Estimated reading time: 3 mins
“The customer is always right” they used to say. And in some workplaces, this is still sacrosanct. But when is a fight with a customer OK?
You might be told that it is never OK to fight with a customer. This stems from attitudes of yesteryear, when customers were from a social class higher than uneducated, ten-a-penny staff. In today’s knowledge-economies, does this still have a place?
The Employee is Always Wrong…
This old-fashioned thinking assumed the customer was right, and therefore the employee was wrong. No matter what. Pompous customers and desperate business owners colluded in this fallacy. New staff could be recruited off the street – as simply as a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. So why not think this way?
In modern business environments, where discrimination laws, regulation and social media put pressure on who a business owner employs and how they are treated, employers should ask themselves this: who is more valuable to my business…
- A customer who spends money?
- Or an employee who creates the value?
The truth is, who knows? But the point is that both customer and employer are valuable, so the old cliche doesn’t stand up. Staff are no longer be treated as slave-cum-punchbag. Staff are expensive to recruit, and the process is complex. They’re also expensive to train up. Most of all, it’s expensive when they leave, as employers have to go through the process again. So if a customer and employee are in a fight, it’s no longer acceptable to side with the customer without question.
So what’s the fight about?
This doesn’t excuse aggressive staff, in the same way that it doesn’t excuse aggressive customers. People should treat each other like… well.. people. No matter what side of the counter they stand.
When a fight kicks off between customer and employee, how should it be resolved?
If a customer is simply being an aggressive a*****e, and upsetting staff, then an assertive response is justified – employees should feel empowered to stand their ground and act in self-defence. Employers must show loyalty to staff in these circumstances. Employers who don’t heed this risk losing the respect of their staff – even losing them. If my boss didn’t stand up for me when a customer became hostile towards me, I’d be pissed off and look for my next gig.
If a customer is arguing because of a dispute about a product or service, then there could well be two sides to the situation – and both must be heard out. If a product or service is defective, then its a problem for the employer. The employee must stop arguing, and escalate the issue to a manager.
If a customer is upset, then arguing isn’t going to help. Employees must be trained to deal with these situations, by calming the customer down and listening to their problems until it is understood and a solution can be put in place (even if it is a case of “I am very sorry, we can’t help you.”
When a customer is just wrong. Some customers think they know everything, or at least more than the employee they’re addressing. It’s an awkward situation, but an argument isn’t the way to deal with it as there is a risk of the discourse escalating. A heated exchange is not justified and the customer should be advised to exercise any rights they have in resolving any provable dispute. But they’re not right.
If you can avoid an argument, avoid one. In some cases, a ‘robust’ response is well justified. Hostility, under any circumstances, is unacceptable and customers must be made to leave with their tail between their legs!