Why are you (as a customer) so rude? Disgruntled employees want to know.

I hear this question — more of an excuse really — often and usually from low-scoring customer service representatives.  These types of reps whine and complain about the customer being rude, shifting all blame onto you, the paying customer. And if you stop and think, it makes perfect sense!  Let’s unravel this together for a moment: a customer calls or emails a company to inquire about a product or service. If this customer’s first interaction with this company is negative, she or he will assume that all subsequent encounters will be negative as well. After such bad customer service, customers’ expectations of future interactions are low and they are ready to be treated poorly and unfairly. So, of course, they are going to be rude! But that doesn’t mean that we should combat rude behavior with rude behavior. In combat, no one ever wins.

Real World Story: Recently, I needed to schedule myself for a medical lab test. I called the lab’s office, which was referred and recommended by my doctor, to see if I needed to make an appointment. The woman who answered the phone spoke so quickly that I couldn’t understand what she said. I was hit with the immediate impression she was in a hurry and didn’t want to be bothered; I was not important. My defenses naturally went up, and I began to stammer in frustration. I nervously asked, “Is this LabCorp?” She replied with a disgusted “Y-e-s!” I told her that I needed a test and asked, “Do I need to make an appointment, or do I just walk in.” She replied, “We don’t take appointments.” “Oh,” I replied, “Um, is there a better time than others to come in?” Without any interest whatsoever, she replied, “No.”

Ugh. I dreaded having to go to this place after that telephone encounter! If staff behaves like this woman on the phone, what are they like in person?!

Days later, it was time for my lab test. I couldn’t put it off any longer. Naturally, as I approached the medical building, my defenses were up and ready for combat. I was ready to be yelled at. And more unfortunately, I was ready to combat bad behavior with my own bad behavior. I guess, you could say, I was ready to be one “rude customer.”

When I walked in, the receptionist was smiling and laughing with her coworkers. As soon as she saw me, her smile turned into a frown, and she said nothing to me—no greeting whatsoever. I timidly handed her my doctor’s referral paperwork with a return envelope. She immediately flung the envelope back at me saying, “Here’s this.” I mumbled something about mailing the results in that envelope. She retorted, “We automatically mail the results. I don’t know what that envelope is for.”

Without making eye contact, she handed me a form and ordered me to fill it in. When she discovered that I made a mistake, she quickly pointed out my error and told me to fix it. After the paperwork was finally completed, she told me to have a seat.

I sat down feeling like I’d just been processed – like cheap ground chuck at a meat packing plant.

As before, I was now dreading the next part of the testing process. This time, I decided to take back control and be my usual friendly self. When a female technician called out my first name, I approached the door with a big smile on my face. Of course, she was not at all interested. She gave me brief instructions, which I lightheartedly joked about the whole time. At the end of our “processing” interaction, she was actually smiling, telling me, “Enjoy the rest of your day.” Aha! I call that an “attitude 180.”

Now consider what would have happened had I not been friendly. I bet she would have processed me with the same rude behavior displayed by the receptionist. So sad that would have been.

So what are the consequences of their rude behavior? For starters, I will never, ever, ever return to this medical practice. Second, I will never, ever recommend this office to anyone—and will advise my doctor accordingly. Third, I just wrote a blog post about the entire horrible experience! (Although, all names have been changed to protect the guilty. Well most of them : ) Great publicity, huh?

Strategies to turn it around:

  1. Fully train your front line people — every single employee who comes in contact with a customer, whether in person, on the phone or on the web. Train on how to greet customers immediately and to do so in a friendly and approachable manner, with a smile on their face. (First impressions count! And you get one opportunity only at first impressions.)
  2. Train all employees to SMILE. (Yes, I said it again. Are you catching the drift?)
  3. Do not combat rude behavior with rude behavior. Instead, “kill” them with kindness. Isn’t that what mom would want you to do?

I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts.  Share your best ideas, tips and feedback on customer service in the comments below.

20 Responses to “Why are you (as a customer) so rude? Disgruntled employees want to know.”

  1. 1 Jonathan Ruskin March 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    This is certainly an extreme example. Yes, there ARE rude people in customer service. However, I am never that way…but guests (I work in a hotel) feel they are entitled to treat me like garbage and that I was put on this planet simply to serve their needs. The needs of other guests are not important in their eyes. I’m not saying it’s right, but can you imagine what sort of toll it takes on a person to be treated like something the customer found stuck to their shoe each and every day, just to make ends meet? Being a paying customer DOES entitle a person to the service they are paying for, and helpful service. But customers these days (and I’ve noticed this trend after 16 years in the business) think that the world revolves around them, and that it is perfectly acceptable to yell, harass and verbally abuse customer service agents who had no part in causing their problem. Recently I told a guest that I could not continue to help them if they continued yelling, swearing and being abusive. Their reply? “So, you don’t care about your guests and are just here to get a paycheck?” I was very tempted to say: “Well, yes. Do you think I take abuse 40 hours a week out of the goodness of my heart for a measly $11.25 an hour?” Being rude is not the way to get good customer service. How those people at the lab treated you was wrong and unprofessional. But most people in customer service are NOT that way. I’d say a good 80% of the customers I meet are rude, uncouth and lacking in basic people skills…and are surprised that they don’t get their feet worshiped in return. It’s all about cause and effect. I am not shy about evicting people if they are verbally abusive…and they never understand why that behavior is not appropriate. The prevailing attitude is: “I paid, so I can treat you like garbage.” Nope. This customer service agent will not tolerate abuse.

