Disclosure : I am the founder of Skystra.com. Everything detailed here happens, exactly as described. The only edits are to names or places, protecting the privacy of those involved.
Tough customers are great. They challenge you, they make you better and in return, they have extreme loyalty towards your business.
Abusive customers are not great. In fact, they’re not good at all.
It’s easy to confuse the two in the moment, because a tough, demanding customer will put you on the hot seat, you’ll feel it. An abusive customer will do the same exact thing. However, the outcome with a demanding customer is constructive. The outcome with an abusive customer is not.
Abusive customers are easy to spot once you’ve come across a couple, they always have the same profile:
- Sometimes will use curse words
- Will apply pressure no matter how small the request
The problem with abusive customers is two-fold:
- Time constraint
- Team mental health
An abusive customer will absolutely monopolize the time of your customer service team. They will keep contacting you at all hours, at all times of day, usually via multiple methods, such as phone and live chat.
When this happens, your team can’t actually help all the good customers that just need someone to be there to help them out with their problem. Which leads to…
Team Mental Health
As a human being, it is impossible to deal with an abusive customer, and then get your head right to help the next customer. We are not able to compartmentalize emotions and situation awareness at that level. Your really solid customer service team will then have to take a breather before getting into the next problem-solving situation.
How to stop it and protect your team from an abusive customer
Options and escape hatches.
Always make your team feel they can escalate a problem. They should be able to either escalate to a manager, or to yourself if you’re a small business. Never force your team to be stuck with an abusive customer, because they will wear down.
Your team should also feel completely free to simply ignore the abusive customer going forward. Let them wait a bit. Make sure you actually fix the problem, if it’s fixable, but you can and should let them wait on the sidelines a bit before re-engaging with them.
And if all else fails, you fire the customer. And make it a very public example within your team. Show them you have their backs and their best interests at heart. They will respect that level of decision making and repay you in spades by proving amazing customer service, because they know it matters.