Not Serving Obnoxious Customers

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April 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 11

Not Serving Obnoxious Customers

By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor

At the risk of disloyalty to my “home and native land” (Canada), to cite the words of our now-familiar-to-the world national anthem: I tolerate Tim Hortons coffee. I’ll drink it if I’m on the road, need a jolt and there isn’t anything else reasonably available.


My wife, who recently became a Canadian citizen, thinks the same way. She told me “now I must be a Canadian; my taste buds have died.”

While I may have misgivings about Tim Hortons offerings, I have tremendous respect for the staff who deliver them. They rush to meet sometimes simple, occasionally complicated orders, taking it (verbally) on the chin for their colleagues if the coffee is not quite right or a sandwich is goofed up, and always with a smile on their face. They are worth far more than what they are paid.

Contact centers and parent firms
should set up ‘three strikes and
you’re out’ policies for offenders
regardless of channel; information
about offenders would be shared.

So when I read a CBC story published Feb. 8 ‘Tim Hortons bans complaining customer’ about a New Brunswick man being barred from a local outlet because of the lousy coffee I initially sympathized. Then I read a followup CBC article published the next day ‘Tim Hortons defends customer ban’ about the same customer being aggressive...well I only wish that people receive what is rightfully theirs, and which appears to be the case.

Contact center agents would probably agree with and applaud the coffee/donut chain. For they arguably receive even worse treatment from miscreants because they hide behind the phones, chat inputs and e-mails and texts, cowards who would dare not spew their vile behavior including language – which sadly too often is infested with racist and sexist slurs – face-to-face. Dealing with these miserable individuals is one of the biggest annoyances of contact center work: up there with terrible supervisors.

Obnoxious behavior directed to contact center staff risks becoming worse because customers are becoming more empowered, that they know best and are demanding, an attitude that is sharpened when they are using mobile devices, on expensive per-minute-based plans and feel they can’t/don’t have to wait. More importantly, because the auto-attendant systems and Web sites have directed customers to voice and web self-service tools when they zero-out or dial to reach
agents they are often frustrated and impatient because they could not obtain what they needed via these solutions.

Businesses where employees interact with customers face-toface make it clear to the clientele that these enterprises have the right to refuse service and, as the Canadian coffee giant demonstrated, will make this stick. They can and do bring multiple people to bear on the perps along with building security and if need be the police, both of which supply the added punishment of public embarrassment.

My wife used to work for one of Canada’s largest contact centers. When her and her colleagues got rude callers they bounced them to their supervisors who then made notes in the customers’ files. Yet somehow such measures don’t have the same effect as telling them the contact centers will end the transactions or, in extreme cases, cancel the accounts.

Contact centers need a similar approach like that taken by retail/storefront firms like Tim Hortons. They have one
potent edge compared with them in that the calls/contacts are recorded, providing proof of transgressions that they can retrieve for further action.

Contact centers and parent firms should set up “three strikes and you’re out” policies for offenders regardless of channel;
information about offenders would be shared. They should institute triggers of two objectionable calls: the first one automated outbound notifications and if the incidents happen again the second being live calls to the dear persons to see “what are their problems?” If the customers are out of line the third time they can give the offending parties an opportunity to write formal written apologies. If these are not received in X amount of time firm can then notify the wronging parties that they are terminating their accounts.

The most valuable assets companies have are their staff. Protecting them when they have been wronged will encourage
them to provide even better service to those excellent customers for whom they find it a pleasure to serve.


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