Rude customers, smile and nod or stand up to them?

(21 /09 /2015)

Every industry deals with them.  They affect business and other customers alike.  And although there are plenty of books on the market, there’s no manual to describe how to handle them in real life!  I’m talking about rude customers – those who raise their voice, swear or turn to social media to vent their rage.  They make life difficult for everyone who has the misfortune of running into them but I think the hospitality industry in particular has much to lose in the fall-out.   I thought it time to share some war stories and tips for dealing with this most joy-less group of people!

Rude customers come in all shapes and sizes – that well-dressed business man, the earth mother who looks so relaxed and friendly, even the little old lady who reminds you of your grandma.  They may just be having a bad day or maybe you or your staff really did something that warrants a terse word or two, but it’s how you deal with them and the situation that will determine what happens next.

Here’s a scenario – the customer orders a flat white without sugar, staff serve him a cappuccino with sugar, the customer loses the plot and loudly berates the barista for her incompetence before demanding a new coffee and some sort of compensation.  What would you do here?  Yell back?  Ask the customer to leave?  Walk away?

Swearing at staff is absolutely unacceptable and should a customer start swearing, the manager needs to step in quickly to protect the employee but must do so in a professional way.  Raised voices don’t just affect you and your staff – other customers, including children, are subjected to what could be very offensive language.  Yelling back is not the answer.  Speaking to the annoyed customer in a quiet but authoritative manner perhaps away from other customers to determine their concerns should be attempted.  Providing an apology, an explanation and perhaps a “coffee on the house”, if you’re feeling particularly generous, should be enough to alleviate the situation and get the customer back on their merry way.  Bear in mind though, that safety is paramount so each situation needs to be assessed individually.

It’s not just in the workplace that we have to deal with unpleasantness.  Living in an era of social media means you often have to deal with rude customers on-line and as we have seen plenty of times, social media comments can go viral very, very quickly.  So do you respond to the customer’s comments in the public forum?  Try to contact them to sort out the issue privately?  What’s the best way of dealing with this scenario?

I know of a number of hospitality businesses that have tried to communicate with upset customers online but after being unsuccessful and subsequently trolled, have simply shut down their social media accounts.  Sadly, this can have a detrimental impact on their business – many potential customers turn to social media for recommendations and if they can’t find the information they’re after, the café or restaurant may lose that business.  On the flip side though, if you do have a social media page that has been trolled by one or two rude people then this can also impact negatively on future business.

So what’s the solution to rude customers?  Speaking kindly, trying to fix the problem as quickly as possible, apologising for perceived mistakes, not getting caught up in a slinging match particularly online, I think are the basics for working with an upset customer.  Are there other techniques that you’ve used and if so, what did and didn’t work?  I’d love to hear your stories as this is definitely an area where there’s no right answer!

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