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How to be a Bad Customer Service Rep

Updated on February 9, 2019

I just read a wonderful hub by Jeannieinabottle entitled What Call Center Workers Really Think of You. Call center workers have a hard job and we need to respect them. Please read it, it's a valuable message. And a lot of what she says is applicable to any kind of customer service worker.

As someone who has spent a lot of years working in customer service, and as a consumer who has paid for services out of her hard earned money, I have seen some really poor face-to-face customer service. I am talking nightmare, rude, lazy and clueless. I am speaking of people who have no business being in the customer service business at all. So if you're looking for a job working with the public, this is what not to do.

"Life sucks! Why am I here? Go home!" Are you a poker face?
"Life sucks! Why am I here? Go home!" Are you a poker face? | Source

Poker Face

These people simply do not know how to look at their customers in the eye, smile, and at least pretend they want to help them. They say in a monotone voice "Ya, what do you need?" They look like they are moving in slow motion and would rather be getting a colonoscopy than waiting on someone. Their body language and countenance say, "Life sucks! Why do I have to be here? Go home."

As a customer, there is nothing more deflating than being waited on by one of these people. I don't want to go back and I resent them getting paid with my money for such behavior.

Think about times when you have had to be waited on or helped by someone you are paying, whether it's for a stick of gum or buying a car, and you were treated poorly. How bad of a taste did it leave in your mouth? It would be sad to turn around and repeat it. You have the opportunity every time you ask "How can I help you," to make someone's day, and in turn, make your day.

Get Away From Me Kid, You Bother Me

I have worked with lots of people who when the customer asks a reasonable and appropriate question, respond with an "I'm not sure," or "I dunno," and that's it. If you are in customer service and you don't know the answer to a question, the respectful, logical, and professional thing to do is say, "I don't have the answer, but let me call someone who can help you with that." Then do it immediately, and make sure there is a follow-up.

Also, if you get a question that customers ask frequently, learn the answer so you don't have to hunt down your busy supervisor and keep your customers waiting in the future. You'll save yourself a lot of energy as well. It feels great when you know that answer and can make something work.

I have a friend who before I became friends with her, came to my deli a lot. She told me about one time when she came in looking for a certain gourmet cheese which was not behind the counter, but out on the floor across from the deli. The young girl that waited on her waved over to the general direction of the gourmet cheese section and said: "Oh, it's somewhere over there." My friend said "There are so many cheeses there, I couldn't find it. Do you have it in stock?" The young girl said rather curtly, "I don't know, sometimes there really hard to see, just look harder."

This young girl was working the closing shift in which a lot of breaking down and cleaning needed to be done; she was in a hurry to get everything done so she could get off early and hang out with friends. My friend reported her to the store manager. Good for her. This friend of mine found out which clerks in the deli gave good customer service (I am honored to be one of them) and would not do business if we weren't there.

If your customer cannot find something, help them find it. If you cannot find it, find someone who can. By doing it the way my young co-worker did it, she sent a message to my friend that said: "Look, lady, I'm in a hurry, your needs are not important to me, leave me alone." You might get to your friends sooner, but you might not do too well on a job review.

Customers shouldn't have to keep hitting the HELP button
Customers shouldn't have to keep hitting the HELP button | Source

Wait, I'm Busy Talking

Here's the scenario: A new customer comes to the deli and there are only two workers. One is busy helping a customer, the other is talking to a friend over the counter who is not there to purchase anything. The new customer sees that they are just casually chatting about boyfriends and says "Excuse me, can you help me?" The worker, who has her elbows on the counter in a relaxed pose says "Just a minute, I'm talking."

Or, two workers are talking while customers are waiting. The customers start asking for help, so the two workers roll their eyes, sigh deeply to let each other and the customer know how put-out they are, then hurriedly race through the work so they can get back to their chit chat.

This also happens sometimes when a clerk is chatting on the phone with a friend. She leaves the customer there waiting or rings them up with the phone glued to her ear without even acknowledging the customer's existence. There is no "thank you, come again." Who would want to come again?

TMI Story-Tellers

A customer comes to the counter and you very nicely say "How can I help you?" The person tells you how you can help them, and you do so...all the while telling them about your abusive husband, how lonely you were as a kid or your nephew who broke his neck in a sky diving accident.

