Let me start this article off by saying I am going to be extremely bias on this subject. Why?
1) I’ve worked in retail for nearly 5 years
2) I was recently let go from my longest held job as recently as yesterday
3) because it really didn’t take me getting fired to want to talk about this and it seriously needs to be addressed
There are obviously two sides to this conversation. There’s the Customers’ point of view and there’s the Employees’ point of view. The third point of view that I’m going to add in here is the Companies’ point of view, but we’ll get to that later.
Let’s start with the Customers. As a customer, when you walk into a store you’re looking to buy a product or procure a service. In most stores, as soon as you walk in the door you’re greeted by an employee. There have been plenty of studies that say a majority of customers like to be greeted when they walk into an establishment (I am not one of those people). It eases the tension and relaxes them, especially if it is their first time visiting that store. Customers also expect to be able to rely on employees for information should they have questions or need assistance, as they should.
Employees are trained in the ways of their business and are mostly expected to know the basics of how things work, gaining on the job knowledge as time goes on. Should an employee run into trouble it is expected that they would ask a senior employee (Supervisor or Assistant Manager) for help if they feel they cannot fully assist a customer. Employees know that they will be expected to deal with difficult customers in numerous ways, but they are also expected to abide by the company rules all while maintaining a positive and helpful attitude.
Business Owners and General Managers expect you to be able to properly do your job as you’ve been trained and to always follow the rules. There are rarely (if any) exceptions to company rules. Your guideline for dealing with customers is that old adage “The Customer is always right”. You are there to serve the customer and the company. That’s it.
Five months ago, I wrote an article titled "The Customer is NEVER Right". And they aren’t. It’s a simple fact. Unless they work for the same/similar company, they don’t/won’t know the policies or procedures as well as an employee does. Customers expect Employees to help them no matter what their problem.
Of course the issue here is when dealing with difficult customers. Difficult customers often refuse to back down or get angry at a company’s policies and want something immediately done. Most times, they place all their immediate anger on the present employee. They want their issues resolved whether or not it was their fault or the company’s. Sometimes, when a company will go out of their way to satisfy a customer by giving a credit of some kind to appease them, the customer still wants their issue to be resolved then and there. These are impossible customers. Unfortunately, no matter what the outcome, the employee in nearly every situation will come away either chastised by their employer or demoralized by the customer’s harsh words.
Why does the Employee nearly always come out bad? Because of that popular belief that Customer Service means “You do whatever I tell you”. If you know anyone that has worked in retail, they probably have countless horror stories of Customers who shouted at them, used vulgar language, were unwilling to listen to what you [the Employee] was telling them, and/or worst of all: personally insulted them while they were trying to help. In the eyes of the company, you’re feelings don’t particularly matter. What they want is for that customer to walk away satisfied and hopefully return so they don’t lose business. The Employee can’t retaliate to a Customer’s personal insult without risking termination
This must change. Company’s must recognize that their Employees are people too and that they have a right to react when they are insulted. I recently lost my job because I responded inappropriately to a customer. I did so because I was personally insulted twice and I stated so in my statement later that night, accepting full responsibilities for my actions. In the end, it didn’t matter. I’d violated the Employee handbook when it came to inappropriate language with a customer. But let’s ignore that I got fired for a similar situation. Let’s use a hypothetical one.
The Company is Quill. They’re a large producer of custom stationary and are fairly popular across the nation. They’re known for having great product and excellent in-store customer service. It’s Graduation season and Quill is very busy with the large number of orders they’re getting for custom stationary from Students wanting to send out announcements.
Employee Jane has been busily hand wrapping packages to be sent out all day as she watches the front register. All other employees, including her Supervisor and Manager, are in the back fulfilling other orders. Customer Candice comes in visibly upset. Jane greets her and asks “How can I help you?”.
Candice replies tersely “I need someone to fix my order. You messed up everything”. Jane apologizes and asks Candice if she has her receipt. Candice replies “I don’t have the receipt. I just need you to fix my order”. Seeing that Candice is very upset that her order is wrong, Jane patiently asks for Candice’s email or phone number so that she can look up her order and see what need’s to be fixed. Candice replies “Well I didn’t place the order, my daughter did. I don’t know what she used”. This gives Jane pause as she wonders how she can help.
It’s against company policy to edit a customer’s order without consent or order information. Jane begins to explain “Unfortunately I won’t be able to find your daughter’s order without her information or change anything today, but if you’d like you can tell me what she’d like changed and we can go from there”.
This angers Candice even more who then asks “What do you mean you can’t do anything today? I’m here right now”
Jane nods and responds “I understand, but because you didn’t place the order I can’t actually alter the order. But I can still advise you on how to go about changing the order if you give me her name”.
Candice gives Jane her daughter’s name. Jane looks up the order and easily finds it in the system. Without giving any specifics, Jane describes the order and asks if that sounds right. Candice says yes and then proceeds to pull out the actual announcements from her purse and sets them on the counter. “Oh, I didn’t realize the order had already been fulfilled" Jane says and quickly apologizes "I’m sorry. I should have asked that first. The most we can do is give a refund in this situation”.
Candice responds that she doesn’t want a refund. “God, is there nothing you can do right the first time?”.
