DIY

When to end the call: further thoughts on rude treatment by customers


Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Jeff Dray offered some great insights regarding rude treatment that we receive from customers. "Rudeness, we don't have to tolerate it - From anyone!" That topic is one that my own clients ask me about constantly. In particular, many of them want to know where to "draw the line"--that is, how to determine when to stop listening to a frustrated caller and to end the call or the meeting.

In thinking about this matter, I remembered two proverbs that speak to the matter. They appear, when read side by side, to contradict each other (one says not to answer a fool, the other says in fact to go ahead and answer a fool). In fact, however, they actually harmonize with each other, because they address different contexts.

Before I continue, however, I want to make clear that I am not calling your customers "fools." You may have your own opinion, of course. I am simply saying that the principles these proverbs teach us apply to anyone (including the fool) with whom we may be having differences.

Most of the time, I believe, we need only that first proverb. In this case, we're dealing with a customer who, yes, is upset. However, he or she is only angry "in general" at the technology and frustrated by how it is affecting his or her job. Though it may appear that the customer is angry at YOU, he or she really isn't. It's just that you "drew the short straw," and happen to be that technology person who represents what's frustrating the customer.

In this situation, getting into arguments, getting angry in return at the customer or ending the call serve no purpose. All these things will do is make the customer even angrier, and waste everyone's time. There's almost nothing you can do or say in this situation. Like a fever, the customer's frustration has to "run its course." Once they expressed their frustration, they "become normal" or closer to normal, and at that time you can speak with them to resolve the issue. In this case, in other words, do not "answer a fool according to his folly."

The situation changes, however, if the customer becomes personally abusive or profane. In that case, you should do as Jeff did, and indeed "answer the fool according to his folly." That is, you must address this behavior, and make it clear that it is unacceptable to you. If you don't, you may simply embolden that person to continue the behavior with others. If, even after you give fair warning, the customer continues the abusive language, then you can hang up.

Make sure, after doing so, that you notify your manager or supervisor, because that's the first person your abusive customer will contact.

When dealing with upset customers, therefore, pick your battles carefully, and distinguish between "merely angry customers" and "personally abusive customers."

Questions or comments? E-mail me at csun(at)calvinsun.com

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

12 comments
gunilla.karlen
gunilla.karlen

Frustration can often lead to rudeness and many times it is due to that the customer feels helpless and doesn't know how to express his feelings about being treated like a fool. Generally speaking I believe IT technicians are not socially skilled and they use a language that could drive you mad, But I know several that have understood that the best approach is to firstly listen to what the customer has to say, and then try the very best to answer in a language that can be understood by someone who is not a professional. The most important is to get a resolution to whatever the problem is and your customer will be satisfied, isn't that right? I believe there really are no foolish questions, only foolish answers!

jdclyde
jdclyde

[i]Real reply after I edit to get a real title[/i] [b]Edited for real content[/b] There is never an excuse to be abusive, as the customer or the vendor. If you get abusive, the person at the other end is more likely to get abusive back, and makes it even more unlikely that you will get a resolution to your problem. As someone that has taken and made support calls, I admit that it can be frustrating, but staying calm goes a long ways to keeping on track. Having a temper tantrum will not get your issue resolved but it will get you hung up on. That doesn't improve your situation. If I am the one making the call, I will calmly explain what it is I have already tried and my credentials. If they insist on following the "is there power to the unit" script, I will calmly inform them that they are insulting me and I would like to talk to a supervisor or someone competent that will work with me to resolve the issue. Sometimes this works, sometimes they state they HAVE to follow the steps in order, so I when they tell me to do XYZ, I go, ok, just did it, didn't work, next? Cable and DSL providers are the worst, as these days they don't seem to know anything about networking to be level one support. I had to go help a friend because when she went to get a cable modem (tired of me chastising her for being on dialup still). The tech came out, got everything ready to go, and then when it was time to get her system live he told her that you couldn't run a windows 98 system on a cable modem. Yes, I complained when I had to go over and do his job. I [b]SHOULD[/b] send CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS in mid michigan a bill for my time because of the incompetence of their field technician making me have to do his job.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

When a customer calls a center and is given a canned script with the response to the customer being on automatic pilot, then the rude treatment is probably just the customer trying to say they know all that but at least listen to what the problem is. While you can say that you don't need to take that from the customer, the customer is trying to tell you that your script is not helping and you are not listening. Until you listen, then IMNSHO the customer is perfectly justified in giving you rude treatment. After all, rude treatment is what you are giving the customer. You are essentially telling him that you don't give a damn why he is calling, you are there to read a script and that is all. I admit to having lost my temper a few times, but I felt that it was justified. When I tell the agent that I have tried that, I have waited for their response (which, by the way, had not been forthcoming) and that their script did not answer the question. After all if I have called back several times, given them time to fix the problem, and been sloughed off with the same old same old, then I am entitled to lose it a bit. What needs to be answered here is whether the customer is justified in the rude treatment. That is the part that is not being answered here. If you don't answer the question or at least listen to what the customer is telling you, then rude treatment is needed. If, however, you are listening and not giving a canned response and the customer is not hearing you, then end it. In either case, the rude treatment does cut both ways. You are there to respond to the customer. If you don't, then by definition you are giving him rude treatment and stealing his money to boot. If you do in fact respond to the customer legitimately, then you are entitled to hang up after giving him your best shot.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

