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Handling Rude Customers Like a Boss

It’s a sorry state of affairs when rude customers are becoming the norm, when we have to train and equip staff to handle customers that are self-entitled, arrogant, and just plain rude.

What is Wrong With People? It’s a bit of a rhetorical question. . . I had lunch the other day with a wonderfully talented and extremely smart young woman. She is on summer break from school where she is an aerospace engineering student.

Like many students she’s working her **** off with a couple summer jobs, hustling to earn as much money as she can.

Thankfully for businesses in hospitality and tourism needing seasonal labor, there are students like her to help fill the giant void. She is an amazing worker – organized, reliable, smart, and friendly. She gets hospitality. When I say, “Hire personality and train skill”, especially when we are hiring for front facing customer service staff, she fits.

She’s working food service. Tough gig.


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Rude Customer Real Life Examples

During lunch I asked her how things were going with work and her stories left me with my mouth agape.

Honest to goodness, people yell at her for all sorts of ridiculousness. She’s been poked with a menu to get her attention and is enduring no shortage of inappropriate comments about her figure and attractiveness by people old enough to be her grandfather!

People, as a society we’ve reached a new low.

When I asked how she responds, she said she usually gets her manager.

“70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer FEELS they are being treated. ~ McKinsey .”

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Training Staff to Handle Rude Customers

What would I like to see? I’d like to see her empowered to handle these situations herself with confidence and grace. I’d like to see her trained and equipped to turn these situations around and teach people who could be her parents or grandparents, how to behave respectfully.

I’d like to see her with Ninja skills that can, at the same time, place firm boundaries on how to treat others while giving space (involves saving face) for a customer to turn around their behavior.

Interesting that we’re needing to teach youth how to teach manners to grown adults. It is what it is.

Long- and Short-Term Motivators

Short Term:

  • She wants to earn great tips, load up on hours, and make good money this summer.

Long Term:

  • I would like for her to understand that these customers she’s interacting with could open doors for her in the future. There is great opportunity, especially in retail and hospitality, because they bring a multitude of people from other industries, socioeconomic statuses, businesses and industries, right in front of her.
  • I would also like her to think about next summer’s work plans. If these businesses are ones she wants to move up in position with next year, it behooves her to do well for them.

She’s pretty savvy and wise beyond her years so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s figured these things out.

It benefits businesses to train staff with skills and set expectations that they be treated with respect, that they are valuable individuals.  Employee acquisition costs are HIGH. Picking up seasonal workers who have one season under their belt means they will hit the ground running much faster year two.

Here are some examples of businesses appreciating and  motivating (thereby retaining) excellent staff.

Setting Expectations for Customers

I’ve seen some great examples where businesses are setting expectations for customer behavior before they even open the door. One said, “The whole world is short staffed. . . so please be kind to those that showed up!

For my friend I imagined a ‘staff uniform tee’ that says, “I am here for you, thank you for treating me with kindness and respect.”

Setting expectations for customers and training staff to handle rudeness shows that the business values them as a person.

This young woman will need a job next year. I wonder if next summer she will choose to return to the same place as she’s working or if she will look elsewhere?

The Truth About Your Staff

I believe that the smallest acts of service done with kindness and thoughtfulness can literally change our community. Customer service and front-line staff have the power to improve people’s lives every day by how they interact.

The secret sauce is having a staff that cares just as much as you do about the success of your business. To do that they need to know you care about them. This requires support and training.


P.S. HEY when you’re out, if you see a customer being rude, pass the offender a note saying, “The whole world is short staffed, please be kind to those who showed up.” Staff will appreciate it.

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