The True Cost of Rudeness

by Mr. Cheap

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I’m often struck by how rude people in customer service positions are.  I understand when people say “they have a tough job and they get fed up with it just like anyone else”, but ultimately if it’s the ENTIRE point of someone’s job to interact with the public, shouldn’t they stay nice (or at the very least neutral)?

Bell is AWFUL as a company, and the worst experience I had was when no one showed up for a scheduled installation, I called their customer support and a mouthy representative kept obnoxiously telling me that it wasn’t in his computer system, so the best he could do was treat me like a brand new customer and schedule an installation 2 weeks later.  I finally had had enough of him, asked for a supervisor, and he refused!  Smoke was coming out of my ears at that point.  There are *SO* many reasons to hate Bell, but this one incident always comes to mind when I think of the company.  I suspect that the true cost of lost business is not realized by companies when a customer is treated rudely and never returns.

I ate at a local buffet restaurant this week, and was left standing at the door while one waitress told me to wait and then went to fill up water glasses (she continued to be abrupt with me throughout the meal) and the owner shoveled food down her throat and stared at me like I was some kind of science experiment.  Most of the food items in the buffet line were left empty while I was eating and I was left standing at the till waiting to pay.  At the end when I didn’t tip, the waitress looked at my credit card receipt, huffed and stormed off.  I’m never eating at this restaurant again.

I’ve gotten the MBNA Mastercard that Henry recommended and I LOVE it!  There was a problem with my first payment and I called up to ask them to reverse the fees and interest that was charged.  Ultimately I was at fault, so I would have been fine if they didn’t reverse them (but they did, thanks MBNA!).  The woman who reversed them was quite rude to me however, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of doing something nice for a customer (“We’ll give you a refund to ensure your loyalty, but I want you to know that I hate you SO MUCH.”)  All the work that was put into offering an outstanding card to the Canadian public was undermined by one rep having a bad day.

I get that no business WANTS their employees to be rude.  I think they turn a blind eye to it to a self-destructive degree.

I was out for coffee with some friends, all of whom had worked in customer service.  They related, with great mirth, stories of pretending to be one another’s supervisor for angry customers and how they would provide (or deny) services based on how nice the customer was to them.  Apparently it has gotten to the point that instead of reps behaving professionally to us, we have to suck up to them to get them to do their jobs.

For better or worse, customer service reps are the face of a company that the public interacts with.  It’s difficult for us to distinguish between one employee mistreating us and the company mistreating us.  I think the only way businesses get away with this is that it’s so pervasive that customers don’t have any alternative.  When it’s possible and an employee has been particularly unpleasant to me, I try my best to shop elsewhere.  Often I run out of companies to do business with.  If one company could keep their reps providing a consistent experience, eventually they would get all the customers like me.

One way I think a business should deal with this is to invest time, as part of the training, in the proper way to interact with customers.  Go through, in detail, what is an appropriate reaction and what isn’t.  After the training when the employee is working, monitor this interaction and correct them as soon as possible after they’ve been rude to a customer.  If a restaurant takes the attitude “Oh-well, she may be rude to customers but at least she shows up on time for work…” I think there’s a long term trend, as more customers get turned off, that will accumulate and become VERY harmful.  It’s kind of like reverse marketing, instead of getting new customers, you lose existing ones.

I watched a documentary Up The Yangtze (it’s great if you get the chance to see it) and there was one scene that showed how the cruise ship trained its staff to interact with Canadians.  I had a good laugh when they were told not to tell Canadians they’re fat or talk about Quebec.  Many workers in Canada would be offended if part of their training was interpersonal instruction that is this specific, but from my  shopping experiences it’s necessary!

I realize complaining about poor manners is more a sign that I’m getting old than anything.  So if nothing can be done about customer service reps, at least get those damn teenagers off of my lawn!!!

What sort of rude experiences have you had dealing with businesses?  Do you think putting up with it is just a part of modern living or can something be done?  What are your thoughts on “kids these days”?

