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Can you fire a customer when you work for someone else?

Copyright (c) 2006-2022

Have you ever been abused by a customer? Does your company have a policy clearly outlining how to handle the situation so you don't end up a punching bag? Discover a mind, body and spirit solution to managing this situation and maintaining your self-esteem.

My customer service etiquette was tested this week. I was given the details of a man who wanted to speak to "someone in charge". Unfortunately, the call centre representative passing on the message wasn't sure what it was about, only that he wanted to talk to someone about an email he received. When I called the customer he asked me if I had read the email. Of course, I had to clarify which of the thousands of emails sent to and from our company each day he was referring to and he identified a recent piece of marketing correspondence.

Once I had it front of me, he demanded, "Well, can you see a problem with it?" When I said "No" he huffed and referred me to a sentence that had the words "employee's time". He confidently advised me that there shouldn't be an apostrophe.

Initially I was dumbstruck that somebody would waste their time ringing up about an apostrophe, but once I regained my speech I politely advised him that I believed the wording was correct. It was the time belonging to the employee and therefore the apostrophe indicated a possessive noun.

Twenty minutes later there was no reasoning, no other issues and no winning. He accused me of not being able to see the error as it was an "Americanisation of grammar", I didn't realise America had its own apostrophe system. When I told him I wasn't from the U.S. he accused, "You've got an American accent!" The conversation continued its decline and he asked that the situation be escalated to the CEO as he, incorrectly, believed that an apostrophe was not supposed to be in an email.

Temporarily falling into little girl mode I thought, 'I'm going to get into trouble', which I thankfully realised was ridiculous.

I hung up feeling extremely frustrated. It was like being bound and gagged, as I believed I wasn't able to express myself because I was representing a company that I was consulting for and didn't own. What I really wanted to say was, "I'm going to end this conversation as we're not getting anywhere. I'm sorry if you believe the grammar is incorrect, but it's not, so let's agree to disagree and not waste any more of each other's time. Goodbye."

This guy was nothing compared to previous customer conversations I experienced when owning a plus-size fashion business with my best friend, Ivana. We held fashion parades throughout Sydney and one day I received a phone call from a woman complaining about one of our models. "I can't believe you let a size 26 woman on the catwalk. I was embarrassed for her as she strutted her stuff, looking so confident. She had rolls of fat, it was disgusting, I'm her size and I would never prance around like that looking so happy."

How do you respond to that? She was obviously displacing her insecurities onto our confident model and Ivana handled it perfectly, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but we're often commended for using beautiful women who represent all body sizes," she said.

It was overhearing Ivana's response that I learned "sorry" wasn't an apology, but a statement of understanding the complainer's feelings. Fortunately, Ivana had extensive experience in customer service ranging from: clients who loved her work as a web designer until they received the bill, to her stint as a customer service representative at a healthcare company where she took a call from a lady complaining how painful it was to remove her sanitary pad, the cause? She was sticking it to herself instead of her underpants. Or, how about the diabetic who complained that a sugar substitute she used to bake a cake caused her blood sugar levels to skyrocket. When they asked how many slices she ate, she admitted to eating the entire cake. She obviously forgot about the carbohydrate component.

As I gladly escalated the apostrophe issue it got me thinking, is it OK to accept unreasonable behaviour from a customer because you don't want to jeopardise the reputation of the firm you work for? If customers have legitimate complaints they have a right to be assertive, but not aggressive. I felt trapped because I wasn't clear on the company's policy for handling these situations, so in reality, I probably tolerated a lot more than was necessary.

Does your company have a policy that outlines when it's OK to say, "Enough is enough" and you know your actions will be supported?

What about those in frontline positions who may frequently deal with unreasonable people, you've got to ask, "How does this affect me psychologically and how can I avoid getting fired when protecting myself against clients I really want to tell to take a hike?"

Maltreatment should not be tolerated by organisations, so if there's no complaints handling policy, ask for one to be created that is fair to both the customer and employee. Remember, we may be workers, but we're not whipping boys (or girls)!

How to handle this situation

  • Mind

    You're frustrated, angry, hurt, insulted. You need to remember that a customer's unreasonable behaviour is about them, not you. They don't know you, you're just the person at the receiving end, it's not always fair, but you need to let it go. Take a moment to close your eyes and sit quietly. Start with three deep breaths and on the fourth breath out release the negative feelings and words that were a result of the unpleasant incident. On each breathe in imagine cleansing air coming into your body. Repeat this process until you feel lighter and less tense.

  • Body

    Attack creates tension, so it's important that you literally shake it off. The best thing is to get up and go for a walk. Make sure you don't dwell on the situation as the scenario deserves no more of your time. Put the whole thing in perspective - it's a beautiful day, children are laughing, birds are singing and there's more to life than one sourpuss.

  • Spirit

    You may be thinking, "Why do I get the nasty ones?" Consider the lesson in the experience. Did you learn not to take on others' emotions, did it give you the opportunity to practice assertiveness, or understand that 'sorry' doesn't always mean an apology, just that you're sorry they feel that way? Did it open your eyes to the way you give feedback? Are you a little more aggressive than necessary and, now that you've been on the receiving end, you're considering changing your approach in future?

    Gain strength from the situation.

    About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
    Belinda Crosbie is creating an inspiration epidemic that encourages people to abandon the rat race and pursue a motivating and fulfilling life. 'Escape the CHASM (TM)' is an initiative that invites you to ask probing questions and make choices with clear intent to create a rewarding and meaningful life. To find out more, subscribe to a FREE newsletter . Belinda holds a Bachelor degree in Psychology, Masters of Commerce in Marketing and a Higher Diploma of Advanced Freelance Journalism. She has been a business consultant and mentor for over 17 years.

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    Article Statistics
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    Total Views: 3215

    Article Rating: 2.08 of 5
    Votes Cast: 12

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    Last Distribution Date:
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    Internal ID: #3925

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