'what did YOU do to my computer'? '.. to my report..' etc unthinking kind of rages and stupidity on part of end users. "there are no stupid questions, only stupid end users!"

mazinoz
mazinoz

I have had the experience as a female working in IT both on help desks and in the field of being discriminated both because of my sex and appearance (went grey haired at 22 yrs old). The weird thing is most of the time it has been from other women! For example I went to a site to replace a PC and connect it to the network etc and a woman working there told me NOT to connect it to the network, internet or printer etc. I was dumbfounded. As it was her computer and she was the 'office manager' ie: glorified secretary. I did do it anyway and left. My employer later apologised to me as they knew I knew what I was doing as I had troubleshooted networks and fixed problems they had been unable to fix, and advised them on linux on networks. In another instance a female kept insisting that she be put through to a male, I managed to fix the problem anyway. On another occasion I was being introduced to a female associate professor (biology) at the University of Sydney who started abusing me and insisting I was incompetent and unable to do my job, before she knew anything about me, - not even my name. I was well-dressed, polite etc, AND my qualifications matched hers as I also had a BSc from the University of Sydney but for financial reasons I decided not to pursue higher qualifications though this was offered to me by the same University. She did not have a higher degree. The look on my face caused the Dean to firmly order her into his office. She still was harassing towards me after I started working there. So people are not always angry for a reason other than sheer prejudice.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

"I will calmly inform them that they are insulting me and I would like to talk to a supervisor or someone competent that will work with me to resolve the issue" if someone told me they wanted to speak with someone competent, I would be insulted. This is still rude! However, I often get worse than that. And I have been known to fix the problem while they are going through the script for the wrong problem, because often they do not listen. One o fmy ugliest calls, I was calling about a complete building outage for printers. The support kept asking "which printer" and would not understand the term ALL OF THEM. I told this person over and over again, while simultaneously taking back channels and getting someone on the print server team to look into it. The support guy still insisted that I was wrong about "all of them" and that they were each individual printer issues, and still refused to get the supervisor or send a ticket to the print server team (told me there was none, but I knew them). Anyway, all of the printers came back on line. about 20 min. after the print team got my messages. But they still 'needed' a ticket placed. I was on the phone with this guy for an additional 40 minutes trying to explain WHO to send the ticket to, what exact queue it was, and how to create the ticket with his SW, and route it. And even at the end, he told me that I was mistaken about a 'print server team' and that any event could take down all of the printers, and that they were all single incidents. Of course when it was finally done I went off on him a little, told him to learn something about the job that he accepted, learn to allow to get a supervisor, and get out of computers cause he was clearly too stupid to ever touch one. And what happened? with this, a move was going on in the building that the print servers were. Someone had disconnected the lines for all data traffic in/out of the building. It wasnt just my bldg affected, it was every printer in the bay area, and every computer at that site.

faradhi
faradhi

Rude behavior is never necessary. You can be firm and determined without being rude. Being rude only gives the individual a reason not to help you. Rather I prefer to be firm without being rude. However, I have to admit that there are times I fail woefully. In those cases it usually takes longer than when I remain calm.

n4aof
n4aof

The two biggest mistakes most end users make (which PROVE their inherent stupidity) are: 1) calling tech support in the first place; and 2) expecting to get someone who actually knows how to fix the problem.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Yes sir, you sure taught me how NOT to be rude to someone...... :0 :D I got a call the other day because our network was down. I went and looked and there the router wasn't even on. odd. Of course my coworkers were all in there scratching their heads trying to figure it out. I checked to make sure it was "on", and it was. I unplugged and replugged it in. No deals. I followed the power line to the rackmount power strip and it was on. Followed THAT back and someone had snagged a foot or something on it and had unplugged it. Plugged it back in, and "fixed" it. I even had to drive across the STATE to do that before because the people I was talking to over the phone couldn't handle simple steps like that when directed over the phone. Four hour drive to literally plug the box in. grrrrr.

mazinoz
mazinoz

I agree with what you said, but the problem really may be with their helpdesk software or management who may be ridiculously penny pinching. He does sound like an idiot though

sketchy_2001
sketchy_2001

I recommend to watch a few episodes of House. In that TV program, it is often put forward that "all patients lie" - this is also true of users with an IT problem. Just today I had a user complaining that they had sent a fax and it hadn't been received. I asked whether the fax machine had reported an error with sending and was told there had been no error. I asked what the confirmation page said, they told me there was no confirmation page. I told them that there was always a confirmation page so they went to find one. They returned and confidently told me that all appeared well and that the fax report said status E3 (where it should say OK). I informed them that E3 was an error code, they went OH. I fixed the (repeating) underlying issue. Script based tech support falls nicely under mistake number 2 but a user's inability to be bothered to learn the very basics of using IT makes tech support infinitely harder thus creating script based horror. My favourite story is still the user who complained that an intranet site was not accesible. A desk visit identified that the user's machine was not actually connected to any network but this did not phase the complainant one iota - the problem was still that the website was unavailable and that this was unacceptable.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

is not a bad thing though! I once knew someone who got a job for tightening a screw on a machine. This machine was not working properly, it seemed uncalibrated. 5 people just kept watching it and trying to figure out how to fix it. My friend came along to meet one of his buddies for lunch. Saw the problem, saw 2 adjustable screws, and asked for a screwdriver. After about 30 seconds, the machine was working properly again They offered him a job (that he accepted) for 35K/yr. Of course, being the moron that he was, he lost it in 2 months

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