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Marketing / Customer service

How to handle rude and unruly customers

The customer is always right. Isn’t that what we are told? But what happens if they are rude? Do you call them on it? Matt White questions if people are more demanding these days, and shares his tips for how to handle rude customers.

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I’ve been a soloist for almost ten years now and I think people have got a lot more aggressive and ruder in that time and I’m keen to know if others share my viewpoint? Are people ruder today then they were ten years ago? If so, do you inform abusive customers that they are wrong and that you don’t accept that kind of behaviour?

During my time, I have been verbally abused, and had my business and myself threatened.

In my opinion, the rise of social media and ease of using a smart phone has made it so much easier to have an opinion and hide behind a comment. I also believe that people are less patient, sometimes have unrealistic expectations, and are certainly not afraid of airing their views.

The most common disputes for my business centre around returning an item outside of our return policy or the non-delivery of items. As an online retailer reliant on third party delivery companies this aspect of my business is frustratingly out of my control.

The most common threat is a person saying that if we don’t do as they wish, they will go onto the internet and write a negative review.

I am not unsympathetic to a customer’s beliefs. I listen very carefully and am extremely considerate. We are renowned for good service and aim to treat everyone exactly as I would like to be treated myself.

Whilst I often struggle with the thought process of individuals who threaten companies with a negative review, I understand someone’s frustrations when for example a delivery does not get made.

I think people sometimes forget that when they buy from us and other small businesses they are usually buying from a family owned business. And as much as positive reviews can assist a business, a negative review can impede. We’ve been guilty in the past of bowing down to threats and giving in to a customer’s demands – even when we know we were legitimate in our position.

On some occasions where we have not succumbed to pressure and threats, we have received negative comments online. What I have learnt is to be very careful when addressing these remarks. The type of people I am talking about are just waiting for you to say the wrong thing before they unleash the attack dogs.

And sadly nine times out of 10 it’s always the company that gets the rougher deal. I’ve seen it myself on current affairs shows or read it online that when a business finally stands up to an unruly customer they come off much worse – when all they were trying to do was stand up for their rights.

I have had people try to return mattresses covered in urine or blood and then threaten legal action when I inform them that it is being returned to them as that is unacceptable and outside of our return policy. I think we are legitimate in these cases but it does not stop the threats. Someone wouldn’t return a pair of soccer boots to Rebel sports covered in mud or a pair of trousers to David Jones covered in grime.

Customers have excellent rights and I fully support them, but what about small businesses. What about our rights? In the times that I have dealt with Fair Trading I have found that they sit on the fence. Perhaps they can’t help. The ABC programme The Checkout, whilst an informative programme is very customer centric.

Large corporations have the resources, and a PR department, to weather storms. Soloists like ourselves, do not have that luxury. We are faced with dealing with the issue ourselves and worrying about the impact our actions might cause. Indeed larger businesses have the budget to absorb some loss, the impact on a small business can be detrimental.

As I write this article I am wondering whether there are other businesses out there having to deal with this issue. Whether they are often blackmailed, threatened and abused. And how they deal with it.

My tips for dealing with rude and unruly customers:

  1. Don’t respond with emotion, think carefully and respond always with fact
  2. Be empathetic, give the person you are speaking with the benefit of the doubt – you don’t know what else happened to them on that day
  3. Explain your position in a calm and controlled way, make the person understand the implications of their actions
  4. Have a bottom line and if it is reached don’t be afraid to call it. Remind the person that they are offending you and that you would like them to stop
  5. Don’t engage online

Finally, and most importantly, I know that in my business for every horrible person, I have over 100 nice people who I love dealing with. The calls and emails of gratitude I get from these people far outweigh the abuse I receive from the minority.

Have you ever been blackmailed, threatened and abused? How do you deal with it? Do you think people are ruder today then they once were?

Matthew White

is director of Ergoflex Australia, an online retailer of premium quality memory foam mattresses. As well as helping Australians get a better night's sleep, Matthew is a marketer, sleep blogger, father of four and home renovator.

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