On Customer behavior.

I am putting this in Great Debates, because the topic, to my mind, spans a sociological/psychological arena and is worthy of the rigor of this forum.

The topic for debate is quite simply this: What is it that happens to (many) seemingly normal and well behaved people that turns them in to unreasonable and petulant creatures the moment that they become customers.

I think that most of us have had the experience of going out for a meal with a good and decent friend, only to witness them treat the wait person is a horrible and shockingly condescending way. Why does this happen?

Here are some of my theories:
[li]It is some sort of a class thing in which people are basically making a dominance display toward the people that are waiting on them.[/li][li]Closely related to the first bullet is that the rude person in question is doing the equivalent of the small monkey hitting the smaller monkey because it is frustrated by all of the big monkeys that hit it.[/li][li]There is some sort of a disconnect between the goods/service that the customer is receiving and what they were lead to believe that they would receive caused by the way that said goods/services were portrayed in the media and-or advertising. This leads the customers involved to take it out on others.[/li][/ul]

And see, the problem is that I think that we are in some sort of a negative feedback loop here. Customers being mean, the people serving them exacting what revenge they can, which makes the customers more mean and so on. What is to be done?

I can see it now. Two stores open up next to each other. They are identical in every way except one (No Meanies 'R Us) will only deal with customers who are nice and understanding. When No Meanies 'R Us sees someone who is behaving badly, they show them the door and say “please take your business elsewhere.”

So which store will surive?

Actually, its a trick question. Both of them will go under because of fraudlent accounting practices, but that’s something for another thread.

The point is that when a business forgets who they need to keep happy, they don’t last very long. A person can choose to spend money in many many places. If I don’t like the return policy at Lowes, then I’m going to Home Depot. If a business wants to stay competitive, they will give consumers a reason to shop there. Many many consumers use service to decide where to spend their money.

Pencil Pusher-and what will happen when all of the employees quit after being abused by customers so many times, when the store loses money on fraudulant returns, when people try and scam them and make the store a vastly unpleasant place to be?

To assume that it is all the fault of the store is ludicrous. We have probably all been unfairly treated like jerks by sales staff but, IMO, this is the very rare exception.

A coworker of mine was going through a grocery store checkout behind a very abusive customer who heaped abuse on the checker and was so mean as to have her unbag the groceries and enter the prices in by hand. Through the whole transaction the abused checker was quiet, dignified and helpful. Before the customer left she informed the checker that she was going to call management and complain.

This bothered my friend so bad that he called the management. Gave his side of the story and praised the employee to the skies.

Face it, a lot of people are jerks. To assume that the customer is always mistreated is just wrong.

And see, in a way this is exactly the sort of thing that I want to talk about. I am about to make an assumption based on what you chose to post that you are a “the customer is always right” kind of guy (or gal).

And see, I think that this is essentially wrong. Businesses are not (believe it or not) in business to make customers happy. They are in business to make money. To be sure, making customers happy is one way to make money, but let us not confuse the two.

What I am wondering is if this school of though has not reached the point of being dysfunctional, in so far as (many) customers have chosen to take advantage of it. As an example, in my neighborhood there are two grocery stores. Both of these stores are pretty much equal in terms of selection and are within 3 blocks of each other. If I am in line at one, behind one of those pushy working the angle customers that is delaying things for everyone, I simply take my selection up to customer service, inform the manager politely that they have some items that need to be re-shelved, and go to the other store. I have done this on more than one occasion, essentially voting with my dollars that store 1 not permit this sort of behavior from their customers. To put this a different way, by having customer service policies that favor the squeaky wheel over the efficient, low impact customer they are loosing business.

I guess that’s the fundamental disagreement. Who are the “unreasonable and petulant creatures”? Are they the sales staff or the customers?

To be fair, I guess its both. People will be people. Which side of the transaction the unreasonable ones are on is sorta random. Personally, I’ve seen less unreasonable customers than employees, but I’ve never worked in retail.

