(Holiday) Customers From Hell… And How To Handle Them

December 8, 2016

Another piece from my archives for Throwback Thursday this week! After I defended my PhD, I took a job at Chapters (best job for aspiring authors ever). Most of my customers were fabulous, but one was truly possessed by a demon – and with typically impeccable evil timing, attacked just two weeks after my mom passed and I was least capable of handling her with grace.

She inspired this piece. May it give those in the service industry a shield against fire and brimstone, especially during this challenging time of year!

Customers From Hell

Courtesy of Doug Wheller via Flickr Commons

Courtesy of Doug Wheller via Flickr Commons

You’ve landed your first job, but it’s not always heavenly.  If your customers are less than angelic, how do you handle them without selling your soul?

Her lips were pursed, her hair tightly curled, and she walked like she was pushing the air out of her path.  She wanted to buy a children’s book with very specific characteristics.  I made some suggestions.  She rolled her eyes.  I asked questions and offered additional recommendations.  She sighed dramatically, tapping her foot.  It finally became clear to me that what she wanted didn’t actually exist, but when I tried to explain that, all hell broke loose.  All over me.

I was the worst excuse for customer service she’d ever experienced, and she couldn’t understand why I was refusing to fulfill her very simple request.  It was time someone corrected me, because I’d never improve if I didn’t recognize my own wretchedness.  Stunned and shaking, I offered to find someone else to help her.  “I don’t want someone else,” she snapped.  “I just want you to apply yourself.”

At which point I bailed, in desperate need of tissues.

Compared to shouting, swearing, or physical aggression, this sounds almost laughable.  But for a recovering perfectionist like me, it was the worst possible thing to hear.  Customers from hell have an evil genius for identifying the chinks in an employee’s armour.  Fortunately, there are ways to deal with them that are more productive, and satisfying, than a crying jag in the staffroom.

It’s Not About You

Yes, this stranger you’ve been trying to help is attacking your integrity, your intelligence, and possibly your biological origins.  Just remember that in this scenario, you’re a tiny drop of fuel on an already raging fire.  While the customer has no right to take his personal frustrations out on you, you’ll stay cooler if you remember his ire is (probably) not your fault.

Don’t Sink To Their Circle

Just because your customer’s a demon doesn’t mean you have to be; after all, it’s much harder to be rude to someone who remains professional, polite, and smiling.  You may find that your continued friendliness is enough to catalyze a redemption.  If her abusive behaviour continues, resist the temptation to retaliate.  It won’t help and it could get you fired.

Demand the Respect You Deserve

You’re not a condemned soul, you’re a human being, and you deserve to be treated courteously.  Politely inform the customer that, while you’re more than happy to help him any way you can, you’ll only do so if he gives you the respect you’re giving him.  If his behaviour is drawn to his attention, your he-devil might be embarrassed enough to apologize.  Even if “I’m sorry” isn’t in his vocabulary, you could find yourself with a perfect angel on your hands.

Remove Yourself From the Situation

Some customers are truly evil, and deliberately trying to hurt you.  Never give them the satisfaction of seeing how much they’ve upset you.  If you think you’re about to cry or lose your temper, call a coworker or manager and get yourself out.  While you regroup, remember that dreadful is the exception, and that the next person you deal with might be sweet enough to make your whole week.

Above All, Keep Your Sense of Humour

So next time you find yourself in the seventh circle, keep your cool, and keep your sense of humour.  Once, while my best friend worked the register at a home improvement store, a shopper progressed from verbal abuse to threats of violence.  She smiled, picked up the phone, and called for a customer carryout on aisle two.

Have you worked retail, or in another service industry? Share your demonic customer stories, and tips for dealing them, in the comments.

2 Comments on ‘(Holiday) Customers From Hell… And How To Handle Them’

  1. Lindsey – I honestly cannot imagine someone having a go at you, of all people! But, if you only had one customer that stands out for being horrible to deal with, then you probably did pretty good during your time with Chapters 🙂 And, I think I’m overdue for another visit – one of my next trips into Dartmouth/Halifax will have to come out and we can have a proper catch up!

    Reply | 
    1. I think it’s because book people, in general, are better. 🙂

      That sounds great – I’d love to see you. Let me know when you’ve finalized your plans.

      Reply | 

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