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Serving unfair customers: here’s what you should do

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When a customer is unsatisfied, he/she sometimes engages in an interaction with the company to obtain redress. At that point frustration may combine to dissatisfaction and result in aggressiveness and outrageous behavior on the part of the customer.

Marketing specialists are unanimous to say a firm should apologize and accept the responsibility. But doing so has also consequences for the employees. How would you feel, as a service employee, if you’d have to apologize and accept responsibility for complaints that are, in your eyes, not justified ? Most probably exhausted and less motivated.

Chris Zane, a famous American entrepreneur, offers a lesson in life that is mentioned in Berry and Seiders’s article “Serving unfair customers”.

A father was picking up a repaired bicycle for his daughter, who, without telling him, had approved the recommended replacement of both tires (a $40 service). Although the employee patiently and repeatedly explained that the purchase was approved and offered to further verify it, the customer made accusatory remarks and yelled at her angrily, saying at one point, “Either you think I’m stupid or you’re stupid. You’re trying to rip me off.” At that point, Chris Zane, the store’s owner, walked up to the customer and said, “I’m Chris Zane; get out of my store and tell all your friends!” After the customer wordlessly slapped $40 on the counter and stormed out, the besieged employee looked at Zane and asked “‘… and tell all your friends’?” Zane explained to her, and other employees who had gravitated to the front of the store, that he wanted it to be clear that he valued his employee infinitely more than a rude, belligerent customer. “I also explained that this was the first time I had ever thrown a customer out of the store and that I would not tolerate my employees being mistreated by anyone….”

Don’t you think this story is substantially different from Nordstrom’s motto “If we served you well, tell others. If we didn’t, tell us” ? Yet Nordstrom’s management style and Chris Zane’s are equally valuable.

The lesson Zane offers is that, as a manager, you should always balance the interests of the customers vs. the interests of the employees. Both are equally important and pursuing the “Customer is King” motto may lead to burn out and turnover. Aggressive customers are a source of stress and the correlation between their excessive behaviors and negative consequences on employees’ performances has been proved. You should therefore set limits that can’t be overcome and empower employees to enforce these limits.

After all we are all Human Beings, deserving respect, and buying a good doesn’t give the right to someone to treat badly another person.

If you want to learn further from Zane, have a look at the above video.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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