ve even gone in and simply told them that a jug of milk was sour when I got it home and they replaced it.
    The benefit for Costco is I keep coming back. I shop there every week with the assurance they will stand behind their merchandise.
    I do not abuse their goodness. There is a responsible give and take.

    The companies that have been jackasses over a two bit problem or haven’t stood behind their merchandise lose more business than they can imagine. A dissatisfied customer tells 50 other people who will keep that feeling of being cheated or mistreated in their minds and will simply go elsewhere where they have more confidence.
    Nicely written blog.
    Kay


  26. Love everything you wrote. Good business and good customer relations. I teach breathing techniques. We can empower ourselves by taking a deep breath (think of it as a secret weapon). When are stressed out we usually hold our breaths. Get the extra oxygen your brain needs to think optimally and help yourself stay relaxed simultaneously. Getting upset just damages our
    “inner workings” and leaves us feeling upset. I always figure the person who is upset just can’t be as happy as I am, so I wind up being kind and it always comes to a better resolve. Thanks – loved
    your thoughts.I


  27. i work for a company that guarantee 100% customer satisfaction and will refund the customer the total cost of the order in any case they are not satisfied. although i am in corporate finance and not directly involved in this activity, i find it a nasty business (although i commend such practice). but since we have policies on refunds to protect ourselves of course and in some cases these policies go against the conditions in which the clients ended up not satisfied with their orders.
    but hey, thats the beauty of money back guarantee for customers.

    adapting a new, flexible policies on refunds is a dangerous thing to do unless the company has a stable, clear, and sound process and policies to account for it.


  28. [...] #1 How To Deal With Abusive Customers [...]

  29. Mark Says:

    The only exception I’d note is that, according to some people, you CAN’T win an argument with your boss. Your boss can only lose an argument with you, but only by giving in.

  30. Jason Says:

    My motto has always been, “The customer is always right, even when they are stupid.”

    I worked at a pizza place for 4 years before moving into tech stuff. The owner of the franchise had a simple philosophy for dealing with irate customers. It didn’t matter what problem they had, if he was working in a store for whatever reason, “This order is free and your next order is free.”

    Customers were happy about that.

    I only had one time that emulating him didn’t work.

    At the end of the call I asked, “Is there anything at all that I can do that will make you happy and keep your business?”
    Her answer was simply, “No.”
    Far from calling her names and hanging up on her, I finished with, “Then I am very sorry and I hope you change your mind.”

    And I was pretty sure the customer was either lying to me or just misinterpreting the facts.

    Why in the heck would you ever tell a customer, “If you had treated me nicer, I would have been more lenient. But you were an ass, so f— off!”

    You can think it all you want. You can even tell your buddies about it. But don’t ever, ever actually say that sort of thing to a customer. If you do, then you are the idiot.

  31. abu ameerah Says:

    unfortunately…good customer service skills are a must in an increasingly global economy.

    The sad reality is that there is no shortage of dumb people in this world — who’ll gladly call tech support without even taking their PC out of the box!

  32. MJ Says:

    The customer/purchase is qualified for the refund, I still think it should be refunded no matter how rude the customer is. But that doesn’t make it easier..

    Of course, sometimes people working in the service industry (like I did), they would bend a bit to help nice and polite customers.


  33. [...] got a pretty good beating on the blogosphere :) for my post about handling abusive customers. It was well [...]


  34. [...] I’ve been reading a lot of customer service related posts (go figure) and have been intrigued by this debate. There are those who believe that [...]

  35. Rich Fletcher Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Patrick.

    Except–You *don’t know why they left*! It is a bit at odds with a “no questions asked” policy, but some words to the degree of “If you could let us know where we screwed up, it’d help us out”, might be a good idea. Granted, you could just take the approach of “if it’s a big problem, someone else’ll find it too”, but that way is hardly the way of tryly remarkable service. Obviously, you’d want the question to be phrased in such a way as to intimate that they don’t *have* to tell you if they don’t want to. And of course, you’d be immediately refunding the money as a matter of course before even asking.

  36. Marc Blank Says:

    What about the customer who uses derogatory language and personal insult (this happens a few times a month)? And continues to complain after you give him a refund? I find it very difficult to restrain myself in these cases.

  37. Patrick Says:

    Practice mentally tuning him out. Pretend he is saying your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. After you’ve given a refund all your responses have to be are “Thank you for your comment, we will take it under advisement.” People will cool down or walk away — they can’t stay there trying to get a rise out of you forever.


