Abusive Customers

Jamie Smarr on the NYT City Room blog:

"Let’s face it, folks. The customer is not always right. In fact, some are just plain old abusive, cheap and crass. I say this not as a salesman but as a dyed-in-the-wool middle-class consumer.

I’m waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant while a coupon fight goes on in front of me, delaying me from my sweet, sweet weekly communion with a Southern Style Chicken Biscuit. No, the coupon does not say that you are entitled to a free iced latte. You show it to me as if I’m your lawyer, and it states plainly, “A free cup of coffee.” And, no, they are not the same thing.

Do you read? Do you think complaining loudly in front of others and belittling the teenage cashier is going to improve your situation? Why do you need a manager to come out and tell you what you already know, that you’re wrong?

Still, the illiterate customer persists, for about five minutes of complaining and loud talking, and is rewarded with a free iced latte for his efforts. But all the people behind him pay the price: five minutes of their lives wasted by this annoying stunt..."

I had one of these situations, at the BWI airport in Baltimore. Southwest oversold a flight, the last one out on a Friday night, and a prior flight had been cancelled, so there was a ton of standbys. Everyone was in a foul mood, it was a freezing cold night... there were crying babies, frazzled people, the works. There was a rush toward the agents, and I was standing next to an aggressive jerk who started threatening them... saying he was a lawyer, that he was going to sue, etc. Next thing you know, they take him behind the gate counter and he comes back with a boarding pass. I was angry, as there were plenty of older folks or moms with kids waiting patiently for a seat. I ended up not making the flight, and I had to get a rental car to drive from Baltimore up to Boston. I wrote Southwest a letter and, to their credit, they responded to me personally and apologized. But I understand their dilemma.

You want to delight your customers, but there are definitely some situations where they can cross the line. And to give an unreasonable customer an undeserved benefit serves to reinforce their bad behavior.

The comments on the blog post are also worth checking out.


There are 2 problems.
One - Everyone cries "Freedom of Speech" and abuses the Constitution. Freedom of Speech assures you of the right to express thoughts, ideas, and believes without fear of prosecution. It does NOT give you a free-pass to be profane, obnoxious, threatening, demeaning, degrading, or offensive to another person.
Two - There are no laws to protect Customer Service Workers from malicious behaviors, and without legal protection - greedy business can force us to endure abuse day in and day out or be out of job and possibly medical benefits. Times are tough - very few have the luxury to leave their jobs and find something else, we have families to feed. We can not talk back. We can not refuse service. We can not get into conflict. If via phone, we can not disconnect. We end up unemployed, out on stess-leave, or medicated to remain employed because of the abuse of customers who think that "Freedom of Speech" allows them to talk to anyone in any manner they choose. The worst part is that they usually end up getting something they are not entitled to keep them from causing a scene - and because of that our honest and true customers pay more for their own service to cover these un-warranted giveaways.

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