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Balance Junkie

I agree with your assessment of Bell. We have had numerous problems with them over the years and we are no longer customers. We would rather pay more than deal with them.

With regard to customer service, I’ve found lately that phone reps seem very highly trained – so much so that they sometimes have a hard time responding to an informal comment. Their responses seem highly scripted, and I guess that makes sense since apparently all “calls may be recorded to ensure customer satisfaction”.

I guess I would rather have a robotic customer service agent than a rude one, so maybe that training is working.

2 Mr. Cheap

Balance Junkie: Yes, that would be my preference too. Glad to hear you’ve had a better experience than I have!

3 Trevor

I was put on hold multiple times by my cell phone provider, Virgin. I was livid, so found them on facebook and posted a complaint which was responded to almost immediately. I have a friend who has ongoing problems with Rogers that he resolves by calling the president’s office.

Unfortuante that we have to use these ‘hacks’ to get reasonable service.

I live in Toronto and the waitstaff can be laughably bad, but usually the people I’m with will insist on tipping, as if there are cameras on them monitoring their every move.

4 WealthWebGurus.com

During the boom, bad service has been very common here in Alberta to the point where you kind of expect it (Sad but true). Although things have gotten better with the slowdown, it’s still common to find employees give bad service but employers tolerate it as they argue they have no choice.

What I do remember, however is the moments where you get exceptional service like just today at the local McDonald’s buying a coffee for a buck fifty. I left the drive through with a smile. I think companies that get it will train employees about customer service. Consumers have power and service providers like Bell should recognize this. They exist because of the customer. Thanks for the post! I’m still smiling!

5 AnnieA

Re: fat Canadians — a friend in Vietnam said the dressmakers feel free to make comments about a customer’s appearance. NOT a selling point!

P.S. I hate Telus and it’s worse KNOWING that they’ve had customer service training.

6 zud

I had a terrible service incidence with Vancity, a local credit union in the Great Vancouver area. This company is rated highly as a good place to work, environmental, community involvement etc… and for the most part I’ve had good service.

I had followed their instructions to have a service added to my account, but the rep did not make note of it in my account. I actually had to do this twice and still the tellers had no idea. The frustrating part was the attitude of “my hands are tied, my manager won’t let me process this, You the customer needs to fix this, etc..etc..”

Good customer service is about focussing on “what can I do to help you?” “Did my company screw up? Let me see if I can make a call for you and make this right”

There is just too much pass the buck sometimes and “that’s not my job” attitude.

7 Leslie

Bell. I have so many stories about Bell, both from when I was working setting up new offices for my previous employer and personally–companies who have a customer service department really should have the Sr VP call in to see how bad it is. Two stellar Bell incidents: (1) relocating an office across town in another city, despite an earlier conversation with a business customer service rep confirming we could port our phone numbers to the new location, when the actual install was done we discovered the old numbers had been disconnected and we’d been given new numbers. Of course Bell didn’t tell me this; you can imagine how um, dismayed I was when I discovered this. This particular dumb move was fixed, but there were others over the years. (2) I moved in May 2009 and called to terminate (not move) my home service, giving them my new address to mail the refund. The day it was to take affect I noticed the phone line was still working. Called and spoke to a rep who assured me not only was there no record of my previous request or info about the new address, but that she would rush through the termination–gee thanks, considering I had vacated the house. The next month I got a bill (forwarded from the old address) for the current month’s service; called and spoke to a rep who assured me not only was there no record of my previous request, but that she would rush through the termination and ensure the billing was reversed and any outstanding refund mailed to the new address. Next month–same thing. It was becoming absurd and even the reps were mystified why there was no record of my requests or confirmation numbers. The last one I spoke with was finally able to put the termination through (I guess) since I did get a refund (mailed to my old address haha). Bell staff were polite and “helpful” except for the part where nothing appeared to be done :-) I’m always nice when dealing with customer service people–even though I really really want to scream–the worst I’ll do is calmly advise that as they can imagine, I’m very frustrated and hope they can help me to solve this issue. Overall I haven’t had much trouble with CS people because of this approach.