  38. That’s good advice, Patrick. Marc, the person who is being abusive and personally insulting is seeking the gratification of getting a rise out of you–“Ha, I really hit a nerve there.” Later when recounting the phone call it will be “proof” of their righteousness. It’s very difficult (believe me, I know!) but don’t rise to the bait. I’ve had to really bite my tongue with a few people. Afterwards you can slam the phone down and curse a blue streak if you need too; have done that plenty of times. Also, by staying calm and professional, you may be able to shame them out of what they’re doing.

    Mind you, I actually hung up on someone for the first and only time a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t abusive, just whiny, incompetent (could not move up or down a web page to find what I was trying to show them) and were REALLY hard to hear–very poor English, plus a bad connection at their end. I’m not proud of it but I’d just had it. *blush*

  39. Doug Says:

    Regarding Patrick’s comment about ultimate justice:

    Years ago, I worked in a 1 hour photo lab. There was an incident with a customer (which I don’t really remember) which brought me to a startling realization. Most people make their own hell. They’re always getting “cheated” because they always see other people getting more. They “have it hard” because they always see others “having it easy”. They can justify being a [censored -- sorry, can't get this page blocked by classroom filters], thief or idiot because they see everybody they deal with 24 hours a day as a [still censored], thief or idiot.
    You don’t have to wait for these people to die and receive some great punishment. They are living in their own hell every second they keep drawing a breath. This is cosmically sad but, unless you are one of these people, it’s only your problem for a few short minutes out of the day. So the next time you encounter this attitude, remember your Milton:

    “The mind is its on place and in itself
    can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

  40. Patrick Says:

    I love my Milton. Apologies for the slight bowlderization of your post, but some filter engines ban by domain and many, many of my customers are on filtered connections.

  41. Edward Says:

    How about abusive customer service people, abusive clerks, and abusive sales people? I am befuddled by businesses that keep people who are abusive, rude, stupid, and simply idiots in positions where they have to deal with customers. What happened to the old rule that the customer is always right. After all, the customer is the one who is patronizing the business and spending the money. Without customers there’d be no business.


  42. No one is denying those things, of course, but I think you miss the point that the customer is NOT always right. In fact, I think that phrase has caused more upset and BS than anything else in commerce, because it leads to the sort of abusive situations we’ve been discussing. “The customer is always right” almost inevitably leads to the sort of rudeness mentioned; see my first comment about working in tech support, and the car metaphor. ;)

    As for the rude employees, I had the misfortune of working with an extremely rude computer tech: always in a bad mood, constantly insulting clients and co-workers, made mistakes with hardware repairs–and the only reason he stayed was that he was related to someone very high up in the organization. Also, a lot of frontline employees who have to deal with customers/clients all day can get very burnt out and wary; I had days in tech support where it felt like everyone who contacted us wanted to use me as a chew toy, and you get a little protective of yourself. I also tend to blame managers: I saw them hire some real dimwits (keeping it clean here for Patrick!) who had flippant attitudes, didn’t actually care about solving the problem, etc. I’m sure a lot of these people looked splendid on paper and in the interviews, but once they were hired they seemed to think that “tech support” really consisted of coming in when they felt like it, elastic lunch times, surfing the net, IMing their friends etc. and they would even play games with the phones so that incoming calls would bounce to someone else and not disturb them. That’s bad managerial judgement IMO. I don’t work there any more but I’m pretty sure it’s only gotten worse.

    Anyway, that was all very roundabout…of course customers should be treated with courtesy and respect; no one is denying that. However, the “customer is always right” mentality is what leads to confrontations. It often makes people escalate when there’s no reason for them to do so; instead of actually LISTENING to the employee who is trying to solve the problem, they just want to make noise and be rude, because it satisfies their little egos. Most people who deal with customer service have seen enough of that to be at least a little guarded. That’s the whole point of this post and the subsequent comments.

  43. js238 Says:

    I like to look at this type of thing in terms of amount of effort. I measure effort in number of keystrokes. “Money refunded” handles the customer support issue in 2 words.

    Other approaches involve way too much effort.

  44. StatusQuo Says:

    The customer is not always right and falling back on truisms and axioms is the answer of someone who does not want to have to think.
    Problem solving is dynamic.
    There are no right or wrong answer when dealing with people.
    There is only the best answer for the situation at hand.
    The best answer and how to find it is essentially an art.
    Aptitude, experience, empathy, and patience is one formula for long term success in helping others.

  45. David Says:

    98% of customers are worth keeping.
    2% [are not -- apologies for bowdlerization, but my main market is elementary schoolmarms]

  46. David Says:

    It’s Bowdlerization………
    (Not Bowl———)

    >:-|

  47. Patrick Says:

    Some days I just don’t speak the Engrish anymore.

