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Nick Kennedy

Call Center Dilemma – When the Customer Isn’t Right

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canstockphoto21939409One of the most widely touted sales principles is that the customer is always right. There is certainly truth to this principle. Customers are vital to the success of every business.

However, businesses don’t operate in a perfect world, and call centers, in particular, can bring out less than stellar behavior in some customers. This begs the question. Are customers still right when they are doing wrong?

Many prominent business leaders have outwardly expressed that it’s their employees who come first even if it means letting some customers go. Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines clearly had this opinion, as stated in the book “Nuts!” which details the airline’s road to success.

“Customers are not always right,” says Kelleher. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’”

Abusers, Liars, and Thieves
In call centers, there are customer situations that challenge the concept of the customer always being right. Call centers can be frustrating for even patient, honest customers. Navigating through multiple prompts, waiting on hold, and having to repeat problems to a plethora of service representatives is a recipe for creating irate customers. While it is understandable and acceptable for customers to express frustration, they do not have the right to scream, swear, or put down polite support staff attempting to help them.

In cases of angry customers, the goal should be to try to defuse the frustration and troubleshoot the problem. In many cases, simply listening carefully to the problem and asking the right questions can get the conversation back on track.

If nothing seems to be calming down a verbally abusive customer, particularly if there’s a history of this behavior, it may be time to let him or her go. While every customer is valuable, one that is taking frustrations out on your service or sales team creates more loss than value.

Every call center will have an occasional customer who flies off the handle. However, if there is an upward trend in the number of shouting, angry conversations, it’s time to audit your processes, phone system, and team. One or more internal causes could be creating the frustrations. If this is the case, more training, increasing staff, or better technologies might be able to substantially reduce unnecessary call center drama.

Another sad but unfortunate reality is that some customers are simply dishonest. Whether it’s a shoplifter in a department store, a diner who puts a bug into a meal to avoid paying, or a caller who lodges a false complaint to score a discount, these customers are categorically in the wrong!

The “customer is always right” rule doesn’t apply when dishonesty is involved. Individuals who are trying to get something for nothing are, in fact, not customers at all. Once identified, they should be removed from your customer base swiftly to avoid further problems. If they have actually stolen merchandise or damaged your reputation, it may even be worth considering taking legal action against them.

Squeaky Wheels
Businesses that embrace the notion of the customer always being right set themselves up for customers to demand anything they want. Those who complain the loudest or disrupt the most end up getting better treatment than the nice customers who don’t expect the world.

Every business needs to develop policies and procedures for dealing with professional complainers, liars, and other undesirable customers. Time taken with a customer who can never be satisfied is time away from an honest, paying customer. When the return on investment doesn’t justify keeping the customer, it’s definitely time to let them go.

There are also other reasons to say goodbye to a customer. Employees want to be treated fairly and shown respect. By siding with a customer in the wrong, a service representative can feel devalued and unappreciated. This can lead to larger problems such as higher employee turnover, increased human resource costs, and even potential legal problems.

Balancing Customer Service with Employee Satisfaction
Happy employees will naturally provide better service to customers, and better service creates happy customers. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that works in business. By embracing the myopic concept of the customer always being right, the desire to provide great customer service cannot be fulfilled. When there is no check and balance for customers, the bad customers will become the focus, the good customers will be neglected, and service representatives will move on.

By businesses putting their service team first, they can in turn put their customers first.

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