The Rude Customer: one of the inevitable horrors of the service industry. Be it in restaurants or retail, we have all had to deal with customers who just cannot be pleased.
Or can they?
Encountering a rude customer does not always have to be a negative experience; in fact, it can be a great opportunity to learn and put your customer service skills (and patience) to the test.
Some questions you could be asking yourself are:
Who are these rude customers?
Why are they being so mean to me?
How can I most effectively handle a rude customer?
Let's turn to a 2014 study by Dogan Gursoy, which looked into the disruptive behavior of customers within the service industry. The findings resulted in seven different types of "rude customers:"
Inattentive Parents with Naughty Kids
Poor Hygiene Manners
Service Rule Breakers
These categories are self-explanatory, and those inhabiting them have their own reasons for being rude restaurant customers. However, they are all people, and no matter what kind of rude customer you encounter, there are a handful of methods the pros use to mitigate these situations.
So whether they are screaming in your face, their kids are screaming in everybody’s faces, they’re digging up your biggest insecurities, or they’re just being problematic for the sake of being problematic, here are six ways to deal with rude customers at your restauraunt.
Pro Tip #1: Take a Deep Breath and Listen to Them!
As humans, we are often quick to jump to our own defenses, rather than listening to what the customer has to say. Trust me: defending yourself is not going to help the customer leave with a smile on their face.
If you want to handle the situation as professionally as possible, actively listen to what the customers are saying. Active listening means nodding your head occasionally, repeating key statements of theirs, and genuinely showing them that you are making an effort to understand the problem at hand.
Showing the customer that you are making an effort to listen to them can go a long, long way.
Sometimes a customer is being rude because they are having a bad day. We all have bad days, and it’s important to note that not every rude customer is being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. Internally acknowledging that someone might be having a bad day might just lower your own defenses and make you less standoffish.
Once you’ve opened yourself to empathy, apologize to the customer. Remember to be sincere and show your empathy here. There is no need for an all-out, drop-to-the-knees, begging apology; saying, “I am so sorry” in an apologetic tone should work just fine.
Why apologize when it was clearly not my fault?
Great question – the simple truth is that the customer does not give a damn whether you did something maliciously or not. Just be sincere and let it roll off your back! They will be out of your hair before you know it.
Additionally, you have to remember that you are the face of the restaurant, and therefore, you must uphold its reputation. With sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor, this unpleasant experience can be broadcasted to millions of people online, and the customer can frame the situation however they like.
However, just saying that you feel sorry doesn't always make the customer feel better. Which brings us to...
Pro Tip #3: Be a Solution Superhero
Is that Superman? No! It’s you, the Solution Superhero!
The customer does not need Superman to come in and save the day – and neither do you. The greatest power you possess is making them feel special and prioritized. Some of the most popular methods of reconciling a situation are:
50% off next time (or this time)
Free appetizer/round of drinks
Having a solution in your back pocket will make them more willing to visit again and can usually curb any sort of bad attitude they might have – just remember to check in with the manager as to what you can give away without losing your job.
An easy way to appease a customer is to text them a gift card, which is possible with Toast's point of sale system. In a few taps on your computer or a Toast Go™ device, your angry customer can have $25 in their pocket for next time.
Pro Tip #4: Know When to Escalate
I’m sure that almost everyone is familiar with the phrase, “I want to speak to your manager.”
Sometimes it's on you as the server to know when it's appropriate to get your manager involved.
If the customer is getting out of hand, whether from yelling or being inappropriate, bringing your manager in can help. Yes, sometimes (a lot of the time) the customer is hoping that you will get in some sort of trouble, but that will very rarely be the case.
Also, turn to your manager if you do not know how to remedy the issue – especially if it's your first conflict at work.
Another element of dealing with a rude customer is knowing what not to do. As you can see from the great chef and TV personality, Gordon Ramsay, meeting a rude customer by being rude just does not work… unless you already have a show based on being incredibly rude to people – in which case, best of luck.
Seriously, there is nothing worse than throwing rudeness back in the customer’s face. It will only lead to more disputes, your manager will get angry, and you’ll find your name in an online review or two.
Another overlooked aspect of what not to do is tweeting. You might be surprised to see literally thousands of tweets about interactions with rude customers that can get pretty lewd. This is honestly just a bad look on you and the restaurant you represent. Twitter is one of the biggest public forums in the world, not your diary.
Similarly, there are an equal number of tweets about bad customer service. These are both of the same class of complaints and you have the power to avoid either kind of tweet directed at you!
Pro Tip #6: Don’t Let the Customer Bring You Down
This is the hardest tip to follow; it’s incredibly difficult to experience rudeness and let it roll off your back.
This is all about getting into the right frame of mind: the customer will soon be gone and you will likely not have to deal with him or her in this way again.
For added support, a 2017 study by Henkel et al. found that when other customers witness someone being rude to an employee, they displayed more empathy and react by being warmer and nicer.
When you're embarrassed from being yelled at or you’re just angry about what just happened, know that a ton of other people have been in the same – or at least similar – positions.
Empathy is the strongest tool we have. It can be used to help rude customers leave the restaurant happier and it will be there to comfort you when the whole ordeal is over.
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