I know, I know … the customer is always right … or at least should be treated as though they’re always right. But, when and where do you draw the line?
The question comes up after talking to some frontline sales man, Ted. A few days ago, he had trouble with a client. The customer was being obscure and Ted simply asked for clarification. From then on the customer was rude and kept sniping at Ted. She had a telephone call on her cellular phone and proceeded to talk about Ted and how “rude” HE was to the caller. When he asked the customer to sign her credit card, a business requirement, he turned into a “jerk” and an “a_____e.” Ted says, “I don’t know what her problem was, but I surely didn’t like being called names. I couldn’t think of anything I could do to make the situation better. I felt so helpless.”
There are two elements of the scenario. To start with, cellular phones: what are sales and support personnel doing about mobile phone calls? I was buying stamps the other day at the post office and the individual directly in front of me was carrying on a conversation while the clerk behind the counter was trying to help her with a purchase. He did not say anything to her, but he did apologize to me after she left because it required more time to aid her than it should have.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has signs posted at its information desk saying: “Please, turn off your cell phone so that we may better serve you.” I asked a clerk about the need for the sign and she said, “People were just driving us crazy.” When people are on the phone they appear to be in their own little world. “It wasn’t just people in the counter on the telephone that was the issue. The phones also cause a rise in general noise making it more challenging to carry on meaningful conversations in the counter.”
Let’s hang-up on cellular phones for What does Possum Poop Look Like awhile and return to rude customers. Personally, I think once a client moves into violent behaviour, they no longer deserve support. I really don’t like to be called names (even if it’s told to a third party and not directly done like with Ted) and I wouldn’t subject any employee to this treatment, either.
I really do think Ted handled the situation well. He kept his cool and obtained through the transaction. His next step should be to discuss the situation with his manager and allow the manager draw the line and supply alternatives in dealing with rude customers. That way Ted is protected.
For rude mobile phone users, I actually like the easy touch of the sign. The sign says it all. It is polite with a, “please.” It tells the customer that we do want to serve them. It’s non-threatening … and it draws the line … someone has to.