Some Customers Should Be Shown the Door

Discussion
Nov 23, 2011
George Anderson

Occasionally in life you run across people who apparently believe that it is not only their right but responsibility to say whatever comes into their heads — no matter how obnoxious.

A point made by RetailWire BrainTrust member Carol Spieckerman in yesterday’s discussion about retailers that excel in customer service reminded us that many of these people find their ways to stores.

"Customer service is such a hot button, but another dynamic continues to strike me — more times than I can count, sales people, when I have remarked on the great service they have given, have replied that they appreciated how respectful and nice I was as a customer and how they weren’t used to it," said Ms. Spieckerman. "When I’ve probed further, the details are often shocking. Perhaps it’s time to have a conversation about the effect that rude, abusive, or entitled customers have on salespeople? I’m amazed how many salespeople keep their cheer and professionalism in spite of it."

We too have heard about and witnessed retail associates attempting to serve individual customers only to suffer verbal abuse for their efforts. On a number of occasions, the incidents went beyond what any self-respecting individual should have to deal with. But, in the land of the customer is always right, bad behavior is often rewarded by store management. Perhaps it’s time to apply the intelligent loss of business strategy to these types of customers, as well. It would do a world of good for the morale of the associates and, perhaps, improve job performance in the process.

A specific incident that we witnessed several years ago is a case in point.

A talented young woman who created all the chalk board signs and built displays for a local store (part of national specialty grocery store chain) was working the checkout one day. This particular woman had multiple tattoos (few that were visible) as well as a small nose ring.

On one particular occasion, an older woman, well known to store staff for her hostile attitude and small purchases, chose the associate’s checkout lane at the same time that the store manager happened to be there. Taking one look at the young woman, the customer sneered and announced in a loud voice how disgusting it was that a "freak" was touching her things and somehow contaminating them in the process. The manager stepped in and told the associate he would finish the transaction and she should go attend to some other duty.

Much of the breakroom talk following the incident centered around the manager’s action. While many of the workers appreciated that he would remove the worker from a hostile interaction, most were disappointed that he didn’t do more to stand up for her. What they wanted was for him to show the customer the exit door. Had he done that, he would have been a hero to his staff. Instead, he was just a manager; a nice guy, but not someone deserving of fierce loyalty from his staff.

Discussion Questions: Are consumers ruder today than in the past? Should some customers be called out by store management when their behavior passes the line of common decency?

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32 Comments on "Some Customers Should Be Shown the Door"


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Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

You can’t fix stupid, rude, and inconsiderate behavior from customers. The manager did the right thing by removing the associate from the situation. Should he have reprimanded the customer? I don’t think so. As my mother always told me, “Don’t lower yourself to their level.”

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Writers are continuously “educating” customers that they are being taken advantage of, ripped off and fools for shopping bricks and mortars. Is it a wonder civility is gone when the enemy is the store?

The customer isn’t always right. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with whatever bad behavior rewards them and their extreme couponing, using outdated Groupons, or belittling an employee to get a refund.

Shopping used to be a fun way to reap hard work, not a battle ground. I think it behooves everyone to look at the part they play in making the shopping experience something to do to someone, not with them.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

My ex-wife was shown the door many times. She also suffered from a mood disorder. Often times customers who display this kind of behavior are suffering from mental illness. Employees should not take the hostility personally but by all means have a right to show the customer the door.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

While I believe the customer is always right is a good basis for most customer interaction, when I was a retailer I would not our employees be treated poorly by us or by the customer. It is one thing to have a customer who is expressing frustration that the checkout line is too long or bemoaning the fact that prices are too high and it is another to have them mistreat an employee. One is understandable and the other is unacceptable.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

The decline of Western Civilization rears its ugly head once again. My wife works in a restaurant and you can’t believe the stuff she has to put up with. I’m thinking it’s partly due to the entitlement mentality that we’ve created (like everybody gets a trophy just for showing up). It may also be due to the anonymity that social media (including email) has created — easy to flame someone anonymously. I love it when she calls out an obnoxious customer who doesn’t have a legitimate complaint and wish she would do so more often.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Society in general is much ruder today than in the past. Customers are no exception. The notion, often reinforced by advertising, that the world revolves around you and to have it your way, does little to instill courtesy in day to day interactions.

