The customer may always be right, but he doesn't have unlimited rights.

Just because I’m an Opinionated Bitch, doesn’t mean I’m a rude bitch. Well known around these parts as The Queen of Snark, I was blessed with my father’s quick wit and my infamous self-deprecating humor. Both have served me well.

I have eavesdropped in horror as patrons have verbally assaulted over-worked and in most instances, underpaid waitresses, postal employees and license bureau employees and the phenomenon seems to be getting worse. I get frustrated too, but these front line workers are merely the messengers and rarely the person responsible for the issues you’re having. As times get tougher, so do customers on these poor, unsuspecting service workers.

Like most Americans these days, I hold down several jobs just trying to make ends meet. I co-host a Here Women Talk radio show called “BROADSIDED” with Vicki Childs (it’s my happy place), I’m a free-lance writer (my other happy place) and I work in an office (my other other happy place). Yes, the things to which I devote the most time and energy must make me happy or I don’t do them. Given that a good deal of my office job entails dealing with the public, it would be easy to bitch and complain about how rude the public is. Don’t get me wrong – they are, but I didn’t live more than a half a century without learning a few good lessons.

When just starting out in business, my Midwestern upbringing taught me manners, above all. I was completely unprepared 30 plus years ago for what it meant to deal with customers in Chicago and New York City. An unreasonable caller could wreck my day. No matter how many times friends would tell me to shake it off, I couldn’t help but take it personally. I was being polite and doing my best to help and they were acting like I’d ruined their life. I was letting them get the best of me.

I have been fortunate to have some truly good mentors throughout my professional career and they were a gift. Like all of you, there were some bad bosses in there too, who had managed to get where they were by being horrible people, but the good bosses were the best for a myriad of reasons. The best bosses have been teachers. When I clawed my way to my first management position, I made plenty of mistakes – everything from being too harsh to being too nice. When I learned to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the employees, I became the manager employers sought out and people wanted to work for.

In this career incarnation, I am neither a boss nor a manager.  I am back to being a customer service rep/office girl but that’s okay with me.  When I took this job, the thing I found most attractive was I would be working with all men.  I like men.  I understand what motivates them and know how to get along.   This is a small family business and my boss is a shy, unassuming man, generous to a fault with his employees.  He abhors confrontation and by the time I had been hired, he’d been without office staff for months.  He was worn slick and his solution for dealing with jerks was avoidance.  When I was hired, he warned me that customers could be difficult but I told him I loved dealing with difficult customers.  His eyes narrowed and I could see the doubt on his face, but he shrugged and went on.  About 3 days into my new job I heard from the Customer From Hell.  The call began with him yelling.  The louder he yelled, the softer I spoke.  Boss Man was standing a few feet away and offered to take the call.  I pulled the phone to my chest, smiled and whispered… “Oh, no.  He’s being rude.  He doesn’t get to talk to the good guy.  Now he has to talk to meeeee!”  I again took the phone and said in my most matter-of-fact but polite tone, “Sir, you can swear call me names and when you’re through, if you’ll tell me what you want, I’ll be happy to help you.  Or… we can just skip to the part where you tell me what you want and I help you.  What’ll it be?”  Rude Customer immediately changed his tune and I was able to get him exactly what he wanted.  By the end of the call, he was apologizing.  Boss Man was floored.

It's YOUR Fault!

The next day, I was pulling the messages off the machine. Another rude customer was screaming on the message, swearing about how he had come to our business and we were closed and how we had inconvenienced him. My co-workers were all standing there listening, shaking their heads while I howled with laughter. Boss Man asked what was so funny. I said, “How stupid is this guy to call here, listen to a detailed recording where we’ve clearly stated our winter hours and he continues to rant at us because he was too dumb to call before driving here to see if we were open?” Boss Man smiled. Everything was suddenly in perspective.

This week, another customer called to have some items shipped. Not obligated in any way to outsource these items at his own expense for something we don’t warranty, Boss Man wanted the customer to pay less than half of the cost. Again, my overly generous Boss Man is always meeting the customer more than half way. Rude Customer felt we should pay ALL of the cost and ship it to him at our expense. I gently said no and explained why that wasn’t reasonable. Begin the temper tantrum. I was called a few choice names and a few F-bombs were dropped and finally, he demanded to speak with Boss Man. In my sweetest voice I said, “I’ll be more than happy to put the owner on the phone… but now you have to ask me nice.” Dead silence from Rude Customer and Boss Man, standing two feet away had his fist in his mouth, stifling the laughter. Boss Man got on the phone and completely backed me up. Rude Customer didn’t have the balls to be rude to another man, but had no compunction with taking his frustrations out on a woman. He picked the wrong woman. After boxing up the parts (in a Christmas box – my own subliminal message), I handed the parcel to Boss Man who was beaming and said, “I LOVED THAT!” He has learned that I really do like dealing with rude customers. If they make the mistake of trying it with me in front of other customers, I’ll be so polite, they’ll embarrass themselves. If they make the mistake of doing it on the phone, they’ll be met with maddening manners until they run out of steam.

Boss Man has learned that it’s my turf and I’ll always win the

Press the yellow button for service...

battle on my turf. We try hard to please customers but people’s frustrations with their lives often mean they give themselves permission to act like horse’s asses with customer service representatives, waitresses and counter help. Here’s a newsflash for the universe: no one has permission to be purposely unkind to another human being. Just because you have the right to do it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Front line employees are often the lowest paid and the hardest working people in the joint and are treated with the least amount of decency. I’ve made it a personal policy not to remain silent about it any longer. When witnessing such an event, I will always suggest that a kinder tone for the person trying to help you may be the best route to getting what you want. When that fails, I flatly tell them they’re being a jerk and to knock it off, with a wink to the victim and a word to their boss about their exemplary customer service skills. A word to the wise: be kind to service sector workers. They’re doing their best under difficult circumstances and if you’re not careful, they may be students of mine, learning to how to dispatch rude customers with polite, extreme prejudice. The bottom line is, don’t shoot the messenger because sometimes… they shoot back.