As a side note, I’ve seen both sides be unreasonable, bringing the situation to a head. If either side were capable of clearly explaining their position, the matter would have been resolved.

Which I think is where your misunderstanding comes from.

See, I do work in retail, in a small, 2 owner shop. We are a consignment/clearing/vintage store - we accept items from clients, sell them, and then give the clients 1/2 of the $$.

In order to facilitate this, there are a few rules that have to be followed such as no returns or exchanges (as soon as something sells, we give the client the $$ - can’t exactly phone them back and say “would you mind returning the $$”), no drop-offs without an appointment, if you want to pick up your items, you have to give 24 hrs notice, etc. etc.

95% of our customers and clients abide by these rules and are qutie happy to live with them. It’s the other 5% that think that the rules don’t or shouldn’t apply to them. Who think that their time is more valuable than ours. That think their items are so amazing, that we’re going to bend over backwards to accomodate them, because they can’t be bothered to be courteous. I think THOSE are the customers that Binarydrone is refering to.

Actually, I would be interested to see what people have to say on this subject - what makes that 5% so damn obnoxious?

Anyhow - I’m lucky - as I said in another thread, I pretty much have carte-blanche to tell obnoxious customers to bog off. It’s the queen of all retail positions, actually.

Ya, I knew someone would pick up on that line.

About 10 years ago I was snowed in at Chicago (transfer from Arizona to Philadelphia) with my then-girlfriend after Spring break.

My wife (who was a server in a restaurant for many years, btw) calls a hotel: “Do you provide transportation to the airport”

Hotel clerk: Yes, from 6:00AM to 10:00AM

My wife: We would like a reservation.

We get to the hotel and see a sign over the front desk that says “Bus service to the airport from 6:00AM to 10:00AM” and check in. A horrible hotel, btw, but the only one with a vacancy in the entire city since all of O’hare was snowed in.

…The next day at 9:45AM…

My wife: where do we get the airport shuttle?

The clerk: the last one left 15 minutes ago.

My wife: WHAT?!?!?!? The sign behind you says 6 to 10.

The clerk: The bus will be back from the airport at 10:00.

My wife, well, you can imagine. She went ballistic.

Would you consider her an “unreasonable and petulant creature” for tearing into this guy, demaning that transportation be provided, and (ultimately) disputing the charge with the credit card since the taxi cost as much as the room?

This is the type of thing that goes on all the time. Could she have been nicer about the whole thing? I don’t know. Being sweet and friendly is sort of inconsitent with getting across the point that the hotel is to blame for the misunderstand and should shoulder the cost of the misunderstanding.

Generally speaking, yes I would consider this unreasonable (although I will qualify that in a moment).

Assuming that this particular clerk was not the one that gave her the erroneous information, and assuming that this particular clerk was not refusing to get a manager that could help with your disputed charges and that such a request was made in a polite way then I would say that going ballistic at that particular clerk was out of line. Naturally, this is the disclaimer part and I am more than willing to admit that I may have misunderstood the story that you were sharing.

In general, I think that this illustrates part of the problem that I am raising. 95% (to use alice_in_wonderland’s figure) are not horrible simply because they are getting what they want. It is only when presented with an obstacle that anger management troubles ensue.

I see this all the time in my job (Tech Support). Most of the time, I am able to help folks in a competent and expedient manner and ride on a wave of happiness and praise fro the customers. However, sometimes I am in a position where I have to tell the customer something that they simply do not want to hear. Perhaps I have to tell them that their data is irretrievably lost because of some stupidity on their part (although you can bet I phrase that fact diplomatically), perhaps I have to let them know that the program simply is not capable of what they are trying to have it do. And let me be clear. I NEVER give an answer if I am not 100% sure that it is true. If I don’t know, I say so and offer to find out. But inevitably, as sure as a rock that a drop will fall, when I have to tell someone that they can’t have something, they ask (in various insulting and condescending tones) to talk to my supervisor.

This is what I am getting at.


