Customers Aren’t Always Right: Courageous Leaders Need to Be

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I love serving customers and helping businesses create loyalty-building customer experiences.

HOWEVER, service does not mean customers should be given the power to ABUSE those that serve them. It is one thing to be customer-centric (striving to build customer loyalty by helping your people, processes, and technology deliver customer engagement) and quite another thing to let your people become customer doormats.

Recently, I watched a skilled and respectful waiter get repeatedly verbally abused by a customer during dinner without a manager coming to his aid or buffering the barrage.

Having been mentored by the father of the modern-day Ritz-Carlton Hotel company, Horst Schulze, I learned long ago that service professionalism and servitude should not be confused. Customers are not always right and when they wrongly mistreat your staff they should become former customers!

Service professionals certainly need skills to manage angry customers. Here are a few I’ve found most useful when people are upset and agitated:

  • Use a calming voice
  • Attempt to bring their complaint away from a public audience
  • Express an interest in hearing them out
  • Let them vent without interruption
  • Accept responsibility as appropriate (apologize)
  • As they wind down, attempt to focus on solutions asking them what they need to achieve fair resolution

If used effectively those skills will defuse most disgruntled customers. Unfortunately, there are people who will go well beyond anger and treat your team members in hostile, verbally abusive, and physically menacing ways.

Leadership must intervene when customers seek to:

  • Manipulate
  • Demean
  • Intimidate
  • Persistently Swear
  • Personalize comments
  • Threaten
  • Invade Personal Space
  • Make Offensive Gestures
  • And the list goes on….

Leadership requires difficult choices and while it might have seemed to the restaurant manager in the situation that I observed that he was doing the right thing to not confront the customer…he was wrong. That manager likely lost the respect and maybe the service of that employee and he certainly lost my business. Who knows how many other people were affected.

I guess the good news is that the restaurant likely retained the abusive customer to visit them another day. Courage to do what is right is the hallmark of leadership and it must be demonstrated when customers cross the line from anger to abuse.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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