Some customers radiate a vibe that you just can’t stand. You perceive – accurately or inaccurately – hostility leaking out of them. Other customers actively do something that pisses you off. I’ll address some of each of these situations.
When a customer pisses you off, you have probably several options – I’ll talk about two of them.
- You could, on the spot, start writing a blog post about customers who piss you off.
- You could charm the pants off them. The essence of this second strategy is to take it as a personal challenge to win them over. I have experienced this, where the more pissy a customer was, the more excited I would get about “I’m going to make sure that something shifts for them before they walk away from this transaction.” And when I would take that attitude, I was usually successful – though not always.
I learned this approach from Cathy, a supervisor at the Biltmore Estate Carriage Shop gift shop who just loved that kind of challenge. One day I was standing next to her when one of the other cashiers came over and said, “This woman is so mad that I just can’t deal with her.” Cathy winked at me and said, “Watch me work.” And she did it – she got that customer happy. They were laughing together before the customer walked off.
Yesterday I had a customer, a very overweight 50 ish woman, who pissed me off – I don’t even remember why – and I used Option 1. I mostly withdrew from her and got my little notepad out and started to jot notes for this very post. It distracted me from her, it helped me avoid doing something nasty to her – which was always a possibility. It took some of the pressure off. It was only at the very end of the interaction that I decided to try some of the charm. So I looked up at her – maybe almost the first time I looked at her since she first pissed me off – and said, sincerely, “That is one great hat – where did you get it?” She said “I made it.” Usually at this point you’re home free: compliment an item of clothing that the customer has made and you have a happy customer. No, uh-uh – she barely cracked a smile. But then, I did wait until the 11th hour to try being nice to her. What did I expect?
Customer 2 was today – near the end of my shift, when I’ll admit that I was tired, running out of gas…risky terrain. About 60 – tall and wiry – he presented very defended – strong male body armor, cold, hostile. I immediately took a dislike to him. I didn’t want him in front of me. When I reached that point in the interaction where I often ask “What’s been a highlight of your day?”, I considered it and inside said “No way! I’m not going to waste that nice question on this guy -I’m not giving him the time of day. Screw him.”
A few moments after that, I swiped his last two purchases – two cartons of Roots hummus. He said, “Those were supposed to be two for the price of one.” I said, “Let me call grocery and find out about that.” If I could have pitched my voice to a tone that would have intentionally and clearly said, “I bet you’re wrong”, I would have done it. Maybe I did do it. When I got back the message from grocery that it was in fact another brand that had that special price, did I in any way betray some satisfaction at his downfall? I cannot with confidence say that I did not. Even though we had finished ringing his groceries and it was time for him to just pay and move on – and there was another customer patiently waiting her turn while we did this price check – he stormed off to go back and look for himself.
I apologized to the next customer – a tall, lovely young woman – and, in a very unprofessional moment, allowed myself to vent to her about this guy. Now, in my defense I will say that she had watched this whole situation devolve and had, I thought, been giving me some sympathetic looks. “I’ve about had it with this guy. He’s got no business keeping you waiting. I’ve got half a mind to suspend his transaction and ring you through – but you’ve got a lot of groceries and he’ll have a fit.” She was all reassurance: “Don’t worry about it. I’m not in a hurry. I can see that you’ve got your hands full with him.”
He came back and angrily said, “It was false advertising. The sign says ‘all varieties’.” I didn’t respond – didn’t even look at him. “Your total is….” He paid his money and grumped off.
Charm is definitely the preferred way to go, but sometimes I just don’t have it in me – and sometimes it probably will get you nowhere. But sometimes life takes care of you anyway. As this jerk was leaving, Mary – who was running the breaks – told me to put up my “Lane closed” sign, which meant that I could count my money and go home. This lovely young woman, with her big order that meant we could hang out with each other for a few minutes, was my last customer. Sometimes, even when you kind of lose it, life treats you mercifully.