  48. ziggy Says:

    The degree to which some of you would stoop to kiss some jerk’s butt just make a buck is pretty sad. Even then…

    >>the customer is always right

    No, they’re not, and in fact you want to get rid of your worst customers who are eating up all your time and resources and annoying your already busy staff. You want them to go to your competitors and ruin their business. In fact, the best thing you can do is get rid of the worst 10% of your customers and concentrate on the rest and getting more like them.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solve/avoid problems, but the customer is not always right and many you don’t want as customers, especially if you are a small overburdened business.

  49. Sasha Says:

    I work in a call center, been there about 7 months now, and am still struggling to grow a thick skin and not take things personally, especially with badgering such as, “Hey, lady, are you stupid? How long will it take for me to recieve this garbage?” *roll eyes* I come home and all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and cry, not talk to anyone, not even my friends. I would never in my life DREAM of talking to people the way some customers talk to me. I really have a problem with the fact that our refund policy basically says, “Only refund them if they get nasty and threaten to never come back. Otherwise, don’t refund them.” So the jerks get rewarded and the nice customers get the shaft. I’m so tempted to go back to being a janitor, the most peaceful, low-stress job ever.

  50. Patrick Says:

    I’m sorry your management is not supportive of good CS practices.

    Keep your chin up though, even though some people are nasty on the phone many customers are nice. Try to find your own little rays of sunshine and remember them. I had my own favorites — some nuns from New York, a little six year old who always answered for “His Mommy who is a businesswoman and left me as Man of the House how can I help you”, etc. I can’t even remember any of the bad apples anymore — don’t put yourself on the phone with them, just send a fiction, a little puppet that dances to your whims and your script but doesn’t have feelings to hurt. They’re just saying bad words to a puppet. Silly people, the puppet doesn’t care.


  51. [...] [MICROISV] How To Deal With Abusive Customers (microisvjournal.wordpress.com, 5 saves) [...]


  52. [...] and not take it personally. This is absolutely key to running a worthwhile business, in my opinion. There’s nothing to be gained by winning an argument with your customer (that link is a poignant response to this post showing someone taking their customer’s [...]

  53. Laura Says:

    *you can never win an arguement with a customer*…. I beg to differ!
    I don’t know which world you live in, but that’s not how it works on planet earth.
    I am in retail, and we do ear piercing where I work. We also do cartilage piercing, but certain state rules apply when a minor wants this done. They have to have a DPS I.D. card (NOT a driver’s license) and anybody of any age can get one of these. BUT they HAVE TO HAVE THIS, even when Mom or Dad are there to sign the paperwork. And I can’t tell you how many people have tried to get ugly over this, when they can just take their damn business somewhere else if they don’t want to abide by the law.
    Last week, when I explained this to a woman, she got cocky and said, “You’re just getting smart now aren’t you?” I said calmly: “If you think so, but I don’t make these rules.” Then she said, “Well f*ck you too!” I told her she had three seconds to get to the door before I had security help her find it, and told her outside that she would not talk to me or any other sales associates in my store like that, and just because I worked there did not mean I had control over all the legal entities that applied to ear piercing. Furthermore, she was not allowed back in the store, if her shadow crossed the threshold, I would have her arrested immediately. An off-duty police officer happened to be in the store at the time this happened, and told the woman I had every right to press charges against her for her language if I chose to do so.
    And guess what? Then manager AND corporate office took my side!
    If she had been upset over something reasonable, that would’ve been different.
    No employee has to lay down and take that. And I hate to break it to all you brown-nosers, but some customers DO personally attack you out of spite.
    And if you don’t protect the people that work for you, you’re cutting you’re own throat.
    Yes, you need customers and people with legit problems need to be helped every way they can, but when the customer is abusive, you need to think about your employees who are taking the flak. They don’t have to put up with it, and if you want to keep your business going, you’ll be smart and ensure this. Focus on the majority of people who are good customers (that does NOT mean frequent visitors), instead of the trash that live to make others miserable.

  54. Patrick Says:

    That may have been cathartic for you, but it accomplished nothing good for the business. It would have been markedly less good had the confrontation escalated into actually arresting her. There would a disruption of business and repeated losses of productive time by many members of your organization, all stemming over a trivial spat about a dirty word. (Manager and corporate getting involved in a routine customer service incident is already not exactly a stunningly great allocation of resources.)