Originally posted by Binarydrone
**Assuming that this particular clerk was not the one that gave her the erroneous information, and assuming that this particular clerk was not refusing to get a manager that could help with your disputed charges and that such a request was made in a polite way then I would say that going ballistic at that particular clerk was out of line. **

Well, depending upon how much weight you give to the second assumption, we disagree. You see the clerk as a hapless employee who is just trying to do his job. I see him as the hotel’s representative. In fact, he was the highest-ranking representative on the premises.

The whole mentality of “it wasn’t my fault doesn’t fly.” I don’t know how many times I’ve been on the phone and said something like
“Listen, when I purchased this I specifically asked if it would work with XYZ and you told me that it absolutely would.”
“*I never told you that.”
“I’m referring to the corporate ‘you’.”

Pencil Pusher, did it occur to you to verify the scheduled departure times when you were checking into the hotel? Yes, the clerk she spoke to on the phone and the sign said that the shuttle service ran until 10am, but it sounds like that was actually the arrival time of the last shuttle FROM the airport. Admittedly the hotel could have been clearer on that point, or phrased their information better, but I’ve found it never hurts to double-check these things. I once had to attend monthly meetings at a local hotel which had a free shuttle service to the nearby commuter train station, which is how I got home after the meetings. On several occasions the hotel had to cancel the train station shuttle due to excessive need for airport or other shuttles because of a convention or other function; usually I was able to find out about this in sufficient time to make other arrangements, and on at least one occasion the hotel paid for a cab (pretty nice, considering I wasn’t even a paying guest).

*Originally posted by Pencil Pusher *

So as the hotel’s representative he is no longer deserving of courtesy from you?

You mentioned in your earlier post that your wife used to work as a server in a restaurant. According to your logic, if she had served a meal which the customer found unsatisfactory, the customer would be justified in blaming her for the chef’s mistake, and going ballistic at her, since she was the restaurant’s representative at the table.

Yes, you are justified in being upset when you receive misinformation or poor service. Yes, you are correct to indicate that displeasure to another employee of that company. But screaming at a person who is not personally responsible for that displeasure does not help the situation.
I have been at both ends of this situation (and I confess that I have gotten unreasonably upset at the wrong person myself; I’ve never claimed to be perfect). I once answered a customer service call and was immediately greeted with an extremely irate, “Let me speak to a manager.” I politely asked if there was anything I could do to help and got a screaming diatribe about a situation which I realized was based solely on misinformation which the caller had previously gotten from three different service reps. I explained that she had been misinformed, assisted her in resolving the issue, and apologized for my colleagues’ error.
Screaming accomplishes nothing but raising your blood pressure. And I speak as someone who, after a particularly disaster-filled airline flight which was topped with a smashed suitcase, was fully expected by my travelling companions to forcibly insert said suitcase where it would have been very difficult for the airline service rep to remove.

Who would have possibly guessed that the hotel would post, in their front lobby, misleading information? When you see a sign that says “we accept VISA” do you ask, “Can I pay with my Visa card?” No, you don’t. When it is later discovered that the hotel only takes Visa in order to hold a room, but you must then pay in cash, would you then blame the customer for not double checking that he could pay with Visa?

The information that the hotel posted with not be useful to anyone. If you are at the hotel (the only place the sign can be seen), the last pickup time is 9:30. If you are at the airport, the last pickup time is 9:45. The knowledge that the bus runs until 10:00 is not helpful.

The hotel was at fault, and the hotel should take responsibility. The hotel, however, is a legal fiction, and exists only on paper as a corporation. I don’t think it would be very useful to argue with a couple of pages of articles of incorporation. I also don’t think it would be very productive to track down the person who, 10 years earlier, decided to have the sign made. The appropriate person to complain to is whoever the hotel’s representative is at the moment.

Well, now here’s the thing, if your wife had “gone ballistic[sup]*[/sup]” at the store I work at, it wouldn’t have got her anywhere. Depending on which owner was in, she would have been told not to be so rude. (Yes, I’ve seen her do this.) If I had been in, I would have closed the door in her face (I’ve done this before) and had she contacted the store to complain, the owners would have told her to bog off, in no uncertain terms.

