The Grumpy Customer

I have a full time job where I receive several customer calls during the day.

Mostly the customers are nice people and things can be discussed with them easily, even though the line of business is not pleasant for the customers themselves. But they at least understand you are there to help them and behave nicely to get their message through.

But then there is the Grumpy Group. I am sure you know the type of people who belong to it…

When you answer the phone, they do not introduce themselves or if they do, they almost spit their name out and demand to know your name, which they then write down and spell aloud with the intention to let you know you are in big trouble if you don’t do as they wish. They demand immediate action – and they sure want to let you know that you are nothing else but a nuisance to them, and they would never in their right minds call you unless they absolutely had to. They yell from the start and are of the opinion that they know that you want to cheat them – no, you were in fact born to cheat them because everyone in your line of business is a mental case and so this has to be in your genes... Yes, they know you want to make life difficult for them. No one ever wants to help them “because so it has always been when I have called your company.” And this is what they expect to happen now too. And they threaten you with court even before you know what they want. Oh dear…

Well, as a representative of a big company you keep your calm, you behave nicely, you tolerate the insults while helping the customer as best as you can, and you wish the customer a good day. And then you sit there, trying to clean off the negative energies so you won’t spread them to your coworkers or other customers.

And you wonder what makes people behave so impolitely? Why do they believe everyone in the world is trying to cheat them one way or the other? Quite a horrible attitude towards life.

Some customers think they need to show they are angry or else no one will give them quick service. Well, true – if someone is very angry, you don’t wish to talk to them for a long time. But as a result it may happen that the customer servant who was in a good mood and willing to help the customers before this particular angry person called, now just wants to get the person off to someone else’s hands as soon as possible. And this may cause the actual customer service to be less than perfect. No one likes to be disliked.

Some customers simply hate the company you represent and have taken the attitude they will never get good service from the company. If they do, they are reluctant to admit it, because it would mean they were wrong. People don’t like to be wrong. They like to repeat how bad the service was, is, and will be.

Some people don’t like it if a woman is on the phone and demand to talk to a man – and vice versa. Education has nothing to do with it. A lawyer in our company, a woman, had a customer say to her “What are you doing there during the daytime hours, girlie? You should be home feeding your children!” Sheesh…

Some people simply have a bad day – and lash out on the first person who comes their way. Often these people calm down when you behave nicely towards them – and yes, may even apologize their behavior. I have had people calling back to me saying they were so sorry they lashed out on me. And sometimes these people become the best customers, when you tell them that you do understand. Bad days happen to everyone.

And then of course there are people who simply enjoy to push other people down, so that they can feel superior. They best way is to act is as if you never notice this. They try for a while and then they start feeling silly and most often stop. If you don’t give them the satisfaction of reacting to their insults, they usually get tired of trying.

But the common thing usually is that these people feel they never get good service anywhere, and do not see the connection between their own impolite behavior and the response from the customer service department. They expect good, polite behavior, but are not willing to behave well themselves.

So what can you do when you meet with a person who is obnoxious, who just wants to spread their bad mood?

I think the best thing is to say to yourself “I do not need to fix this person.” Admit you cannot change another person. The only person you can ever change is yourself.

So let the person be. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Be polite, be as calm as you can – and if the other person steps over the line, you have the right to say that the discussion will not continue unless the other one behaves in a more polite manner. Not so that they cannot be angry. Even an angry person can be polite.

I have had only two customers in my whole life to whom I told I was not going to discuss with them any further. I said to them that the call would end right there and then, but that I was willing to discuss with them again once they had calmed down. One never called back. The other one did, and we had a nice, good conversation. And it turned out that he was going through very heavy cancer treatment while having to work long hours as the owner of a company… When I heard that I did not wonder his earlier behavior anymore.

And what of the other angry people I talked with, probably hundreds of them? Well – the surprising thing is that if you behave as if they were just nice people with a problem – they quite often change to be just that. They sense you like them and everyone likes to be liked. They are more willing to listen and trust you are really trying to help them find a solution to their problems.

So why not try that? Decide the angry person is a nice person having problems that have nothing to do with you, and they are just venting their frustration. Decide you will make this conversation at least a positive experience to them – and be prepared to be surprised at how they change! Because quite often – they really do!

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Leena Pekkalainen is a writer who specializes in inspirational short stories that uplift the reader. You will find her stories and positive attitude tips at

This article was first published in Inspirational Short Stories newsletter.

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