  55. Laura Says:

    Good for business? Her daughter didn’t have an ID, so there would not have been any business to begin with. I had another person working with me at that time, and business went on as usual inside. We even did 20% over last year’s goal that day. *Manager and corporate getting involved in a routine customer service incident is already not exactly a stunningly great allocation of resources.* Pretty good for a “high and mighty” who’s obviously never dealt with crap like this. For your info, I could care less who uses [the f-word] in the store as long as they’re not being abusive to or personally attacking other patrons or employees. If she had said, “Well that’s pretty [freaking] stupid,” in a tone that said “a little disappointed” rather than “raving [witch]” it would’ve been different. Not that I am obliged to justify my reaction to you. My whole point, since you obviously didn’t get it, was not putting up with abusive customers. There comes a point when they throw diplomacy out the window; DM’s and Territory Reps tell us this from the beginning. If they are abusive over a policy that stems from the goverment law enforcement over certain health risks, we have a ZERO tolerance stance toward it.
    But since you didn’t know this, I guess all your statement boils down to is an ignorant opinion.

  56. Patrick Says:

    I apologize for censoring your post, but many of my customers use filtered internet connections and it would be unfortunate if they were unable to access my domain due to overzealous software filtering.

    Regardless of whether that individual customer/prospect ever buys from you, there is the matter of your store’s image to consider. In general, my sense of things is that bickering with customers, even when you are in the right, does not inspire confidence in other customers. Customer service professionals actively despising customers, even the trying customers, is also probably not a great thing. Additionally, when the prospect retells the story to her friends, it is highly unlikely that she will end up sounding like the bad guy. Arrests happening in your place of business are, of course, always a negative.

    I may be the boss around my own business*, but I’ve also been a lowly order entry clerk working the phones answering two hundred calls a day. I was subjected, infrequently in the grand scheme of things, to language of the sort which would make sailors blush. It only gets to you if you let it get to you. (* nota bene: Considering I’m the sole employee of my business, I get to be both “high and mighty” and also frontline support, at the same time. Its great fun.)

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. Its my considered opinion that it is less advantageous to your company’s bottom line than other alternatives, such as telling abusive customers some variation of “We are sorry that we cannot meet your needs today, but the government has tied our hands.”, and repeating that until they leave your store*. As I mentioned earlier in the thread, they can’t stay in your store all day trying to get a rise out of you.

    * That is what you can do as an employee without the ability to set policy. If I were in charge of policy, I would apologize to them for the inconvenience, mention that the law ties my hands, and offer them a discount on the piercing after they had collected their ID card.

  57. Laura Says:

    Sole employee, eh? Gee, I wonder why…..I’ve got news for you: I have people arrested quite often in my store (I can safely say twice a week on average), mostly for shoplifting and vandalism, and the occasional disorderly conduct. Somehow, we are still generating business and doing better all the time. My business happens to be family oriented and targeted toward a younger audience. I have repeat customers applaud me for my stance toward troublemakers, especially customers who refuse to be reasonable about certain circumstances.
    Here’s something else to consider: telephone abuse is much different from someone being three inches from your nose threatening to “punch [you] into next week”. I also deal with physical thereats quite often, but it’s not going to make me change how I deal with abuse. Tough beans. You’re going to have to do better than that to convince me of your position; I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work most of the time.
    (Nota Bene: [I also am proficient in Latin: imagine that!] People are going to have a negative view of your business if they insist on keeping their bad attitude regardless of how you handle their nonsense, especially when getting nasty doesn’t get their way. )
    YOU might be concerned over that extra dollar, but I try to keep corporate greed out of the picture and focus on the *good* customers. Hasn’t failed in 10 years, and I don’t expect it to anytime. There’s always someone else to replace the jerk that vows to “never do business here again” when attempting manipulation does not get their way. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
    Something else, and this is just logical when you consider human nature: someone who throws that much of a fit over a silly I.D. card usually just gets the piercing done somewhere else, because taking a trip to The Department of Public Safety is “too much of a hassle.” I am not going to apologize for the inconvenience when it’s not my fault to begin with. No brown-nosing here.
    But if *[you] were in charge*, you would’ve realized this.
    You’re right, they can’t stay in my store all day trying to get a rise out of me–
    I ensure that.
    Your policy may be good for you, but don’t tell me it’s good for mine—because it isn’t.

  58. Patrick Says:

    >>
    Here’s something else to consider: telephone abuse is much different from someone being three inches from your nose threatening to “punch [you] into next week”.
    >>

    On this point, we are in agreement. I would also call security for threats. It strikes me as a bit much, and mostly avoidable, for simple lack of civility and/or cursing.

    Best of luck in your business endeavors.


  59. I enjoyed your post!Keep up the great work!

    Devin Willis


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