The Other Side of the Customer Experience – The Rude Customer

By March 9, 2016 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on Nov 17th 2015

Lucy Kiruthu

Most frontline staff that have attended my training session have one thing in common, they want to learn how to deal with the rude customer. One of the things I always quickly point out to them is that only a few customers are rude.  In addition, most are rude possibly because they are dissatisfied though they must not be rude. I have witnessed interactions where the customer was rude and in almost all instances the rudeness was ignited by the staff.  Does a customer need to be rude to get better service or to pass across a point?

I abhor rudeness; in fact I do not even understand it. Why would anyone be rude? I think people who are often rude need some sort of help. Possibly they need to see a psychotherapist or better still they need to leave their rudeness in the closet before going out into the marketplace.  One thing I am sure of is that the sort of help they need to deal with their rudeness would rarely come from those in the frontline. Despite this, it is important for every frontline staff to be armed with skills to deal with a customer who decides to be rude. Some of my mantras in this skill set have always been (a)serve the customer with excellence (b) ignore their rudeness (c) do not add fuel to the fire as this only makes the situation worse.

Let us look at the other side of such a customer experience, the customer. I believe that customers play an active role in the customer service process. They need to share required information, they need to be respectful and they need to remain courteous. This however is not always the case. A small percentage of customers present situations that are difficult to deal with.  Some are rude while others can even be abusive. Paul Coelho who wrote The Alchemist says that “How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.” It is for this reason that I always urge frontline staff not to take such customers personally and not to get angry because of the customer rudeness but to serve the customer professionally. When they do so, they have an upper hand. If you are a customer and all of us are, why not treat the frontline staff with respect?

The main mistake that most organizations make though is branding customers as rude just because a few customers have been rude.  I have met a few business owners who only share the experiences they have had with a customer that has been rude, abusive or deceptive. With this perspective one develops a negative attitude towards customers and fails to see the great opportunities that customers present to the business. Business owners and frontline staff with such an attitude often fail to identify customer dissatisfaction as a trigger to the behaviour in most customers. If you have too many rude customers, or if you are a rude customer simply look inside out.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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