4 Things To Keep You from Losing Your Mind over Customer Behavior

by Jon Drachenberg

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“Don’t you just hate it when customers ____?”

When people work together long enough, they tend to trade stories about things customers do or say that get on their nerves.  You see blogs about these things every day. You’ve probably seen a handful about design clients.

While it’s normal for employees to vent with their colleagues about common workplace gripes, this can slowly turn into a huge problem if it gets out of hand. You might want to pay attention to what they’re talking about in the break room.

customer behavior

When I worked in retail, there were dozens of these little gems. Some of my favorites were:

  • “I hate when they toss or drop their money instead of handing it to me.”
  • “I hate when they don’t say hello back.”
  • “I hate when they question the sales tax.”
  • “I hate when they count the coins given back as change.”
  • “I hate when they try and blame me for credit card network errors.”

Incriminating the innocent

After I went into retail management, I started to realize how this type of venting can become a disease. We end up fixating on these things. And as we begin to notice these little behaviors more and more, we begin to villainize the customers. Employees trade stories and critique interactions after the customers leave. It slowly takes root in our workplace culture and it eventually harms the customer experience. Focusing so much on the negativity, it will eventually start to ruin our own days too.

I’ve seen transactions where the cashier was being his usual friendly, bubbly self, until that classic money-toss. The smile then fades from his face, and the “thank you” sounds forced and insincere, even sarcastic. That customer does not know why the interaction went sour and she is not going to walk away wondering how she can do better next time. She just won’t come back.

customer behavior

For the sake of fewer ruined days for everyone involved, here are a few sanity-saving things to keep in mind when helping your not-so-ideal customers:

1. Most of them mean no disrespect.

Customers aren’t always conscious of the fact that a real personal interaction is taking place. And while I consider myself an evangelist for greeting everyone with a smile, customers are often caught up in the transaction itself, their schedule, and the cost and outcome of doing business with you. They’re not thinking “I have no respect for this person, so I’m going to toss my payment like I’m at a poker table.” They’re thinking, “meeting at 3 PM… pick up milk… my phone bill is due… I wonder if I’m legally parked…”

2. Don’t let them ruin your day.

I have never been on the “customer is always right” wagon. Some are downright insane, or even scary, and I’ve even had to call the police on a few of them. Remember the video of the irate customer at Dunkin’ Donuts that went viral last year? The staff did such a wonderful job at keeping their cool in that situation! I actually felt, after a certain point, that it was time to ask her to leave. (I’d love to write another piece explaining several reasons why.) But I was left wondering how the rest of their day went. As a manager, my advice to them would be this:

Don’t let this incident define your day. Go take a short break, and be thankful it’s over. Don’t give someone who’s gone in 5 minutes the power to ruin your day. Let it go.

customer behavior

3. They’re not familiar with, or responsible for, your internal procedures and lingo.

Customers don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. They don’t understand that their choice of words will cause an invalid entry in your system. They don’t realize that what they just asked for should have been the first thing, not the last. They don’t know all the lingo and jargon used in your industry.  And they don’t understand the equipment you use. That’s why they are coming to you, because you are the expert. Cut them some slack.

4. Someone else is hating on YOU. Guaranteed.

You’re a customer too. Have you ever wondered what they think of you where you do business? Maybe you’ve called the wrong number for customer service. Maybe you’ve had 11 items in your basket at the express checkout. Maybe your special requests make the cooks want to sauté your steak in Windex. Maybe you’ve lost your patience with someone who just didn’t clearly understand your request.

customer behavior

Chances are, somewhere, someone sees you as “one of those.” They don’t see you going home and playing with your kids, donating to the homeless and helping a stranger with directions. They think you’re just some jerk. So don’t be so critical of your own customers. Most of them are actually just like you.

What kinds of customer behavior do employees typically complain about in your industry? How would their perspective change if they could walk in their customers’ shoes?

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Jon Drachenberg

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