Monday, February 6, 2012

Verbally Abuse Us, We'll Fine You

Recently I got a letter from my Homeowners' Association stating that they are proposing a rule change: "Due to an increase in the number of reported verbal abuse incidents against representatives of the Association, the Board of Directors is proposing to increase the monetary fine associated with a verbal abuse violation to deter this unwanted conduct." Apparently (Hah! I better go back and read the HOA rules!), there's already such a rule that states that this kind of behavior will cost you $100, but the new rule proposes a doubling of the fine, to $200.

(OK, so I live in the OC, but we're not all like the Real Housewives of Orange County. The gated community I live in is filled with well-educated family types that one would think would not need such rules. One would think...)

So, I got to thinking, as I usually do... what if all companies fined customers any time they got verbally abusive with their frontline representatives? Would that deter customers from complaining? Would that force customers to be nicer to company reps? Do we need incentives for customers to not get angry in their dealings with company reps? Is this anger justified?

Or, would that just give companies a good excuse to ignore the customer experience and the quality of service provided?

Who takes the high ground?

Shep Hyken (@hyken) tweeted: The customer is not always right, but they are the customer. So if they are wrong, let them be wrong with dignity & respect.

What rights does the company have in this equation?

This line of thinking reminded me about a Twitter exchange I had a few weeks back. I tweeted an article titled "Where, oh where, has customer service gone?" to which Annie Pettit (@LoveStats) responded, "Where oh where have polite consumers gone...:)" That threw me for a minute, but it's so true. We put a lot of weight on hiring people who are nice, friendly, and service-oriented, but how much crap can they or do they have to take?

People buy from people. Time to put human back into the service equation. On both sides of the equation.


  1. Certainly, Annette, those of us who survived waiting tables in high school or college have been verbally abused our fair share. While there are no guarantees, I generally find that being a good customer (descent, respectful, courteous, fair, polite) yields good customer service from front-line staff. The Golden Rule absolutely applies here.

    1. Thanks, Sarah, absolutely agree about The Golden Rule!

  2. Great observations, Annette! When I read between the lines of a policy like this, what I see is, "we aren't very good at providing service. Instead, we tell you how it's going to be, and you will take it, and take it quietly."

    When we lose focus on doing what is best for the customer, we end up with policies like this. Maybe I'm just channeling my own impressions of dealing with my own homeowners management company!

    If your processes and procedure don't make sense, or you aren't able to bend and accommodate, it doesn't matter how nice your people are, the customer is going to be angry.

  3. Great observations, Annette! When I read this, I can't help but read between the lines on this policy. It implies the following: "We're not interested in providing customer service. We will tell you what our policy is, you will accept that answer, and you will do it quietly."

    Maybe I'm just channeling my experiences with my homeowners management company!

    When our policies and procedures don't take the voice of the customer in mind, we end up with angry, frustrated, ex-customers!

    1. Dana, you must be channeling the same experiences I have with my HOA. LOL. And I think you're spot on with your interpretation. That has been exactly what homeowners here have experienced. I know we are not the only HOA with this issue, unfortunately.

      Outside of HOA, I agree that business policies and procedures that are detrimental to the experience and create ex-customers are definitely policies that need to be revisited. Thanks for your comment!