Thursday, 19 November 2009

Being rude to a customer?

Well, this is one of those occasions when readers may agree or disagree with me and I have no idea. Comments welcome either way! It will be interesting to see what people think.

We have a customer who asked for a simple change of some details on her account. She provided very few details, not enough for our normal accounts staff to identify her, and certainly not enough to authenticate that she is really the customer. We asked for the account number as confirmation and she started getting cross saying we were being unnecessarily bureaucratic and that she did not have it. As it happens she then sent a separate email on a different ticket with a copy invoice but that was not being handled the the same person and so she was asked again for the account number. At no point did she actually simply state "my account number is A1234A" (for example) but eventually we got the details and made the changes for her.

Annoying, a bit of a communications breakdown, but at least it was all sorted, or so I thought.

She is now ranting about reporting us to a regulator, and eventually got past "the regulator we report to", OFCOM, and "the organisation that we report to that represents OFCOM", to the fact that there is an ombudsman she can take disputes to. Her gripe is that we (myself and accounts staff) were rude to her!

Well, I am not a person to ask about rude. I find it hard to tell when something is rude or not and am well known for sarcasm and tactlessness. I am, I think, blunt to put it tactfully! This is why it is best if complaints don't get as far as me :-) It has on previous occasions got positive responses from customers and defused complaints quite well. Not this time!

Well, what do you do? I have spoken to the staff and they seem to agree that in their personal opinion she is a pain in the arse and has a screw loose. She takes up a lot of time apparently. Well - they are entitled to their opinion aren't they and I'm not naming her! So I am sure our loyal customers would rather we did not waste resources on stupid complaints and queries that just go on and on, so I've decided to give her 30 days notice, as we can. Its a shame if a business relationship breaks down and I would rather not, but that's life.

Even so, she is still adamant about reporting us to OTELO for being rude. WTF?

To quote from my last email to her...
There is no point in taking a complaint like this to some "higher authority". This is not school. This is real life.

In real life people can be rude to other people and that is tough! Its a shame, but that is life. Sorry if this is a hard lesson for you.

What outcome do you think you could get by taking this matter to the ombudsman? Do you think we will be "dragged before the headmaster and told off". It does not work like that. We have a contract with you and we have adhered to that and so have you. That is all you can expect in life.

I believe your accusations are unfounded anyway, but that is beside the point. If we have been rude - so what? You were very rude to my staff in your emails for no good reason, so I suggest you take a life lesson here and drop it!
Anyway, I have provided her with a migration code, which technically we don't have to do if there is a pending cease on the line. I've also asked OTELO to confirm they don't consider complaints of being "rude". Basically such a complaint cannot realistically go anywhere. What could OTELO do. Rude is not technically wrong is it, in any legal sense? The most that she could ask for is an apology and as OTELO costs us either way why would I give one?

Did I do bad?

BTW I think this is the first customer I have actually sacked in over 12 years of trading!


  1. Good for you Revk. I'm with you on this.
    I think it must have been a customer that came up with "The customer is always right". Being on the other side, I think many would agree, the customer is _not_ always right. More often they are just out for a free ride and will shout and wave their arms about to attract attention to aid thier cause.
    I have told customers where to go, In fact I remember many years ago while working as a restaurant manager, i guided a couple out to a picnic table after the 3rd time of moaning that the table they had been given wasn't good enough. When they questioned why I had shown them to a table outside I simply replied, "You have the mannors of pigs, welcome to where we feed them." Sadly I got sacked after that.

  2. Tell her to goto BT and get F***ed over by professionals...

  3. I got as far as the threat to report you to the regulator for being rude to her and dissolved in laughter. She thinks the regulator has powers to prevent people being rude to her?!

    (She thinks the regulator will care? Given what Oftel used to be like, I'd be surprised if the regulator lifted a finger if you were *feeding* on the customers, let alone being rude to them!)

