JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Bad service? How about obnoxious customers?

Date

Michael Baker

Sure, bad service exists, but customers can be pretty horrendous too.

Sure, bad service exists, but customers can be pretty horrendous too.

ANALYSIS

True story. A server in a restaurant at breakfast time sees a family of seven – mother, father and children of various ages - sit down at one of his tables. As he goes over to greet them one of the younger children starts squawking at him for orange juice. The mother chimes in too, insisting that the juice be free of pulp. When he tells her that the juice already has pulp in it the father begins pounding his fist on the table and the kids quickly follow suit. After the breakfast is served the mother yells out that her bacon is too crisp and she wants another serving. While the server is listening to her complaint, one of the kids throws an almost full glass of water over him and is high-fived by his sister. The parents just watch them without saying anything.

Finally, in exasperation, the server asked the parents why they didn't take parenting classes. The kids begin to chant profanities and the whole restaurant goes silent as everyone tunes in to the calamity occurring at table number three. It ends with the server kicking the family out of the restaurant.

Bad service in Australian retail establishments is the stuff of legend, but what is often overlooked is that shopping, dining, travel and other recreational experiences are just as frequently ruined by one's fellow customers as they are by any employee. That's a real problem for retailers and other service providers since it has unwanted and undeserved negative effects on the reputation of the businesses in which the behaviour occurs.

If you have a bad experience in a place, you may never return regardless of whether or not it was the fault of the retailer, restaurant or airline.

Joel Anaya, a senior student in Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, took the trouble to study 200 instances of adverse customer behaviour and classify them into seven categories.

These seven are:

1. The “badmouthers” who use bad language at clearly audible volume

2. The “paranoid shouters” who are inclined to become irate and out of control at the first sign of a problem

3. Customers with poor hygiene who smell, cough, wheeze and sneeze without bothering to protect others

4. Customers making outlandish requests that can't reasonably be satisfied

5. Rule breakers, such as people who cut into lines

6. Out-of-control kids

7. The “unaware customer” who regales staff with minor requests and peccadillos while others have to wait

These seven personality types can ruin the otherwise positive experience that other customers have with your business.

As a result they need to be identified and dealt with.

Unfortunately, dealing with problem customers is not always high on the agenda in retailer training programs, assuming the retailer actually has such a thing.

Clearly, it helps if a staff person dealing with a difficult situation has an outstanding sense of humour and a lot of empathy. Otherwise, you need to rely on other methods. Mr Anaya, above, doesn't venture into remedies for his seven personality types but here are a few suggestions of my own.

First, training the frontline staff in dealing with various types of problem situations is essential. The training should include role-playing to get employees more comfortable with how they might deal with the real thing.

Second, don't be over-dependent on scripting employees with off-the-shelf words and phrases intended to help them reassert control when confronting a challenging customer. Customers can usually spot pat phrases for what they are – insincere. This can make them even more fired up.

Third, absolutely do not reward obnoxious behaviour by according privileges to these people that normal politeness does not. That's a sure way of annoying your other customers who are doing the right thing, possibly causing them not to return to your establishment.

Fourth, explain to the problem customer that giving in to his wishes will have negative effects on other customers.

Fifth, in some situations it is possible to openly acknowledge to other customers that they may be feeling uncomfortable with the situation. Doing so will show them that you care about their experience and you're not trying to pretend something negative isn't happening.

Sixth, pull rank, and bring out the manager. Irate customers will often prefer to speak to the manager anyway.

As much as many of us bag on customer service in Australia, there's no denying that it's a really hard job sometimes. It's made tougher by the fact that as an occupation, customer service is largely unprofessionalised – almost half of all retail employees and more than half of all workers in hospitality and food service are classified as part-timers.

In the battle between e-commerce and physical stores for market share, the 360-degrees experience of a retailer is seen as a key competitive advantage. The service delivered by its sales associates is at the heart of the in-store experience and can either really give customers positive feelings about a brand or really turn them sour on it.

That has to include dealing with problem situations and obnoxious customers before the bad guys give your business a bad name.