Jane responds “I understand that you’re upset, but I can give you our information to give to your daughter so we can do a refund. If you want to tell me what was wrong I can still walk you through that process right now”.
Candice is very angry now and slams her hand on the table saying “I don’t want a refund! Why can’t you understand that?!”
Jane is jolted now, but keeps her calm and offers “If want, you can speak with my Supervisor and he can explain the situation better but—”
“No, I want you to fix this now!”
“Well the most I can—”
“Are you so incompetent that all you know how to do is talk? This is ridiculous. You’re supposed to be helping me, not stand here and push buttons all day”
Candice’s comments have deeply offended Jane, but she can’t respond to such criticism because she knows it will reflect badly on the company. Again, Jane attempts to offer help “I’m sorry for the inconvenience. Here’s all of our information for you to give your daughter" and Jane places the company’s business card along with a copy of the company’s refund policy and exchange procedures on the counter in front of Candice "You can tell me what was wrong with her order and if you’d like we can place a new order right now. But I won’t be able to change your daughter’s order because it’s already been fulfilled and she’s not here in person. The most we can do is give her a refund”
“This is fucking ridiculous. You should be ashamed of yourself. Is this how you treat everyone who comes in here asking for help? You just run them around in circles until they leave?”
“Ma’am I can’t—”
“Why can’t you just fix the problem? You’re a horrible person for treating me this way”
“There is nothing I can do because it’s not your order!" Jane responds in a raised voice. In Jane’s head, not only has she been trying to help a difficult customer while trying to stand by her company’s policies, she’s also been personally offended multiple times. Unfortunately, this was where her Manager came to the front due to the raised voices.
The Manager asks if there is a problem. Before Jane can respond, Candice cuts her off and begins shouting at the Manager about getting some actual help. The Manager takes over while Jane waits and goes through the same process from beginning to end. After going over Quill’s policies regarding customer transactions and their refund and exchange procedures, Candice leaves dissatisfied with her service having insulted both Jane and her Manager and vowing never to return, adding that she will advise her daughter to do the same.
Not only was the Customer dissatisfied, but Quill has presumably lost business. After having another Employee take over at the front register, Jane is written up and her remaining shifts taken away for the rest of the week. When Jane asks why she is being written up when her Manager went through the exact same process as her, he tells her she violated the handbook by responding inappropriately to a customer. Even after Jane goes over everything with her Manager from Candice’s attitude to what she said, her Manager must still write her up. When Candice responds that it’s unfair and that she was very clearly insulted, the Manager allows her to write up a statement that he can keep on file, but says there’s nothing protecting hurt feelings. That Jane is employed by Quill to present her best face at all times, even if a customer is being extremely difficult.
This is the case with most Customer/Employee incidents in the retail/customer service world. Unless Jane’s interaction with Candice managed to somehow go viral, there’s no other outcome as to how this would have gone down. Not to say that the Manager was in the wrong. He was doing what is his company’s policy by writing Jane up. Jane violated the employee handbook by responding so to Candice. It’s not to say that Jane dislikes her boss for writing her up when she was obviously hurt or that her Manager did not feel sorry for her having to deal with such a difficult customer. Still, Jane’s write up is the common practice.
In most Employee Handbooks , an Employee’s rights are addressed if they feel they’ve been mistreated or unfairly singled out, but usually that applies only to fellow employees and the companies themselves, not to Customers. The mistreatment or personal insult by a Customer to an Employee is hardly taken into consideration because the company does not have control over the Customer. An Employee is expected to do their job properly while abiding policy. If they can’t, they can easily be terminated.
There are countless stories of people being fired for much less than what Jane said to Candice. One of the most recent stories was of a woman fired for giving a homeless man coffee. She felt sorry for the man in the freezing weather so she gave him a free coffee (worth only $1). Sometimes your Managers come to your aide and overlook a few things, but not every Manager is that way, and not every Customer compliant.
We’ve all been a bad Customer at some point for some reason or another, but every once in a while I personally stop to think, is my grievance with the company or this particular person helping me. Sometimes I catch myself and I’ll acknowledge that it was my mistake and it’s not their fault. Other times, I do get really bad customer service that I can’t believe is permissible. I’ve even wondered how some of my past co-workers manage to stay employed at their jobs who did the bare minimum to even be considered “working” and were about as helpful as a rock.
I suppose the main point of this article is that Company’s need to figure out some system that take’s into account their Employees feelings and overall well being (and not just say that’s up to the Human Resources department because they basically repeat what the handbook says). And the public needs to stop thinking they’re entitled to treat Customer Service Representatives however they want because “that’s what they’re paid for”. No, they are not. Customer Service Representatives are there to help you with whatever service/product you need and answer your questions, not meet your every demand. They have rules they have to follow and in most cases simply cannot fill impossible request such as Candice’s issue with getting her daughter’s order revised. You don’t provide proper information, you don’t get service, simple as that. It’s like going to a movie theater and demanding to see a movie without paying for a ticket. You won’t get in; simple as that.
Customer Service Representatives are not trash. They are not your personal servants for you to spew your anger at. The majority of them work long hours with extremely low pay and little incentive to do well in the first place. Give them a break and maybe read your receipt and book on social etiquette
The difference between PR and Marketing comes down to what each performs for — I’M ALLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIVVVVEE!!!!!!!! — it’s clients.My Brain on Red Bull