First of all, usually the customer is not interested in your personal life. Secondly, the above-mentioned comments are totally inappropriate for the workplace, customers or co-workers. If you are making or selling food when you do this, they will probably cancel their order because they have just lost their appetite.

I worked with a gal like this. She could be very personable, but her problem was that, like an alcoholic, she had no stopper when it came to her mouth. She talked of very personal, inappropriate things. She was constantly in trouble with the managers for talking about all the intimate matters.

There are customers who like to chat and may ask questions or bring up a topic close to your heart. But you need to keep it appropriate, positive and focus on service to the public and not your personal life.


Let's be honest, sometimes we in customer service deal with rude and even hostile customers. Sometimes they have a right to be upset if services were not handled satisfactorily, whether by you or the company you work for. However, certainly, even then hostility is not appropriate. But it happens, and we in customer service need to know how to respond rather than react. I have seen workers totally lose it. Retaliation is not the answer. Here are a couple of rules when this situation arises:

Rule # 1: Don't argue, yell, insult, or try to reason with a hostile customer. This will not resolve the customer's issue, and it may escalate the situation.

Rule # 2: Stay calm, and do your best to make things right. Don't let them see your fear or sense of intimidation. Professionals keep their cool and serve with a positive attitude, even when it's uncomfortable. Offer to, or go ahead and call a supervisor or manager.

On many occasions, I had customers who were disgruntled about the deli not having something they wanted, or perhaps they were not happy about the quality, or some other error. They'd get testy or even belligerent. In situations like this, if you know it is your or your company's fault, keep your cool, sincerely apologize, and if at all possible make it right. Let them know you understand their frustration and you intend to do whatever it takes to resolve the matter. If, in the end, your customer is still not satisfied, ask them, "Would you like me to call my manager?" or "I will call the manager for your if you'd like." That tells your customer that you will do whatever it takes to make it right and that you value them enough to do everything you can to resolve the problem.

Of course, there are boundaries when it comes to abusive and threatening behavior, but if this happens, don't get into it with them. The customer wants to get you riled so that when you react in a retaliatory way, he can have a legitimate grievance. Stay calm, ask what you can do to make it right, and do it. You have a better chance of disarming them if you remain confident and calm and let them know their problem is your top priority. This may also be a good time to call your supervisor and let them take over.

At the deli, I worked at we had a regular customer that was horribly abusive. He was a large man in a wheelchair and very bitter and demanding. If he ordered a pound of smoked turkey and you began to slice it, he would swear and yell that you that you are supposed to break apart the slicer and completely scrub and sanitize it before slicing his meat. When you do it, he yelled and screamed that it was not fast enough, or you were too slow. Some of us learned that he enjoyed seeing our stressful countenance and utter fear. The manager told us to smile our biggest smile, and tell him you are happy to clean the slicer, and he will settle down. However, when he swore we told him firmly but calmly that we would be happy to perform our duties for him but if he was going to be abusive we would have to call management. One day he was cussing out the customers and there was nearly a riot. The store manager kicked him out with an order not to return.

I've seen some dangerous, threatening customers too. Stay calm, smile, do your best to help them, and call for help if it gets too heavy.


I'll Do It My Way

In the business of customer service, you are not Frank Sinatra, and you cannot do it your way. If you provide customer service and the customer is being very specific about what he/she wants, and it is not against policy or possibility, then do it. After all, that is the whole purpose of serving customers; giving them what they are buying or paying for. I had co-workers in the deli who just didn't understand or care that the customer said he wanted his roast beef sliced thin. They cut it medium or thick, the customer would holler, refuse what was given him, and ask to have it sliced the way he'd asked. If the roast beef had already passed over the counter to the customer before he asked for a new batch, then by policy, we had to throw it away. So not only was the customer dissatisfied, but it cost the store money, and the worker had to do it all over again anyway. If you do it right the first time, everyone involved will be happy and time will not stand still.

There is also the worker who will do suggestive selling, which is a perfectly good practice within reason, but will end up trying to coerce the customer into buying something he has already made clear he is not interested in. The idea is suggestive selling, not coercive selling. Suggestive selling would be something like, "Here's your roast beef, sir, would you like to try some horseradish cheddar cheese that?" If the customer declines, anything after that would become coercive. "Are you sure? You've never had a roast beef sandwich till you put on some horseradish cheddar. Why don't you reconsider."