Ya see, in my experience, you don’t have to “go ballistic” in order to get the desired result - case in point - me. I would never dream of screaming and yelling at a clerk or anyone else for that matter. I have no problem asking for what I want, and I pretty much always get it. If you refer to this particular thread, to this point, I have received an apology, $45 worth of lipstick, and the regional manager is going to either find me a duplicate pair of pants, or, failing that, provide me with product of equal or greater value. I haven’t yelled, I haven’t screamed, I’ve just explained how disappointed I am with the service I received and I’ve got the desired result, and no one thinks I’m an “unreasonable and petulant creature”. They think of me as a valued customer - believe me - this is where you want to be.

And as a final FYI, I also used to be a waitress, and while I NEVER did this, if a person is an “unreasonable and petulant creature” to a food server, many of them WILL hork in yer food, and then laugh gleefully with their co-workers. (and I do mean hork - it’s really gross, actually). YMMV.

*I’m assuming that by “going ballistic” you mean yelling and screaming, and impugning the name and parentage of the service person in question. If in fact by “ballistic” you mean your wife said in a firm tone “Well, this will not do. Please make us some alternate arrangements as we must get to the airport.” then just disregard everything I said. :slight_smile:

I did five years in the hotel industry, and ** pencil pusher ** is correct. The clerk should have gotten into the van and driven them herself. Or used her own car. I’ve done both those. And if the hotel agrees to make a train-station run, in addition to the airport runs, they’d better make that run. It cost your company more in their sales contract, I guarantee.

If you are the type who get angry with the clerk-let me tell you, that is the WORST way to get service.

I have NO CONTROL over the company’s policies. I only get fired if I do NOT follow them. If I allow you to make a return without a receipt-even though that is against the rules, you may go away happy. But I may also go away without a job.

You’re better off complaining to a higher up.

Let me tell you something else-I will bend over backwards to help you-as long as you are courteous, friendly and understanding. If you start going “ballistic”, I will do the bare minimum and try to get you out of there as soon as possible.

You can catch more flies with honey, etc.

And if that clerk was not the one who told you that, he had NO CONTROL over the situation. None. What your wife did was uncalled for and totally heinous.

There is defintely a point at which courtesy is not longer deserved. I’m not saying the above incident was one of them.

To clarify, there was no screaming in the above incident, but there certainly was a very upset woman who was pushed to making various demands (“I want you to either tell the bus driver to drive us to the airport when he gets back or pay for a cab. If you don’t I am not going to sign the credit card receipt, and I’m going to dispute any charges that show up on my credit card statement.”). For her, that was ballistic. In fact, for many people that is ballistic.

Once again, I’ve never worked in retail, but I have never seen a customer yell at a representative in the way you all think happened. IMO yelling is an act of violence, and would be unexcusable. But lets be clear, yelling, to the point where it is a violent act, happens, what, once every six months in a high volume store and once every couple of years in a small mom and pop? That is not what we are talking about (I don’t think). If you all are saying I’m totally out of touch and an act of violent yelling is occuring daily or weekly, then I’m behind you 100%. However, I think we are not talking about yelling, but discourteous behavior.
But, I should say, I have heard of situations where screaming would have been appropriate (in the below case my friend actually just hung up).

My friend: “its 4:10, is the airport van going to be here soon, they were supposed to pick me up at 4:00”

Phone representative: “they are en route now, should be there in a couple of minutes”

Friend: “Its 4:30, where are they?”

Rep: “they are in your neighborhood, and should be right there”

Friend: “Its 4:50, what’s going on?”

Rep: “the van decided to skip you because you were too far out of the way”

Friend: “What?!?! Why didn’t you call me? What am I supposed to do? I have a plane at 6:00”

Rep: “Well, if I were you, I would have called a taxi 45 minutes ago.”