Retailers should not be afraid to fire their customers when those customers repeatedly cross the line of common courtesy.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
9 years 5 months ago

I think staff appreciates a professional push back to rudeness, but don’t for a moment think that the reaction handled properly is not appreciated by your other customers as well. Most people don’t want to be standing next to the heckler, abusive or rude customer any more than the store associate does. An inviting atmosphere is good for both staff and your valuable customers.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 5 months ago

Customers are ruder today because society is ruder as a result of people having less time, being less connected to each other, kids with everything handed to them growing into entitled adults, etc. Throw in how desperate most retailers are to attract and retain customers, and how short the average associate’s length of employment is, and you have a recipe for the kind of scenario described here. There is no easy solution as retailers will not be the ones to fix society’s woes. Sadly, store managers probably need to side with rude customers as they will get in trouble from their superiors if they are seen as “alienating” shoppers. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
We live in the age of anger. Anger is everywhere you look and we feed on it because it justifies and reinforces our own. The question is — “Why?” Maslow, one of the fathers of modern psychology once pointed out that ‘stress and unhappiness is caused by people living far below their capacity’. To paraphrase: Our anger is directly proportional to how far below our highest possibilities we live our lives. The more we fail to realize, or at least reach for, our highest potential, the angrier we become. Unfortunately what we do is disguise that anger at ourselves by getting angry at others. Case in point: members of the Budget Super-committee failed to reach their potential. Anger is the result. But each side, predictably, has to be angry at the other side because ‘they’ didn’t come through. Not a single one took responsibility for the failure to live up to their own potential; it’s easier to be angry. The old grouchy lady in the store got angry at the tattooed clerk because, now at… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Yes, ruder, for the reasons already mentioned. Calling out a nut in a public, retail situation rarely has a happy ending or does much good.

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” –George Bernard Shaw

Stuart Levine
Guest
Stuart Levine
9 years 5 months ago

The problem with the manager taking decisive action is that somewhere, up the management chain, someone would not support his action in showing the customer the door.

Failing help from upper retail management, the consumer may have gone to the newspaper, TV, etc. Either way it would have been a “no win” for the manager.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure I think customers are any ruder than they were back in my days of working the floor. I had plenty of fingers in my face, rude things said to my staff, and so on.

I use to always tell my staff that while they should always remain civil with a customer, they didn’t have to accept unacceptable behavior.

I personally would have told the customer she was out of line, and while I hoped she would continue to shop in the store we wouldn’t accept that behavior from her. Believe me, if a customer is rude to the staff they are probably always having a negative effect on other customers’ experience too.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

There is no excuse for allowing rude customers to abuse your employees. Not all business is good business, and if rude customers make my employees unhappy, I don’t think there is much value in having those particular customers.

Frank Beurskens
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

“… I love it when she calls out an obnoxious customer who doesn’t have a legitimate complaint.”

Curious about human nature when we become what we despise. C.G. Jung described the “shadow” as that part of our unconscious that holds repressed feeling and experiences that can include our weaknesses, deficits, or shortcomings. That which we dislike or particularly despise in others is often the very thing we despise in ourselves.

One test when dealing with an unruly or obnoxious customer is to take notice of the emotional energy felt; if the experience generates personal anger, hatred, despise, or other strong emotions, it might be our own shadow at work and time to listen. If the experience is distasteful but not disruptive, the adage, “the customer is always right” seems appropriate.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

While we need to allow customers to vent their feelings as a result of poor service, we should never allow any customer to disrespect any of our associates. Normally such a venting is not intended for the associate personally. However, in this case and in any other case in which a customer personally demeans or abuses an associate the manager should retain his or her dignity and say, “I’m sorry, however you may be more delighted doing business somewhere else.” In fact, the manager might want to offer the obnoxious customer directions to the company’s favorite competitor.

There is a real difference between tough/demanding customers and obnoxious/rude customers and each category demands a different strategy for dealing with same. Never allow an obnoxious customer to destroy the camaraderie of your team.

Jeff Hall
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I suspect so much of today’s negative behavior and blatant rudeness from consumers is rooted in our broader societal challenges stemming from high unemployment, a general sense of uncertainty, and the greater degree of stress and anxiety touching so many people’s lives.

I also don’t believe the customer is always right. Common courtesy and mutual respect between individuals, regardless of the environment (home life, work, a retail or restaurant setting, etc.) comes first.

If a customer is behaving badly, I support speaking your truth and showing them the door.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

One more thought on the old lady story given that most comments side either with sending the employee away or confronting the grouchy old lady and standing up for the employee. This not an either/or decision.