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at michael@mbaker-retail.com and www.mbaker-retail.com.

twitter Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter @MySmallBusiness

66 comments

  • one of my pet hates is sales staff who allow themselves to be drawn away by rude customers who interject while i'm being served. they should tell them to wait. when that happens, i don't argue, i just quietly leave.

    Commenter
    husband of the year
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 12:46PM
    • Hi husband of the year. Recently I had similar experience at a supermarket. A young checkout girl didn't tell the old bugger (other customer) to wait while she was serving me. There are too many self-centered people. I have worked for hotels in New Zealand and I find customers in NZ respect us too. I want amny Japanese people (both businesses and customers) to read this article. My point of view is respect each other. Such people in the article don't respect rules at workplaces.

      Commenter
      Yoshi
      Location
      Japan
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 1:46PM
    • It's most likely because rude customers become loud, obnoxious rude customer and ruin the atmosphere for others. Sometimes it's better to get rid of them first (by serving them) and apologising to the existing customers who are much more educated and well mannered.

      Commenter
      Traveller
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 2:36PM
    • When you decide that your pet hate it sales staff "allowing themselves" to be interrupted by other customers can you possibly remember that the worker in question probably didn't get trained on 'what to do when someone is disgustingly rude and selfish whilst I am trying to do my job' nor did that person necessarily think to themselves on their way to work 'I am expecting to be yelled at and abused by people I am trying to help when trying to do my job and then judged by other customers who somehow think that being a customer entitles them to treat a waiter/salesperson in a way that they would never dare treat another patron/friend/family member etc.
      Being negatively verbally approached triggers a rush of adrenalin and a fight/flight/freeze response making it difficult to act in the best possible way.

      Perhaps you, as the onlooker who is removed from the immediate situation could tell the rude person/old bugger that they are rude. Perhaps offer the sales person some support (in words, not a cop-out sympathetic look) Perhaps you could tell the rude person to wait rather than put the whole responsiblity on the person in front of you who is trying to do their job,serve you, deal with unexpected rudeness.

      After years in hospo I EXPECT to be treated rudely and I do tell these old buggers to wait after years of abuse and aggression. I.DO.NOT.THINK.THIS.IS.FINE.

      Should people be used to dealing with rude behaviour or should everyone use manners?

      I'm interested to know what you think??

      Commenter
      Sam
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 3:15PM
    • why didn't you help the sales staff - a bit beneath you?

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 3:35PM
    • Hi Sam. Your point of view is good, but I have to be calm and behave in asserting (unfortunately it's easy for me to get angry). Thanks for your good advice.

      Commenter
      Yoshi
      Location
      Japan
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 3:40PM
    • Show me a loud, obnoxious customer and I will show you someone who worked out years ago that good manners and politeness only get you shoved to the side. That said however I think Sam (above) makes a good point - which is why I DO save my loudness/rudeness for the person who interrupted me! :)

      Unfortunately not everyone has the balls to do the same.

      Commenter
      Disgruntled Goat
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 4:13PM
  • Hear, hear! After 4 years working in retail/hospitality, I can definitely say some people are just too difficult to handle. This includes the rude, the bossy/highly-demanding, the racist, the poor-hygiene, the cunning, and the snobs. But also to note: the percentage of nice people was bigger than these difficult ones.

    Commenter
    girlani
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 12:50PM
    • and the nicer you are the nicer your customers will be.
      Others have to be put up with and not allowed to walk all over unior staff. Particularly the racist ones

      Commenter
      Raida
      Location
      chewing salty razors
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 4:09PM
  • Agree - I always think less of establishments that reward bad behaviour by giving preferential treatment. If people are being unreasonable, empathise and make them wait to treat them a lesson - then they themselves will need to make a judgement whether their issue is truly important enough to wait for.

    Commenter
    Dabug
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 12:55PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed

    Ask our Experts

    Want to know how to manage your business?

    Ask our Experts

    Featured advertisers
    Small Biz newsletter signup

    Small Biz newsletter signup Small Biz news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

    Sign up now