Hey Customer: Stop Treating Me Like a Jerk
December 19, 2017

Hey Customer: Stop Treating Me Like a Jerk

by Brian de Haaff

Angry customers. I have encountered a few. And I bet you have too — even if it was just in passing. Have you ever overheard a customer ranting at their waiter about a meal? Walked into a store while a rage-filled return was in progress? The reason for this anger is usually not whatever the customer is yelling about. The core issue typically stems from something that happened earlier in the day and not feeling valued. The frustration is simply redirected. Unfortunately.

And at one point in your life, that angry customer was you. It happens. At your job, this unpleasant scenario often plays out between customers and their “vendors.”

Maybe you let sarcasm get the best of you and fired off a snippy reply to an unsatisfactory support email. Maybe you even lashed out over the phone about a glitch in some software you depend on. It is okay — you can admit it.

I think most people have been guilty of this frustration-turned-anger at one time or another. It would be more troubling if you never got riled up about anything. But whether it was a full-blown “Hulk smash” or just a pointed comment, I can guess what prompted it and how the interaction ended.

It usually goes like this: Something breaks or you do not know how to use it and you reached out for help and were unsatisfied with the results. You felt thwarted by the company and could not see a positive outcome. So in a rage, you fought back with only leverage you had left. “I will cancel and go find another vendor.”

Why do we behave this way? It is a question worth exploring — both so you can be a better customer and so you can handle your own angry ones.

Here are four common reasons for bad customer behavior (including ours and yours):

Entitled cliche “The customer is always right.” Maybe it is time to retire this cliche. I have said it before: If every customer is number one, then no one is. Customers believe they have the power in the relationship since they are the ones paying for the product or service. This belief is baked into all their interactions with service providers — a free pass to misbehave.

Hidden faces Often when people reach out for help, it is not face-to-face. Questions and complaints are usually sent via semi-anonymous technology — phone, instant message, email. It is easy for customers to hurl complaints when they are hiding behind this perceived cloak of invisibility. And it is even easier to think of the person trying to assist as less than human, some kind of automated help-bot.

Escalation hopes “Can I speak to your manager?” This is the motto of the angry customer. They ask this because they believe that they are talking to someone who has no authority to help. (This is often a false belief.) So, they pull the manager card — thinking it will lead to an “escalation” to someone who has more power. Maybe it has worked once or twice before, but trying to hopscotch to the next level of support does not always have the hoped-for effect.

Bad days Everyone has the occasional bad day and this can bring out the worst kind of behavior. Lack of sleep, family stress, or just plain old grumpiness. So, when a customer blows up, it might not really be about the product issue or service — it might be a manifestation of their own personal issues. Who knows, maybe a customer treated them badly that day too.

Yes, customers should be a priority — but that does not give anyone the right to behave like a boorish jerk.

Thankfully, our team at Aha! does not have to deal with angry customers very often. Perhaps this is because we do our best to demonstrate kindness and transparency. The philosophy is part of our core DNA and we treat everyone with respect. We have been fortunate that people almost always return in kind. However, perfection is impossible and we are not immune to the occasional rage-filled email. And we rarely (but sometimes) deserve it.

When it happens, we try to make a positive move forward. And that starts with understanding the “why” behind the reaction. This is the best way to handle — stay calm and focus on how you can best address the real issue. If we cannot, we are transparent and do not try to hide when things go wrong.

Understanding what we did to upset someone helps us bring more kindness and respect into our interactions — not just with our customers, but with our vendors too.

What do you think is the real cause of rude customer behavior?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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