Personal Finance

Customer Service

Miss Manners once wrote that there’s a fundamental conflict in customer service in Western countries. We like the maxim “The Customer is Always Right” (at least when we’re the customer), but our society is built on the idea that all citizens are equal. How can one person always be in the wrong if they’re equal to everyone else?

Like most of us, I’ve been on both sides of the issue (receiving and providing customer service). Probably like most other people, I’ve been the irate customer, and I’ve dealt with irate customers. Of course, I was always in the right (I was justified in being angry, but none of my customers were).

I have never lived or done business under the motto “the customer is always right”. The brother of a friend of mine had a funny saying to unreasonable customers: “this isn’t Burger King: your way all the way!” I don’t think that’s even Burger King’s motto but it made me laugh.

There’s been a backlash in recent years where people have started “firing their clients”, meaning they stop doing business with customers who are more trouble then they’re worth. I’ve definitely done this. The more rational (and business-savvy) approach is to just charge difficult customers more until they leave on their own, or pay you enough to make it worth dealing with them. There’s a dangerous element to this in that if you get too much on your high horse and become a prima donna to do business with, you may drive away customers (and drive yourself out of business).

I found what I’m fairly sure is Violent Acresold blog, and she used to work at Taco Bell (which it’s interesting how she got from there to the independently wealthy woman she claims to be now). She makes the comment in one post that she couldn’t care less when people got angry at her and said they were never going to eat at Taco Bell again (why would she care? She didn’t get paid on a per-customer basis, and if that store went under she’d be able to get a similar job pretty easily).

I definitely think all people providing services at any business deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. That being said, its quite frustrating when you’re the customer and they’re rude to you just because they’re having a bad day (and there’s not much you can do about it).

In some ways, rather than a “customer is always right” environment, I think this is a healthier way to do business (when both sides stand up for themselves and either can refuse to do business with the other). Unreasonable people are rejected, whether they’re the customer or the provider. In most situations (other than fast food), after they’ve lost enough businesses partners, they’ll eventually realize that its worthwhile being civil to people they want to do business with.

8 replies on “Customer Service”

It’s hard for businesses to balance good customers with bad sometimes. A bad customer can cause any number of ‘other’ customers to stop coming to the business by spreading bad rumors.

It’s not usually the person on the front line that cares about this, as you’re right that they don’t get paid on a per-customer basis. But if they treat customers too badly, and someone complains, it can definitely cost them their jobs.

In my experience, when things go wrong, there are three types of customers.
1. The one who tries to reach an agreement with you and wants to work things out.
2. The one who will try to get you to give away the store to them to “make them happy.”
3. The one who cannot be made happy no matter what happens.

The key is to build a relationship with #1 – they can become your greatest fan and loudest proponent.

Be firm and stand your ground with #2 – do what’s reasonable, but no more.

Get #3 out of the store somehow … 🙂

I’m sure there’s an 80/20 rule in there somewhere. Where the 80% are the customers who can be satisfied easily, or are too lazy to switch stores.

I’ve been on both sides of the customer service equation. The best bet if you need good customer service is to get the customer service rep as an ally. When I was working at Canadian Tire, if the customer attacked, I defended. In other words, they weren’t getting what they wanted if I had anything to say about it. On the other hand, I could usually work the managers pretty well when the customers were friendly and wanted to work with me to solve the problem. I call it ‘active karma’.

I think in most cases the customer is absolutely right.

Most people have average requests that are easily handled. (Could I have extra pickles on that? Where do you keep that cat food?)

It’s the extreme requests, the ludicrous requests that tempt people who have to deal with customers to get their backs up.

We know who they are. These are people who know that you work for Giant Faceless Chain Store that has a company policy of “The Customer is Always Right.” They know, in most cases, your manager wants you to do whatever it takes to make them happy. Because Giant Faceless Chain Store wants to have a reputation as a store that looks after its clients, no matter what the cost.

So these custoemrs push the boundaries, they raise their voices, they make unreasonable requests and they do it knowing full well that you will try to accomodate them.

Thus, their bad behaviour becomes justified.

Ron: I think you’re right that that’s the range of customer reactions, and it sounds like you handle each of them in the right way!

Nobleea: TMW made an insightful comment that the financial industry preys on inertia. I think many modern businesses count on it being too much trouble for customers to leave.

Al: I think that’s a reasonable reaction. I do the same thing when I have discretion to provide a range a solutions: if they’re going to be unpleasant, I’m not going to reward that behaviour.

Elasticlad: Absolutely, there are nightmare customers who definitely take advantage of companies that want to offer “bend over backwards” customer service.

Randall: Sorry, your comment ended up in our spam queue.

I questions sometimes at what point companies will fire employees. Some stores have trouble getting staff these days, so they’ll definitely allow a lot more leeway before someone is let go…

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