8 Adam

Telus, Air Canada, Bell etc… The list goes on and on…

My big issue is with restaurant staff making customers wait by the door to be seated for inappropriate amounts of time, all the while they all stare at empty seats all over the restaurant. Filling seats is where your money is made in the food biz, get those customers seated ANYWHERE asap and get them a coffee or water. Standing by the door for more than 3 minutes should result in an about face and a new restaurant selection.

9 Thicken My Wallet

We live in a world of thin-skinned people.

This is also partly a Canadian problem. First time I went to Chicago I was floored by how friendly everyone was in restaurants, stores etc. Removing New York City, I can say the same for most American cities I have visited. A friend of mine once told me that in Singapore the hotel staff have a meeting every morning to memorize the names and faces of the new guests. Then they greet them by name in the halls.

Perhaps you should post on why Canadians tend to be poor in customer relations (lack of competition? politeness equals aloofness?) at least in my little corner of Canada.

10 David

I’m 22 (young right? =P) and disgusted by customer service in Canada. This may be because I grew up in Japan. It’s always so refreshing going back there.

I use Bell and haven’t had that much trouble though… Guess I’ve been lucky the times I’ve called in.

The words experience I had was with the National Student Loan Service, when I called them they picked up but didn’t realize they had, and were talking crassly to each other. When they realized I was on the line, instead of apologizing and serving me, she hung up on me.

When I called again I got the same lady, and throughout the call it was quite clear that she was not enjoying her job. Seriously…

11 youngandthrifty

Well said, well said!!! =)

I watched Up the Yangtze too! It was a good movie- it was pretty funny how they taught them to interact with “foreigners”. Mind you, for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I think there were lessons on how to line up, too!

I agree- it could be a Canadian thing… when I was in Atlanta, Georgia on a stopover, I was so shocked by the POLITENESS of the customer service people at the airport fast food chains… shocked!!

LOL a PRIME example of how customer service has gone to sh*ts is Air Canada!! The flight attendants look at you as if you owe them $1000. I’m actually AFRAID to ring the bell on Air Canada flights!! haha

12 Daniel

Jeez – I keep hearing bad things about Air Canada but I’ve always been super-pleased myself (apart from the seats being too small – but I’ve never encountered rudeness from the staff).

13 David

I’ve definitely encountered rudeness with Air Canada. They seemed mad at my Dad for having a headache on the airplane and inconveniencing them enough to ask if they could get him a Tylenol

14 guinness416

I guess if you pay people more – go to some department stores in NYC and you’ll get astounding service and leave with items you won’t want to return, the salespeople’s paycheques depend on it.

Seems people are talking about two separate things up above and personally for the most part when spending money I could care less how stereotypically-midwestern-nice/friendly people are or where they’re geographically located as long as they’re efficient and capable. I just spent two weeks in Florida dealing with a boatload of endless timewasting “my name is Kyle”s and “have a nice day”s and “oh my grandfather was from county cawrk”s and so on and am sick to the back teeth of it! – I don’t like servile and I’m done with sweet smiling and useless. Conversely I’ve had the most surly and silent service in restaurants in Italy – but the food was fab and fast, the beer was cheap, the atmosphere was good and I went home very very happy.

15 Brent in Van

I’d like to suggest that good customer service starts with the organization:
1. Have a great product/service to encourage employees to feel good about what they are doing.
2. Institute a culture of excellent customer service that starts at the top of the organization.
3. Give employees proper customer service training.
I think the front line employee is often the LAST place to look when complaining about poor customer service.

16 samuel welsh

In bejing the service was rude no smiles presure to buy beer and
watresss argueing a short distance from our table.
the staff should value customers

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