    • 2 bnkhozam March 12, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Hello Jonathan,

      Thanks for your passionate comment and for your desire to provide great customer service. I applaud you. It makes me sad that 80% of your customers are rude. I would love to know where you work and why your customers are so uncouth.
      Having worked in the Technical Support department in the past, I have a good idea what it’s like to be yelled at by everyone. I, like you, kept up my smiling face and positive demeanor but it does get extremely tiring. All I can say is keep up your positive spirit. It is my hope that if you and I can continue to be kind to these people, they will eventually “get it.” Am I dreaming? Maybe. But for me, it’s much better to fill them with kindness than to join in their madness.
      Keep up the great work.

  2. 3 S. Stokes June 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I work at a restaurant and feel the same as Jonathan, the way people treat you when you are ONLY trying to help them have a great experience, is very dispiriting. Somebody treating you like crap it kind of makes you feel like a slave to the industry but you make so many other people that it overshadows the people who are rude to you.

    I can tell you about a woman who walks in the restaurant with a party of 7, she is quoted a waiting time of 30 minutes. Maybe 15 minutes into her quoted waiting time, she comes up to the desk to ask about her table (very rudely) and we tell her she still has about 15 more minutes, we can make sure that as soon as something becomes available that she would be seated – she’s not satisfied with that and comes to check on the table maybe minutes later, this time, her table was ready. We repeatedly told her that we had to get the table set and cleaned off for her (which she didn’t even wait out her 30 minutes that she was quoted so I don’t know why she was so angry) I finally walk her over to her table (it’s a long booth with maximum seating for six, but we do put parties of 7 there which they have no complaints) I talked with the guests that were with her party along the way and they seemed nice and not as miffed as her, we reach the table and it wasn’t set but it was wiped clean. When I saw it, I turned to the angry woman and said, “I’m sorry, your table’s not quite ready yet but I will immediately get someone to clean it off for you” She instantly screams at me saying “No, we want regular tables, we are not going to fit here!”, smiling at her I said, “No problem, I will go back to the front and see what I can do for you”, she begins yelling insults like saying I’m annoying, I stupid and etc. as I’m walking away – At this time, the restaurant was pretty much very busy and booming, if she wanted regular tables it was probably going to be another 30 minutes, I informed her about the approximate waiting time and this made her even more angry, I came back and while still smiling I told her, “I’m sorry, we’re probably not going to be able to accommodate 7 people right now, there’s going to be another waiting time” she then screams at me “Well…. Why isn’t this table cleaned off!? This is ‘misrespect'” I said (still smiling) “I will get someone right on it.”, busser comes over, cleans the table and I brought them the extra chair, they sit down and I hand out the menus and while smiling I said, “Have a great meal ladies, your server will be joining you very shortly” and walked away.

    This is how a lot of people treat employees of the service industry (sometimes worse) everyday. I take BS like this everyday for a measly $8.75 But I do give her credit for making up a new word and using it ‘misrespect’. Hunger does make you delusional I hear.

    • 4 bnkhozam June 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story, S.Stokes. What a tough situation you described and how well you handled it. I’m not sure I would have been able to keep smiling the whole time like you did. It’s unfortunate that rude customers can get away with their ridiculous behavior. When I encounter them, I’m always grateful that I don’t live with them! I’m hoping the number of nice cusotmers far outweighs the irate ones? Keep up your positive attitude and behavior. We need more people like you!

  3. 5 nicolle siliezar November 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Hi ! I’m glad I found your post, you see I’m in need for some advice, I’m currently working in retail and it is my first job. Recently I had an encounter with a customer who looked like she was in a bad mood. She was shopping for a watch and asked for the policy of the store which I explained to her. She did not seem happy with it and said she didn’t know if they were going to like it by Christmas and that she didn’t have thirty days, so I tried to help her out by asking her for who it was for. She took this in a wrong way and said I did not need to know and promptly left after giving dirty looks. she called and complained about me saying that I was rude and did not like how I explained it to her.
    If you could please give me some advice so that in the future I can be a better person I would gladly take your input on this subject.

