The customer isn’t always right

Dear Readers: Every year during this time I step away from my column to work on other creative projects. I hope you enjoy this “Best Of” Q&As from 10 years ago.

Today’s topic is: Customer service.

Dear Amy: This week, I was fired from a customer-service job. I had only been at the job for three weeks. The incident leading to my firing happened when I was exhausted and caught off guard by a very young customer who was angry about an answer I gave her. I was not at my best but tried to steer her to my manager. The girl refused to see the manager and Tweeted about my company and me that night. The next day, I called my supervisor to alert her about the angry customer. I was shocked to hear our headquarters caught wind of the Tweet, which stated that I was unkind to this customer. I am a compassionate person and about three times her age (about 20). Tell your readers to count to 10 when they are angry, even if they are “right” in a commercial situation. It is a test of character to know how to complain about people.

— Fired

Dear Fired:

Sometimes a complaint is a vent and not grounds for punishment or dismissal.

I agree with your admonition to count to 10 before pressing “send.” I also urge companies not to overreact to unverified Tweets or postings.

, especially when these complaints could be used to improve service through training.

(February 2011)

Dear Amy: I’m responding to the letter from “Fired,” the customer service worker who was fired after an angry customer took to Twitter with complaints.

I am a customer service manager, and I have noticed in recent years that angry customers have become increasingly more confrontational and aggressive.

While registering complaints through social networks can make us all more informed consumers and make organizations better at serving customers, it also can lead to outrageous abuse of customer service personnel, and cannot be relied on as fact.

Bad customer service shouldn’t be tolerated, but more often I am seeing customers who come in looking for a fight, wanting to post that scathing review, wanting retribution for an unknown transgression.

It’s not uncommon for customers to scream at us, insult us, and threaten to have us fired. They don’t want resolution to their problem.

My co-workers and I have had customers take our pictures, and some post those photos with hateful commentary — and even our names — on Facebook and Twitter pages.

One customer videoed a conversation with a customer service representative on his phone and posted it on YouTube with the representative’s name, referred to her as “a stupid pig,” and encouraged further confrontation from strangers.

Many times, we’ve found online reviews of our organization that include unfounded claims of racism and theft, reviews that are sexually explicit and overtly racist.

– Management

Dear Management: Just as networking through social media makes for many wonderful stories of positive connections, the ability to surreptitiously record encounters and post thoughtless or unfounded complaints can lead to abuse. People with complaints should think before they Tweet, and management should confirm the veracity of complaints before making any sudden moves.

(March 2011)

Dear Amy: It is important for people to understand that servers and store salespeople are fired for customer complaints.

I only complain if the service is seriously lacking. If the service is good, I find the manager and sing their praises.

– Equal Opportunity Praiser

Dear Praiser: I agree that we should all put as much energy into our praise, as we do into crafting our outraged and clever complaints.

(October 2011)