Insensitive, disrespectful or rude behavior by employees is rampant in US workplaces, yet consumers fail to report the offending workers and instead take their business elsewhere, researchers report in the latest edition of the Journal of Service Research.
Approximately one-third of consumers surveyed reported they're treated rudely by an employee on an average of once a month and that these and other episodes of uncivil worker behavior make them less likely to patronize those businesses.
Yet customers rarely report such behavior to employee supervisors, ensuring a relentless cycle of poor employee behavior that leaves consumers angry and frustrated and saps businesses of customer loyalty, return business and profits, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University.
Workplace incivility includes a range of behaviors, prompting the researchers to study the prevalence of incidents where customers witness an employee behaving uncivilly, the effects on consumers of witnessing such behavior and the subsequent level of anger and desire to hold employees accountable for their actions.
The team surveyed 244 consumers and found that incivility is widespread. Consumers recalled incidents involving an uncivil employee in many industries, and particularly in restaurants and retailing. Uncivil outbursts, as well as rude behavior directed at customers and other employees were in some cases witnessed once a month by approximately one-third of the survey participants.
Furthermore, managers may not be aware of how frequently their customers witness an employee behaving uncivilly because consumers seldom report the behavior to employers -- although a majority of the respondents went home and told friends and family members about the incident. Without reports, managers are unable to address the issue with employees.
The study found that witnessing employee incivility makes customers angry and creates desires to "get back" at the perpetrator and the firm. Customers are less likely to repurchase from the firm and express less interest in learning about the firm's new services. For managers who are made aware of the offending behavior, their own harsh treatment of the employee can also prompt negative reactions from consumers.
"Regardless of the perpetrator or the reason, witnessing incivility scalds customer relationships and depletes the bottom line," report the co-authors, Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Management Christine Porath and USC Professors of Business Administration and Marketing Debbie MacInnis and Valerie S. Folkes.
The best response is a simple apology, which researchers found was a just and proper response from both the employee and the supervisor. But the preferred solution is the establishment of training programs that foster employee civility in order to prevent harmful outbursts.
Materials provided by Boston College. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- C. Porath, D. MacInnis, V. S. Folkes. It's Unfair: Why Customers Who Merely Observe an Uncivil Employee Abandon the Company. Journal of Service Research, 2011; DOI: 10.1177/1094670511404393
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Boston College. "Rude employee behavior quietly sabotages the bottom line." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110920141540.htm>.
Boston College. (2011, September 21). Rude employee behavior quietly sabotages the bottom line. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 13, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110920141540.htm
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The customer may always right, but that doesn't mean all customers are easy to deal with. Anyone who's ever worked in customer service can tell you, customers can be downright unruly. Still, if you want to stay in business, you've got to deal with them. Finding techniques that help you disarm unhappy customers and win them to your site is the key to providing great customer service – even when you really want to kick nasty customers to the curb.
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Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, a multichannel ecommerce solution, knows a thing or two about how to deal with difficult customers. He offers 10 tips on how to turn a bad customer service situation into an opportunity to improve your business.
First and foremost - listen. Do not try to talk over the customer or argue with them. Let the customer have their say, even if you know what they are going to say next, and even if they may not have all the information or be mistaken. As you listen, take the opportunity to build rapport with the customer.
Build rapport through empathy. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Echo back the source of their frustration and show that you understand their position and situation. If you can identify with a customer's issue, it will help calm them down. If you verbally "nod" during the call, the customer will feel better understood.
Lower your voice. If the customer gets louder, start speaking more slowly and in a lower tone. Your calm demeanor will reflect on them and will help them to settle down. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer's tone or volume, anger will generally dissipate.
Assume all your customers are watching. Pretend you are not talking only to the customer but to an audience that is watching the interaction. This shift in perspective can provide an emotional buffer if the customer is being verbally abusive and will allow you to think more clearly when responding. Since an unruly customer can be a negative referral, assuming they'll repeat the conversation to other potential customers can help ensure you've done your best to address their concerns in a calming way.
Know when to give in. If not satisfying the customer is going to take two hours and a bottle of aspirin and risk negative referrals, it is probably better to draw a compromise a bit more in their favor to give you more time to nurture your more productive customer relationships. Keep in mind that the interaction is not typical of most customers, and that you're dealing with an exception.
Never get angry or upset. If the customer is swearing or being verbally abusive, take a deep breath and continue as if you didn't hear them. Responding in kind will not solve anything, and it will usually escalate the situation in a negative direction. Instead, remind the customer that you are there to help them and their best immediate chance of resolving the situation - often this simple statement will help defuse the situation.
Never take it personally. Always speak to the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. Remember that the customer doesn't know you and they're just venting frustration at you as a representative of your company. Gently guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to resolve it, and try to ignore personal comments.
Remember that you're interacting with a human. Everyone has bad days. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse, got a traffic ticket that morning or have had a run of bad luck. We've all been there, to some degree. Try to help make their day better by being a pleasant, calming voice – it'll make you feel good too.
If you promise a callback - call back! Even if you promised an update that you don't have yet, call the customer at the scheduled time anyway. The customer will be reassured to know that you were not trying to dodge them and will appreciate the follow-up.
Summarize the next steps. At the end of the call, let the customer know exactly what to expect and then be sure to follow through on your promises. Document the call to ensure you’re well prepared for the next interaction.
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