As the CEO of a start-up, every week I spend some time answering customer service emails. One of the things that continues to surprise me is just how many people write to us filled with vitriol and anger, without any provocation. A few times a week, I read emails like these ones:
• I hated your site. What a sham! Remove me immediately from any other list or I will report this site.
• You guys are a bunch of asshats. I will be deterring all o my contacts from using your service.
• Take me off your mailing list. I think you are disgusting.
• Have you folks lost your minds, or just hired new, incompetent people? You stupid #%?&@
Is the customer always right? Should we have to put up with this kind of verbal abuse? In our case, we’re a hard-working, small company that provides a free service. And yet the anger from people over email seems to have no bounds. I can only surmise that the anonymity of the web provides a safe-haven for people to act differently than they would if they walked into our office and spoke to us face-to-face.
And yet, this kind of behavior happens a few times a month to me over the phone too. In fact, the only customer service phone number listed on Punchbowl.com is my cell phone number, with the following disclaimer:
As an internet-based company, we don’t offer customer support by phone. However, if you can’t find the answer to your question on this page, and you’ve already emailed us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you really, really need customer support by phone, you can call the Founder & CEO of Punchbowl (Matt Douglas), directly at 650.814.3393.
While Matt is happy to provide quick phone support and loves to talk to customers, please remember that he might be between meetings, out walking his dog, or taking care of his daughter (her name is Maya). Matt is available to offer help with issues that are specifically related to Punchbowl and he’ll assume that you are very comfortable using the Internet. Before you call, upgrade your membership and then mention to Matt that you are a paying member of Punchbowl. That’s a sure way to get on his good side.
You would think that with this friendly description, the people who call this number would be respectful. That’s not always the case. In fact, this past weekend I got two calls from people who were angry — and they didn’t care that I answered the phone on the weekend. In one case, a woman started yelling at me, swearing up a storm. In another case, some random guy named Jose from Costa Rica told me that he was going to hire a lawyer and that “we’re going to trial at the Supreme Court.” (Yes, I laughed out loud).
I don’t subscribe to the ridiculous notion that the customer is “always right.” In fact, I think that customers have an obligation to treat companies with dignity and respect. It’s the old adage: treat others how you would expect to be treated.
If you’re a customer, and someone has sent you this post to read, it’s because we think you acted poorly. You were over the line, and you failed to show us basic respect. Remember: a company is simply a collection of people. People who are real, and who have emotions. As a customer, your job is to treat every individual of the company with respect, and you should expect the same kind of respect in return. Yes, we want to help you solve the issue you’re having, but we’re not going to put up with your abusive behavior.
I don’t agree with the phrase “the customer is always right” because it’s simply not true. Sometimes, customers are wrong. And no one should have to put up with an abusive customer, regardless of the circumstance.