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Is it OK to argue with a customer?

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…

  1. A customer who spends money?
  2. 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.

In summary

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!

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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

2 Comments

  1. Nicky

    I just had a huge argument with a customer, which was passed on from another colleague. They were aggressive from the start, so it all started of when they asked my manager for the wifi password, which he refused to give because we cant guve it to customers. Then one of my colleagues to me to finish the transaction for him, so I was taking their details down for warranty purposes. She gave me her work address instead, so I told her that this is for the warranty and she replied saying “yeah so”. Then she asked a question asking if a touch screen laptop needs a mouse, then I said “probably” (I know I could explain it better but who would ask that question in a first place). Then the other lady who was the rudest one said “what’s probably”, I replied “it’s touchscreen and has a touch pad, you don’t have to have a mouse if you don’t want to”. I continued on finishing the transaction, the 2nd lady was mumbling and saying that my customer service sucks, and ever since they came to the store we weren’t helpful of them. I turned around and said I’m sorry, and here she comes and said she’s not a parrot and doesn’t need to repeat herself. So I said “okay you don’t have to be rude”. From then on it escalated and they were just abusing and shouting at me, so I called one of the team leaders and said to him I don’t want to serve them anymore, then they said “we don’t want you to”. So I walked away and shook my head and they got angry at me again for shaking my head. I couldn’t control my anger and said in what ways did I do anything wrong, they didn’t give me an answer and said when we’re they even rude to me (umm since the start) my manager told me to step aside and I walked away from all of it and let my manager handle it. But then I was still hearing them shout, curse and swear at me. I don’t know what happened at the end of it since I left the shop floor. I’m the type of person who won’t get bullied for no apparent reason, Im the type of person who can’t control their anger, if they get rude to me I get rude back. I know it says “customers are always right” but who wants to be abuse even though you did nothing wrong.

     
    • Simon

      You don’t have to take abuse. The customer isn’t always right. I think you did the right thing about getting your team leader involved and then walking away. It’s not your fault this particular customer was an a*****e. Don’t take it personally- this chump is probably like that with everyone

       

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