Customer Experience News & Trends

Customers behaving badly? 5 steps to civility

Customers have high expectations for you. Should you have any expectations for them?


“As providers trying to deliver a great experience to both external and internal customers, businesses need to identify what they want and don’t want their customers to do,” says Kate Zabriskie, a customer service strategist and President of Business Training Works, Inc.

You want customers to behave as professionally and respectfully toward your employees as you expect employees to act with them. One off-day or contact will happen. But repeated bad behavior needs to be addressed. If not, employees will become frustrated and not be able to deliver their best to all customers.

To deal with customers who regularly behave badly, Zabriskie suggests this five-step approach:

1. Audit

Look at your experience from your customers’ perspective so you can understand what happens to them before and during the experience. You might ask friends or family to run through your typical transactions and issues and get their insight. You could also work with mystery shoppers.

This will help you identify what triggers customers to behave badly.

2. Get customers’ insight

Customers will be more willing and likely to meet your expectations for good business behavior if you ask for their feedback.

Let them know the mutual benefit of giving feedback on expectations. If there had been problems, say something like this in a survey or one-on-one conversation, “We believe in being considerate and professional with our customers. We expect the same from them. What do you feel we can do to make sure employees and customers act this way in every situation?”

3. Encourage what you want

Identify the behaviors you want customers to practice with you the most. That way you can set them up to act in the ways you expect.

For instance, if you want customers to have their order number ready when they contact you (perhaps because you recognize that they get frustrated and become difficult with employees who ask for it), you might need to make that more obvious. Can you add a note to each order that says, “Keep this number handy so we can address your needs even faster”? Post similar messages on your website, social media pages and on your phone queue.

4. Discourage what you don’t want

Once you’ve set up customers to act in the ways you want, you can create a better experience by discouraging behavior that works against it.

You don’t want to give them opportunities or reasons to behave in a negative way. For example, to avoid frustration over finding order numbers, train employees to politely direct customers to the easiest way to find it (the most recent invoice, their account history, etc.) and maintain a system that allows orders to be pulled up with one bit of information such as an email address or delivery date.

5. Create alternatives

“Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, customers continue to behave in ways you don’t like,” Zabriskie says.

Some customers will never adopt your processes or agree to your practices. You can’t turn your operations upside down to please them (after all, they aren’t willing to bend for you), but you want to try to create some alternatives for them.

For example, if you have certain customers who expect answers but aren’t agreeable when asked for more information (such as order numbers), direct them to your customer portal and offer to walk them through using it. Or offer to set up regular email statements with the details they want.

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