    I suspect this is someone with a sense of entitlement and a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, whose attitude is that people she's paying are servants now, certainly not people whose feelings you should consider or who might be rude to you if you were rude to them. I've had to deal with customers like that and have often wished I could shoot them, not merely sack them.

    (The most laughable case I've encountered: a huge banking organisation which shall remain nameless but has been in the news a lot recently, which sent a formal complaint to my boss^3 because I'd told them that our (big financial) system couldn't handle currencies with two million decimal places, and that furthermore neither could anybody else's because the very idea was silly. Apparently the word 'silly' is deeply offensive, and it is also offensive to be told that the system they'd bought couldn't do something: it's not 'thinking positive'. I wonder if he'd have preferred me to lie?)

  4. I personally share the following views on customer service - point 5 would seem the most fitting here:

  5. OK, read that, and it is interesting. It makes some good points, but there are areas where I definitely do not agree.

    On the complaint of being rude - that can and has happened. As has complaints of staff being unhelpful. And yes, we do apologise and explain that we'll review it with the staff and do better in future. We do review the call recordings and emails and try to improve the way staff communicate. I have even on occasion gone back to someone to try and understand why they have a perception of being unhelpful - asking them what they thing should have been said. This case was somewhat different - I did review the email in question and the accusation was not at all in the spirit of trying to be helpful it was an argument for the sake of it. My initial responses were to try and calmly explain the need to authentication not just identify a customer. The problem is that the customer just wanted an argument regardless, dismissed apologies and persisted. Its a shame.

    As for the other points, the idea of blowing in to the connector is one I really do not agree with. If we tried that we would have a lecture on connector design and how the contact area is wiped on insertion and how dust ingress would not possibly be the cause and how blowing would introduce more contaminants such as slightly corrosive spit, and so on. It would be insulting to their intelligent and patronising. It would damage our credibility and reputation for honesty as well. The issue is still there - even a smart person can forget to plug something in, so you make have to ask but you can make it a bit of a joke "I know it is a totally dumb question, but you are sure its plugged in", and "humour me for a minute"... and so on. That usually defuses the situation. Its not saying "you're an idiot", its saying "these things happen" and being nice about it.

  6. Oh, and yes my response to your comment Paul does sound like me having a go at an old lady. I hope you don't see it like that - your views are helpful and it has made me think...

  7. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them have a chip on their shoulder and enjoy spouting big words like "ombudsman" and "regulator" and "contract". I laugh when an individual tries to act big and threaten to take their contract etc. elsewhere.

    I call it "furrowed brow syndrome".

  8. Andrews and Arnold are without doubt (in my opinion) the greatest ISP in the world and I myself have had similar experiences with customers who have displayed the same degree of unreasonableness however, I have to say that under no circumstances would I ever speak to anyone, let alone a customer in that way. In my opinion and without prejudice it appears to be almost going down to her level.

    To some extent it has to be said (and this is a generalisation) that one of the areas you could improve upon is communication skills however, like I have said AAISP are the greatest and if this is the only area which lets them down slightly then it doesn't concern me as for the most part my clients never have a need to speak to you so it is not an issue.

    Just my opinion anyway.......

  9. I would stress that my initial emails were much more politically correct that the final one quoted above.

  10. Many years ago I worked for a shop selling televisions, we also had a service department. One Saturday at 17:25 (bearing in mind the shop shut at 17:30) a woman called up claiming that her TV had broken and could she have an engineer out immediately as all she had as a spare was a small portable TV? I politely informed her that the engineer had left for the day and the earliest we could get him there would be Monday morning first thing.

    At this point I was subjected to a tirade of abuse and foul language for 5 minutes until she finally asked me "what the f*ck am I supposed to do all weekend you idiot"? to which I simply replied.... "read a good book" and put the phone down.

    She complained about me and said she had never been so insulted and even tried to get me sacked but I didn't care because that was my final day working there anyway.

    Customers eh? :-)

  11. Adrian,

    See -

    Nuff said :)