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The Dark Side of Customer Service: When the Customer Is “Right” but Insane
by Corey Eridon
By now you’ve probably seen the unbelievable video making the rounds on the internet of a woman demanding her money back at a Dunkin’ Donuts store. If you haven’t, you can see it on Gawker where I first discovered it, or below where we’ve embedded the YouTube video.
The video is eight minutes long (you’ll get the gist of it in the first minute or less), but believe me when I say it’s worth eight minutes of your life to watch. Especially if you never worked in customer service.
In a nutshell, this woman comes back to Dunkin’ Donuts one day after she ordered a bunch of food and drinks for which she didn’t receive a receipt. Dunkin’ Donuts has a policy that, if you don’t receive a receipt for your order, your order is free. It’s pretty standard — lots of businesses have that policy in place.
But instead of getting her free order the day-of (whether that was her fault or the store’s we can’t tell, since there’s no evidence one way or the other), she comes back the next day looking for her wrong to be righted. And she videotapes the whole thing, losing her mind in the process — though realistically, she probably lost her mind a long time ago. Check it out.
Did you watch it all? Holy overreaction Batman, right? If you didn’t get all the way through, here are some highlights that show her going off the deep end to the nothing-but-nice, incredibly professional Dunkin’ Donuts worker:
“I have already called my lawyer, and he’s already on it.” Insanity Level: 6
“Hi Facebook, this is what you have to do in life, it f$%!ing sucks, blow my brains out.” Insanity Level: 7
“I have a business degree.” Insanity Level: 8
“Rob had a bagel with cream cheese, he wanted it double, toasted twice.” Insanity Level: 3
“Theyarethebesttheyarethebesttheyarethebest.” Insanity Level: 6
“I’m going to Mars where I don’t have to deal with this. It’s a one way flight.” Insanity Level: 9.8
And all that is before she gets both racist and threatening.
This video points to a lot of problems in our culture, but most importantly the one in our customer service culture. If you work or have worked in customer service, you know the mantra “The customer is always right” quite intimately. You also know, and have probably experienced firsthand, that when you give people that kind of leverage over you, it gives them to power to mistreat you. Most customers don’t take advantage of you because they are rational, empathetic people who have probably worked in customer service before … but in this instance, we have a customer who interprets this mantra as free reign to treat people as less than human.
This abuse happens across all industries. One co-worker of mine had a soda thrown in her face at a drive-thru because the customer didn’t receive the “diet” he asked for. Another was told by a customer that he’d make it his mission to publically ruin her company and career because he didn’t get an immediate answer to his Facebook post on a Saturday at midnight. Another had racial slurs and physical threats screamed at him while working at a pharmacy, because someone’s doctor hadn’t called in the customer’s prescription yet.
The Customer Is Always Right?
I’m telling you all this because anyone working in a customer service capacity — or hiring or managing people who will — needs to know that even if the customer is technically “right,” sometimes there is a point where the customer is so egregiously wrong in his or her actions that a line needs to be drawn.
Sometimes, like the case with this employee at Dunkin’ Donuts, the only way to draw the line is to give the insane customer exactly what she wants. Give her the food and drinks, and get her the heck out of there. Make her think she’s right, even if she isn’t.
This is what happened in the case with my pharmacy friend Desmond Wong — he had to call the cops to get rid of the violent customer. (Sidenote: Turns out there was a warrant out for the customer’s arrest.) And my friend Rebecca Corliss, who had a soda thrown in her face as a 16-year old working at a drive-thru, grabbed a manager who got the customer the right drink and the apology he was looking for so he would leave. These are the cases when, even if the customer is wrong, you have to grit your teeth and pretend he or she is right for the sake of your personal safety or just so you can move on with your life.
But sometimes, it’s unclear how you should react to an irate customer — for example, my friend who was managing social customer service just ended up staying up all night, exhausted and well beyond the call of duty, addressing the man’s issues. She never got any peace of mind that her career wouldn’t be ruined “through the power of social media,” as the customer put it, or even a “thank you.”
Situations like these can take a huge toll on people in service roles — and not everyone acknowledges it. Only in the last few years have some companies started to really show appreciation for the work these customer service professionals do. Zappos comes to mind as a top-notch example of valuing their customer service employees, actually requiring all new hires to work in customer service for a month.
Ultimately, these horrible customer service stories highlight the need for some caveats to rules like “the customer is always right” — because they can’t always be right. Businesses need to create a culture that both solves for the customer and empowers customer service employees to know when and how to draw a line if necessary.
What is the most off-the-walls experience you’ve had working in a customer service role? And if you’ve been working in customer service for decades, tell us — have you noticed a shift in customer entitlement? These days, is