Nope, IMHO, that person is no longer deserving even a glimmer of courteous behavior.

BTW, alice_in_wonderland, closing a door in someone’s face is an act of hostility that I can’t imagine needing to resort to more than once a decade. If, in your opinion, 1 out of 20 people is a troublemaker, then I have a strong suspicion that you are closing the door on a lot of people.

If I saw you act that way to a customer, you can be sure I would never shop there again (more than once I have stopped patronizing stores that were rude to other customers).
Not that I’m saying representatives need to kowtow (although the good know that the best way to diffuse a situation is with an apology). I’m saying that an representative should NEVER escalate a situation. If I saw one of my employees respond to a rude and abrasive person by closing the door in their face, they would be fired in a heartbeat (unless they were physically menacing, such as violently yelling, then closing the door would not be an escalation).

Having paying customers is not an entitlement. Anyone who believes otherwise is either close to being unemployed, or has a monopoly on some good/service.

Oh, and Guinastasia, that’s just more of the “its not my fault” argument. You are the representative. If you are the highest ranking representative, it is your job to solve problems that other representatives caused. If, as the highest ranking representative you have no authority to solve problems, my heart won’t break when the business fails.

Again - you’re showing your lack of experience in retail.

See aforementioned point. When someone shows up at MY store, 1/2 hour after I’m closed and starts pounding on the door, and when I open it, assuming that they have some sort of emergency, and they start screeching at me that they drove 1/2 way across the city and how dare I be closed, you better believe I’m closing the door in their face. And as to me being fired, I told the owners and they applauded my actions.

Before you start impugning my “customer service” skills, perhaps you should consider the constant compliments that I receive from customers. The profuse thanks. The through-the-ceiling sales. The fact that the owners beg me to work, and consistently ask I’f I will start working there full time. They buy me gifts. On a busy Saturday, after helping a very demanding woman who had butt in on numerous transactions with other customers, knocked over a rack, and returned 2 items, despite the no return policy I was called everything from “The best sales-woman in the history of the universe” to being told that I had the “patience of a saint.”

Yes, clearly I’m the sort of employee that a store would want to get rid off. :rolleyes:

In case you were wondering, this is just a little reminder that you shouldn’t infer things about people based on 2 sentences from a message board.

I believe I can infer several things.

(1) you take things personally when you shouldn’t.

  • Proof: it appears that you have engaged in your closing-the-door-in-someones-face routine only once. My quoted statement explicitly stated that such activity would be understandable once in a very long while.

(2) you exaggerate yourself.

  • Proof: when you first brought up the door closing, you gave the impression it happened with much more frequently than once. You gave the further impression that you take a dominant role in the customer/representative relationship 1 out of every 20 times. You have capitalized and bolded the MY in “my store” when, clearly, it is not your store.

(3) you tend towards fallacious arguments.

  • Proof: You quoted my admission that I don’t have retail experience, but failed to explain its relevance. You ignored the condition in my conditional statment and argued the bare statement (basically restating the condition).
    I apologize to the group for going OT, and for accepting alice_in_wonderland’s challenge. I’ve seen a mod chastise someone for making an ad hominem attack, and I believe there is a distinction. alice_in_wonderland injected herself into the debate. I believe that makes her fair game. I glanced at the FAQs, but didn’t see anything on point.

And all of this raises another point that I think is worth talking about. This whole notion of the clerk/wait person/whatever being a “representative of the legal fiction that is the corporation”. While true, after a fashion, I find that it ultimately leads to this reductive form of thinking that ultimately dehumanizes said person, and thereby somehow makes it ok to abuse them.

The horrible truth Pencil Pusher is that the folks in the service industry are being abused (as in being yelled at in an act of aggression) every single day. While it is, in the remotest way, possible that customer service has somehow entered this horrible decline, and people are simply fed up, I think the truth is somewhat different. I really think that a lot of this boils down to people no longer taking responsibility for what happens to them, and then wanting someone to lash out at when things don’t go well.