My feeling is that the most constructive response to the grouchy old lady would have been for BOTH the tattooed clerk AND the manager to have stayed right there at the check out. The manager steps in and says to the lady “This young lady is one of our very best employees and frankly I wouldn’t trade her for a million dollars. I’m proud to have her on the team. But if it makes it easier for you I’ll process your purchase. It will take only a minute.” Both smile sincerely and lovingly at the customer because they know the lady’s anger has nothing to do with tattoos and nose rings. Customer leaves with no option but to think about what just happened.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
All of the comments, minus one, are great today. I believe Mr.Percy’s comments may be something that should be read to the “Occupy Wherever” crowd. Warren, hit it right on as some of those that would be the category of customers discussed do like it. They’re looking to get into it. They’re hoping that the bait is taken. Just as Mr. Percy described, they are looking for someone to take the bait. Once found, they’ll let loose. There are all types of reactions or better yet, actions, that can be taken. The one described of a manager stepping in is the best option. It shows leadership, mentoring, and loyalty. Should that expectation extend to showing them the door? That’s a choice for each retailer. The retailer I grew up in thoroughly understood that is and was an option. They also, however, didn’t believe it was an option to be chosen often or without understanding the repercussions as well. A lost customer, especially one of this kind, is generally more than one. These folks are animated… Read more »
Chris Ely
Guest
Chris Ely
9 years 5 months ago

I am reminded of Herb Kelleher, Co-founder of Southwest Airlines, who once was asked “But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.'”

Kelleher once told a customer who was abusive to the jet crew that “I will not have you abuse my coworkers/partners. You are not welcome on SWA anymore, go fly a different carrier.”

And then there was a continual kvetcher, who sent letters to SWA HQ, grousing about the way the airline was run, the peanuts, the singing, etc. Eventually, a letter from this complainer reached Herb’s desk. His reply:

‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple,
We will miss you.

Love,
Herb.’

George Resing
Guest
George Resing
9 years 5 months ago

Thanks for the George Bernard Shaw quote! A lot of the comments here include the phrase, “show them the door.” But how do you do this without making a bigger scene?

I do feel we’re afraid of our customers — the hysterical lady who wants to return something out of box, used and without a receipt. We make an exception to our return policy every time for her, just to get her out of the store. And even after a full cash refund, she still vows to tell everyone she knows to never shop in our store.

The nice customer, on the other hand, has her return refused. Unfair, but better for me and the employee to avoid wrestling with a pig.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

No need to fuel a fire. Remain calm. Stay professional, because you ARE being videoed by someone’s iPhone. And finish the transaction as quickly as possible to move on to the next customer. The more you make of a rude customer, the more negative sentiment will endure.

Caitlin Kelly
Guest
Caitlin Kelly
9 years 5 months ago
When I worked as an associate from 2007 to 2009 in an upscale suburban New York mall, (which I write about in my new book), I saw plenty of this behavior — and describe several such incidents in a chapter called “Customers From Hell.” Since the book came out, seven months ago, I’ve received many emails from retail front-line staff, associates and managers, thanking me for telling the truth about abusive shoppers and how prevalent they are. Some customers are indeed mentally ill, (the final one in my book, extremely abusive to me, clearly was) — but the stress of being screamed at, literally, remains the same. Who needs it?! Good, productive, hardworking staff need and deserve to know that managers (and corporate staff) will protect their physical and emotional safety. They’re hardly in it for the big paycheck, so if customers can bully them with impunity, what’s the upside? Retailers keep saying they want “engagement” with staff and customers. I can assure you that staff who genuinely enjoy retail work because they enjoy working… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
I know this may shock some of you, but the customer is not always right, and it is getting worse. Scam artists, coupon forgers, constant complainers, and drunks need to be handled differently. I personally go out of my way to help anyone, but I will not put up with a customer who is verbally abusive, because they can’t get their way (trying to pull a fast one). Some customers feel they are entitled to something beyond what the stated policy or sale item says, and I just politely tell them that everyone is treated the same in my store (very well), BUT it still doesn’t please them due to a variety of reasons in their mind, and I just tell them to find a store that can meet their needs. I know this is not popular with some of you, but life is short, and I won’t let my help be abused, and I can diffuse the situation pretty quick. If you are known for a friendly store with great service, you must live… Read more »
Dennis Ryan
Guest
Dennis Ryan
9 years 5 months ago

If the customer is always right, who is wrong? We have set ourselves up for win-lose confrontations. The focus of the interaction between a customer and an employee needs to be win-win. By changing the maxim to “The customer is always treated right,” we can increase the opportunity to make the interactions win-win. Whether someone is right or wrong is usually not important, it is how they are treated that will be remembered.

There is no 100% right process for dealing with people. They key is to minimize the conflict arena. The manager did the right thing in taking the clerk out of the conflict. He then should have finished the order and explained to the customer that they appreciate her business but if she cannot respect the people who are working hard to help her she should find another store to shop at. The key will be the voice and pattern of delivery from the manager.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Successful sales and marketing companies have all been able to define “customer” to the company and its employees. When this is done, success formulas follow and grow the business. The single largest mistake that exists in retail is the idea that only employees and customers walk through the door. I often observe and marvel at how many resources are put into improving customer service when there is no evidence of anyone in retail that can demonstrate a means of identifying which individuals truly are customers.