CXO

How would you handle a sexist support desk customer?

What is the correct way to handle a customer who refuses to talk to a support tech because of her gender? Is the customer always right, or is there a way to diffuse the situation without sounding rude?

This week, we would like you to consider the story of a support tech on a software hotline who wants your advice in dealing with sexist customers. After reading this scenario, you can learn what other TechRepublic members had to say about the tech who was told to violate a non-disclosure agreement.

Dealing with sexist customers
Rachel is a senior support tech on a software hotline that provides contract phone support to other companies. Recently she received a call from a man who started the call with “G’day, love. Put me on to one of your techos please.”

Rachel responded by politely informing the customer that she was in fact “a techo” and was certain she could help him. The customer merely chuckled and indicated that he really needed to talk to “a senior techo, a bloke.”

Not wanting to engage in an argument with the customer, she asked him to hold and forwarded his call to a male tech.

Rachel was left infuriated both at the customer for his unashamed dismissal of her abilities based upon her gender and at herself for yielding to his demands. After checking with other female hotline techs, she discovered that such interactions were not uncommon. Rachel wants to know how to handle these customers in future—specifically how to avoid indulging their sexist attitude without being blatantly rude. An ideal solution would meet these criteria, and would also have the effect of curing the customer of his sexism.

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Follow an order to violate a nondisclosure agreement?
In a previous article, we presented the case of Mary, a support tech whose manager demanded that she knowingly violate a nondisclosure agreement. Several TechRepublic members felt that this was a straightforward legal matter that could only be resolved by the organization’s lawyer or legal aid. Others believed this solution to be either overly simplistic or fundamentally undesirable, as member Generalist said, “Lawyers of any type tend to cost money. If you can head off their use by applying a simple set of rules and tactfully reminding people that things like NDAs could apply to the situation, so much the better. In theory, laws should be such that you don't need a lawyer to obey them.”

Several other approaches were offered as alternatives or supplements to the legal solution, including:
  • ·        Mary should extricate herself from the situation by following Wrlang’s suggestion and hiring “a consultant to work with the competition and let them violate the nondisclosure agreement." Or, Mary could follow Cor1nne’s solution. “Draft a document and have the CFO sign it, saying he takes full responsibility for the entire decision and process. If he refused to sign it, I would consider my options and get an updated resume out to all contacts as soon as possible,” Cor1nne said.
  • ·        Several members said that regardless of the consequences, Mary should simply refuse. As member Generalist said, “If asked to do something wrong or unethical, a person should have the moral fiber to refuse, but that isn't always as easy or simple as it sounds. If you refuse, you'll probably be fired (that happened to me), so...if you do what they ask, document, document, document...also update your resume and start looking.”
  • ·        Hindsight being 20/20, regular contributor Oldefar suggests that it may have produced a better outcome if Mary had not told “the chief accountant that his action was in violation of the nondisclosure [as his] prestige and knowledge were attacked. Asking him if his action was allowed under the nondisclosure might have worked better. Sometimes it pays to leave those above you with an out, a way of acting properly while maintaining their prestige.”
  • ·        Member LowProfileInFla elaborated on the concept of providing upper management with an “out” by suggesting that Mary take the time to determine exactly what is contained in the NDA. A thorough understanding of the NDA could provide the means of giving upper management the end result they desire without incurring a violation.

As for the actual outcome of the situation, despite raising her objection to the CFO and pointing out the potential legal violation, Mary was overridden and the CFO permitted the chief accountant to violate the nondisclosure agreement with Mary’s assistance.
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