There are few things as cringeworthy as witnessing someone in a service position being bullied by a customer. It ruins the experience of everyone in the establishment and there’s no excuse for it.
The worst example I can remember is being in a Sydney eatery that had run out of mashed potato. A waitress came out to tell some customers who had ordered it there was no more left. I have never witnessed such vile behaviour from a group of patrons. They loudly berated and harassed the waitress, not just once but throughout their dinner, acting as though not having mash was an international incident.
It was so awful, I wrote on the back of our bill: ‘The people behind us are idiots. Don’t take any notice of them’, and tipped generously. But I didn’t stop there. As I left, I turned and said, “We had the mashed potato and it was absolutely delicious. You guys are a bunch of a@$#holes and you should learn to be nicer to people. Goodnight.”
You should have seen their jaws drop. My highly embarrassed partner bolted for the street. But to this day I’m glad I did what I did. Nobody deserves to be treated like that, especially over mashed potatoes.
Some of my friends work in customer service roles and the stories they tell about the treatment they receive when they are just doing their jobs are absolutely atrocious.
Take my friend Chris, who works in workers compensation claims. I’m surprised she doesn’t have post-traumatic stress syndrome, given the behaviour she endures.
“We are constantly abused, mainly by people rorting the system. They will abuse us on the phone or via email and bully and harass us. One of the guys I work with recently had his name splashed all over social media and has been too upset to come to work. And his pregnant wife is worried about leaving the house.”
It gets worse. According to Chris they get death threats all the time, via email or on the phone. “All management can do to protect us is take us off that claim and allocate someone else.”
Another friend, Vanessa, is just about to resign from her job as a claims assessor for a travel insurance business because she has had enough of dealing with the general public.
“Most days I’m screamed at like I wrote the policies and get called every name under the sun. One guy submitted a claim for overseas medical expenses. He completed the claim form but supplied no documentation to support his claim. I wrote to him requesting the supporting information,” says Vanessa.
“I emailed the letter and he called me within the hour. The conversation started with him screaming at me, saying I called him a liar and that I should pay the claim by close of business. I explained to him the terms and conditions of the policy. Every time I went to speak he’d cut me off, screaming even louder.
“Every second word was a swear word. He threatened me with legal action. I terminated the call as we were getting nowhere. He called again, screaming louder. Again I terminated the call. As it turned out, it was a fraudulent claim.”
The upshot of behaviour from people like this charmer is that Vanessa goes home in tears most days.
But just sometimes, customer service staff can turn the situation around, as Sam did in this example.
“I once worked as a waitress and I’ll never forget an American man requesting a salad as a side with his main, but ’with no f*#@^ing rocket!’ He ranted that no restaurants provide a decent salad without rocket, so I proceeded, along with the chef, to pick out the rocket from the mixed leafy greens. I proudly delivered the salad saying, ’The side salad, sir, with no f*#@^ing rocket!’
“The quite flabbergasted man roared with laughter and left me with my biggest tip ever. Sometimes it's the rude ones from whom you reap the greatest rewards.”
Do you work in customer service? Share your horror story in the comments below.