    • 6 bnkhozam November 13, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Nicolle,
      Thanks for posting your question and for seeking advice. As you’re learning, working in retail is not easy. While it’s rewarding to deliver outstanding service and create happy customers, inevitably you will encounter the “difficult” customer. The good news is that you’re using this as a learning opportunity.
      Here are some tips regarding “difficult” customers:
      1. Most “difficult” customers we can turn around – upwards of 95%.
      2. Some “difficult” customer are difficult and nothing you say or do will change that.
      3. “Difficult” customers want you to care about their problem as much as they do. The way to demonstrate this is to use heartfelt empathy. For example, when the customer said “I’m not happy with the 30 day policy because I don’t have thirty days between now and Christmas.” A potential response could have been “Gosh, I can understand your frustration with this policy. Let me get the manager and see if there’s anything we can do about this.” When a customer knows you’re on their side and you understand what they’re going through, they are more likely to negotiate with you.
      I hope this help, Nicolle. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.
      Keep up the great work!

  4. 7 Anakin August 4, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    I run a small online business and have mostly amazing customers but of course I have had a couple of bad apples. It always amazes me that some people think being extremely rude will get them a better outcome in life. By default I will bend over backwards for any customers with problems, usually refunding or providing free replacements if needed to solve a problem. But recently had a customer that thought it was a good idea to start his interaction by swearing at me. While I stayed completely calm and professional, it resulting in not getting the “standard” amazing treatment for them, and instead the bare minimum service required… in part because I strongly suspect they might be trying to scam me but also just because it didn’t seem that any concessions would have made a difference to their already horrible attitude so why bother giving more then needed if it isn’t going to make a difference?
    On the other hand I have been in the opposite side of the fence recently too.. like you dealing with a medical office that was completely rude when I had a billing issue. Which also will likely result in them losing my long term businesses in addition to getting plenty of rudeness back from me (which in retrospect I partially regret but honestly it was probably also karma). And the funny thing was the billing issue was totally solvable – so they could have retained a good customer and just tried to work out the problem nicely and I would have done the same.

    So I hope people read your post, since I suspect people that walk around being rude to others generally lose in the end, even though they might not realize it.

    • 8 bnkhozam August 5, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Anakin,
      Thanks for sharing your personal stories. I agree completely. Being rude isn’t good for anyone. I applaud your efforts to stay calm with difficult people and to deliver the best regardless of how you’re being treated. Keep up the great work!
      Warm Regards,

  5. 9 Lee November 25, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    As a person who has worked in service for most of my career, I can tell you that every story has a spin and a perspective depending on who tells the story. Some customers have no respect or understanding for the person who is helping them. They don’t like the answers they receive or they don’t understand and in the same manner they shift all the blame to the company or the employee. Would you like someone to tell you how to do your job? Or disrespect the limitations of your situation? Sometimes there are rude staff but just as often there are customers who expect everything on their own timeframe and schedule. Its naive to say one awful experience means the burden falls on ill trained employees as it is to say all customers expect to be right. Perspective …

    • 10 bnkhozam December 1, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Lee,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree 100%! Some customers come into the conversation with a pre-set agenda and unrealistic expectations. Some customers will not be satisfied no matter what happens! The point I was trying to make is that, in general, most customers are reasonable and understand that mistakes happen. By communicating with difficult customers with respect and kindness, most will be converted from hostile to satisfied. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but from my experience, I’ve found that a sincere apology, a thoughtful explanation with a timely resolution go a long way in resolving most conflicts.
      Thanks, again, for taking time to comment and for being such a great proponent of exceptional service!

  6. 11 Jessica August 2, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Hi, I just read the post, and thought it was incredibly insightful. However, “killing the customers with kindness” doesn’t always work. Last Friday I had a customer come into my store and he asked for an 18 piece bucket of fried chicken. Both me and my younger sister were on shift. My sister told him we were out of breasts but were willing to substitute with thighs and give him the regular price instead of weighing it by the pound (which is much more costly). He got angry and boasted he was going to another store and stormed on out. He returned just yesterday and made a complaint to the owner of the store, by which there was a huge fight ensuing. Apparently, he was dissatisfied with the service, he actually posted it on Facebook. He lied that my sister refused service to him and made me out of not giving a damn about the whole situation since I was standing in the background. Both me and my sister did everything to make this man’s experience pleasent. Gave him a smile even if it hurt. And right now, my job might be at risk over four pieces of chicken.