In the deli, we always offered a sample slice of whatever the customer ordered. We sliced a piece of the turkey they ordered, and said, "Would you like a sample slice while you're waiting?" or we would slice it and offer the first piece to see if it was cut the way they wanted it. If someone couldn't make a decision, we would ask if they would like to try this or that. This wasn't to be pushy, we wanted to help them because we value them as a customer.

Listen to and respect your customers, just as you like it when you are the customer.

Which of these would your customers check?
Which of these would your customers check? | Source

Appearance Makes the First Impression, So It Better Be Good

I recently went to a Subway to have a sandwich with a friend. We were both starving. We got up to the counter where two teenagers were waiting to take our orders. They were very polite, very friendly and did their job well, but we canceled our orders and left before we were even done ordering. One boy had clean, short cut hair, but had about 8 piercings on his face, lips, and ears. The other young man, who was especially nice, had dirty, greasy, long hair which was tied in a pony tail, but in order to maintain his coolness, left half of it falling forward; it hovered over the sandwiches they were making menacingly. Not only was that health risk, but it was totally gross. My friend and I went to Costco and had pizza for lunch. By the way, Costco has very strict standards of protection, sanitation, and cleanliness. If a man has facial hair and works in the snack bar, he wears a cover for it. When my son worked there it motivated him to cut off his beard.

In this particular instance, I think the primary responsibility was with the manager, or whoever did the hiring. I find Subway to have substandard policies in this regard. But regardless, no one wants to look at piercings, tatoos, dirty or messy hair, and B.O. or bad breath. I am not saying it is wrong or right to have some of these things in one's personal life. But it's not appropriate for customer service because most people find them repulsive and unsanitary. And really, there is never an excuse for poor grooming in the workplace.

I had a co-worker once who lost every job she ever had because she did not brush her teeth, wash her hair, or armpits. No one could stand to get near her, and truly she was a sweet dear girl. But she got so defensive when managers called her on it that she refused to change and customers would complain and she'd be fired.

Appearance is the first thing customers notice when they step up to the counter or desk. The next thing they notice is if you are smiling and looking them in the eye. A customer has the right to know that their business is appreciated and that their needs are the top priority. If you stink, are disheveled, full of piercings, and frowning, they are not going to get that message.

This is not the kind of hygiene you want to see in your customer service person.
This is not the kind of hygiene you want to see in your customer service person.

Attitude will make you or break you

I have found that even if an employee is weak in some of his skills, if he has a good work ethic, respects his privilege of being employed, his company, his boss, and his customers, he will learn and grow and become a highly respected worker.

An attitude of pride in doing a good job is number one in my book. If you are only there to get a paycheck with as little effort as possible, you might as well not bother. You will not be employed for very long. You will not get good references when you go to get another job you don't want to do, and you'll always be struggling to stay employed. Life is not about us if it means treating others badly. Poor customer service attitudes and habits is treating your customers and employers badly.

On that note, I see employees who are not happy with the way the business is run, the way their boss treats them, the way managers manage, and therefore, justify various forms disrespect and poor work. Bad mouthing your boss, company or co-workers to customers is not justifiable whether the things you say are true or not. You are there to do a job, so do it to the best of your ability, and at the very least you will be highly respected by your customers. If you are being poorly treated (we've all been there) and things don't change when you go through the proper channels, then move on. If I have customers who are unhappy about the company, rather than prattle on about what a lousy business it is and feed into their dissatisfaction, I will ask them if they want to write out a complaint or talk to someone in authority, and guarantee it will be passed on to the appropriate person or persons.

To me, there is nothing like the feeling of working hard and at the end of the day being able to feel good about myself, and what I was able to do to make my customers and boss happy. I want my customers to return and be part of the reason why.

Good and Wise Advice

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages. ~Henry Ford

One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others. ~Lewis Carol

Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet. ~ Kevin Stirtz

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. ~Mahatma Gandhi

If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours. ~Ray Krock

Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer! ~Gene Buckley, President Sikorsky Aircraft

Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~Damon Richards

Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living. ~Albert Einstein

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. ~Roger Staubach

What should you do?

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© 2012 Lori Colbo


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