Customer Service Hiring: Are Rude Customers Worse than Irate Ones?

Turnover is a concern for all businesses, but companies in the service and hospitality industries face unique obstacles in retaining employees. Not only is the cost of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding new employees significant, but turnover disrupts the stability of operations, and can damage the consistency and quality of customer service.

While serving others is meaningful work, the often unpredictable emotional demands that frontline service employees must manage are a significant driver of turnover. Frontline employees serve everyone from loyal brand advocates to irate customers. If we know what customer encounters are most stressful and linked to burnout and turnover, then we can seek to understand the qualities of people who thrive in those situations.

From your own experience, which encounters do you believe are most stressful – and linked to turnover?

1. Encounters involving openly upset and hostile customers, or

2. Encounters with impolite or rude customers. For example, customers who do not say please or thank you, take cell phone calls or text, or speak in ways that could be perceived as aggressive or accusatory (an example might be a customer who frequently starts sentences with “You…”).

Researchers find impolite and rude customers are a bigger cause of stress and turnover than upset and hostile customers.

Customer Incivility

Customer incivility is the term organizational researchers use to describe these lower-intensity rude behaviors which violate norms for mutual respect and courtesy. Incivility is damaging in part because of its ambiguous intent – is the customer’s intent to show disrespect? While angry customers are definitely stressful, their strong behavior makes it easier to name and respond appropriately. Rude encounters are more difficult to interpret and determine how to best serve the customer. What was the intent behind that, “You should…” comment by the guest – was he doubting my ability to do my job?

Slowly over time, incivility can “spiral” out of control. Employees can respond to customers with uncivil behavior of their own (or more frequently fellow employees) creating a spiral of incivility. These spirals can spread to include even more employees, and escalate from rudeness to overtly hostile and aggressive acts such as verbal aggression or theft. These negative spirals are more likely to occur with employees who lack the qualities needed to thrive in a service role, or lack the preparation and resources needed to meet customer expectations.

To learn about the three traits employees must possess – and you can hire for – to ensure consistent customer experiences, download the whitepaper below.

Download Your Free Whitepaper on Customer Service Hiring

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