Way too many people these days subscribe to the squeaky-wheel theory of customer service. They believe that the more unpleasant they are, the more pain they can inflict, the quicker the other person will resolve their problems. This may work with the teenaged customer service rep at Walmart, but in professional service businesses where developing and maintaining strong business relationships is paramount, it's a poison pill.
Productive relationships between people work because they cooperate to overcome problems, not because one person punches the other person in the face when the mashed potatoes are cold. They work because the parties respect one another and are honest. And when they don’t work, things are ended without insults and abuse.
Business is no different. I can’t tell you how many agents call me lamenting the fact that their customers run roughshod over them. They demand kickbacks, they use abusive language, or they manipulate in order to drive prices into the ground. And these agents take it, believing that they have to in order to make a living. Poo always runs downhill, so we also get our share of agents screaming at us for, say, a carrier’s failure to perform.
The most frustrating part about adversarial customer/vendor relationships is that in most cases, the master agent and partner collectively are the people working hardest for the customer. We’re the ones leveraging our escalation relationships. We’re the ones trying to work an imperfect carrier system. We’re the ones juggling installs and disconnects to minimize billing. We’re the customer's advocate, so when they berate us the sting is especially sharp.
And how do people fight back, given that their job is to provide customer service? They use the only tool they have – passive aggression. They put the problem at the bottom of the stack. They let that call go to voicemail. They sit on that email for an extra day. As much as they fantasize about it, they can’t directly tell the offender to F off. But they can certainly throw salt in the wound when the person isn't looking.
In the end, the person who thought they were going to get their problem solved by beating up the other party in the relationship only gets more frustrated. And even if that particular problem does get resolved quickly, the next time that caller ID shows up on someone’s phone there’s a good chance they’re not going to pick up the first time. Why? Because in the end, assholes get bad service. As they should.
So what can you do to break that cycle? First off, don’t be an asshole. Second off, don’t tolerate your customers being assholes. You might lose the business if you diplomatically set them straight, but you’ll definitely lose your mind and your self-respect if you make a habit of putting up with it. Life’s too short.