    • 12 bnkhozam August 5, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Jessica,
      Oh my, I can hear your frustration! It sounds to me like you did everything right with this particularly difficult customer. I agree with you 100% in that “killing the customers with kindness” does NOT always work and you proved it yourself. I wish there was a way to deal with ALL difficult customers. The problem is that some difficult people are difficult and they are like that with everyone. All we can do is be thankful that we are not like them. I’m hoping your manager has enough faith and trust in your skills to know that you did all that you can do. Please don’t take it personally. It means a lot that you cared enough to investigate this situation and turn it into a learning opportunity. Keep up the great work. You have a bright future ahead of you!
      Warm Regards,

  7. 13 s o r i e a n o July 30, 2017 at 1:05 am

    I think there’s definitely a way to work without having to keep a smile. Subtle smile or maybe even just a neutral one will work as well. Some folks expect the biggest smiles from us and truth is, as a customer service vet, it’s just not possible all the time. So maybe expecting a smile isn’t exactly the best option. I’d argue just greeting people and not arguing with people back is good enough advice.

    • 14 bnkhozam July 31, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Hi Liz,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree in that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to smile every second of every day. What IS possible is to smile when greeting a customer – since first impressions are so crucial. Then, when we’re handling a customer issue, we can use our regular neutral expression. Thanks for your input and reminder.

  8. 15 Lizzie September 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Maybe you should realize the world doesn’t revolve around you. Sorry you had a bad experience, but you’re a part of the problem. Just because they’re in “customer service”, doesn’t mean they owe you anything. You probably believe that customer is always right crap too huh? You’re probably a bitter old woman, and need to feel victimized by younger people to get attention. So pathetic.

    • 16 bnkhozam September 25, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Lizzie,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. It appears the blog made your very upset. I apologize if that is the case.
      I was simply trying to make the case that attitudes – both positive and negative – are contagious and can travel with people from one situation to another. The experience I was describing was a true encounter that I’m pretty sure most people would NOT enjoy.
      Yes, I WAS part of the problem and that’s the point I was trying to make as well. I guess it didn’t come across that way.
      Anyway, I appreciate your feedback – even though it hurt a little.

  9. 17 thedevilsintheretail October 6, 2017 at 5:23 am

    This is a very interesting take on rude behaviour in customer service. I agree that retail staff should be well trained and take initiative in providing friendly and helpful customer service. The hallmark of any great business is a strong rapport between the business and its customers so it is paramount that people skills are developed. I also agree that no real positive outcome will emerge from fighting fire with fire, but there are two sides to the coin: it is also the responsibility of customers to also act in a civil and respectful manner towards retail staff. Retail workers and other customer service workers often bear the brunt of abusive and rude behaviour at the hands of the people they are serving. It would definitely be worthwhile to also “train” customers in a sense of how to be respectful shoppers. We are running a campaign on our WordPress to unite retail workers to share their stories with the aim of educating customers the true impact of customer abuse. We’d love to get your opinion on some of our posts so feel free to have a read and share your thoughts! – Jennifer N.

    • 18 bnkhozam November 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Jennifer,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Customer DO need to be more respectful and kind. I believe that some customers feel they have be mean to get their way. If they only realized that if they remained calm and were kind, they would get a lot farther in a shorter period of time. Well, I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me in teaching the “Fill them with Kindness” principle.
      Thanks for your comment and keep up the great work!

  10. 19 Alexis January 24, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    I stumbled upon your article in hopes that someone could explain to me why customers can be a nightmare. I do, to a degree, agree that when a first impression goes wrong, it’s all downhill from there. However, I have a predicament I cannot solve. I work two jobs. One at a local movie theater and another as a server. As a server, my guests treat me well as long I correctly deliver their order. However, at the movie theater, I can smile and laugh and be joveil all day long and customer will still treat me like garbage. They throw their cards at me, complain about policies I cannot change, and simply have a sour attitude every time they come to see a movie. Perhaps it is because one bad apple ruined the bunch, but I simply cannot see a way to manage the negativity. I love my job and my staff but I cannot foresee myself working there much longer because of the abuse from customers. Please give me some advice to make the days better there. I’d really hate to tell my general manager I can’t work there anymore because I can no longer handle the negative customers.


    • 20 bnkhozam January 28, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      Hi Alexis,
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your predicament. I can hear your frustration. I, too, would find it difficult to deal with rude customers day in and day out. Before giving up, I would make sure I’ve tried everything and anything in my power to deal with such customers – and I would get my staff on board with doing the same. We must realize that we cannot change someone else, we CAN change ourselves. I would make a game of it with my team. Get everyone enthusiastic and happy about greeting customers. Act as if you’re welcoming guests into your home. Be overly positive when greeting customers and make sure you wear a beautiful smile. When they respond with negativity, continue being kind and respectful. Don’t take it personal. You simply don’t know what’s really going on with them. Have a contest with your staff that rewards the staff member who gets the most customers to smile back! Try it for a week and see if that makes a difference.
      If you’ve tried everything and it’s really as bad as you say, it might be time to look for employment elsewhere. Life is WAY to short to go to work at a place you hate.
      Let me know if you have any additional questions or feedback.
      Good luck out there!
      Warm Regards,

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