“You are being rude!”

I was told this the other day after a tense conversation with a rep who made allegations about my actions that weren’t true and kept interrupting me. I thought I was being logical, persistent and not letting her state things that were untrue. She thought I was being rude.

Can customers be rude?


Can customer service providers be rude?

Of course.

Is it ever acceptable for a provider to tell a customer s/he is rude?

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Rude is in the eye of the beholder. One person’s rude could be another person’s assertive, adamant, or persistent.

Is calling someone a name rude? Yes. Cursing? Yes. So if a customer is doing something that the provider considers rude, is it OK to tell them so?

I think not.

If there is a tense situation, calling the customer rude won’t help calm her down nor will it help resolve the situation. If a customer is being abrasive and combative, will telling them they are rude change that? Most likely not. Some providers think, “He must not realize how obnoxious he’s being. By my telling him he’s being rude, he will suddenly see the light and immediately become reasonable.” Right. It *can* happen, but it’s highly unlikely.

Some reps want to call the customer on their behavior, with an attitude of “you can’t talk to me like that.” While it’s true, if the customer is abusive, they can’t talk to you like that. However, telling them that is often counter productive. It doesn’t usually get the customer to change their behavior.

If a customer is behaving in a way that the rep feels is rude, it’s because the customer is upset. Perhaps the customer is upset at something the rep’s organization did or didn’t do. Perhaps it’s something the rep said or how s/he said it. Or the upset might have little to do with the interaction, as the customer was upset with something in life before the encounter.

No matter what the reason, the rep’s job is to try to understand the complaint and do his/her best to resolve it, if at all possible. Calling a customer rude doesn’t really help.

Does this mean reps have to endure insults, cursing, and obnoxious behavior? Not at all. If they feel the customer is behaving in a way that prevents the rep from helping resolve the problem, the rep has options. The rep could ask if she could put the customer on hold a moment while she researches the situation. Assuming the customer agrees, it will give the customer a moment or two to calm down a bit, since he hears that the rep is trying to help.

Although the rep should do his best to resolve the situation, there are times it is more effective to escalate the customer to a more senior rep or his boss.

And lastly, the rep could ask the customer if she could call the customer back in an hour or so, as she needs to research the situation and see what solutions are available. As long as she indeed follows up within the agreed upon time, the customer is more likely to have calmed down by the time they talk next.

If there must be any comment on the customer’s behavior, it could go something like this, “I really want to help find a solution. However, it will go much more smoothly for both of us if we keep the language professional. I understand you are upset, as I would be if this happened to be. But I can only help if you refrain from cursing.”

What do you or your reps do when you feel a customer is being rude? How do you handle it in your organization?