Rude customer service is rampant

A survey says more than a third of customers experience rude service monthly.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 28, 2011 12:24PM

Updated Feb. 21, 2012, 12:50 p.m. ET


This post comes from Seth Fiegerman at partner site MainStreet.


If it feels like retail employees are rude to you on a regular basis, you're certainly not alone.


More than a third of consumers say they experience rude customer service at least once a month, according to a study in the Journal of Service Research (.pdf file), and being on the receiving end of this behavior makes those customers angry and less interested in doing business with the retailer in the future.


To make matters worse for the retailer, more than half of those who experience rudeness tell their friends and co-workers about the incident (58% and 55%, respectively).


It's not just the rudeness customers experience firsthand that has the potential to tar a company's reputation. Researchers also found that half of those surveyed witnessed one employee be rude to another at a store at least once a month, and the vast majority of those customers who did (92%) ended up speaking negatively about the company to friends, family, co-workers or pretty much anyone who would listen.

Rude behavior, or "incivility," as the researchers refer to it, is defined in the report as encompassing any incident where workers are perceived as being insensitive or disrespectful to someone else. The researchers conducted three studies surveying a total of 244 students to find how often they experienced a store worker being rude to them, to a fellow employee or to another customer in their presence, and how the students reacted to each situation. (Post continues after video.)

Restaurants scored the worst

Restaurants proved to have the highest frequency of rude encounters in each of these categories, with 83% of respondents saying a restaurant employee was rude to them at some point and the same percentage saying they witnessed one restaurant employee be rude to another. Gyms, on the other hand, ranked the best in each category, with just 10% of respondents experiencing rude behavior firsthand.


Based on these findings, the researchers prescribe a twofold solution for stores to crack down on rude behavior and limit the fallout from those situations where a customer witnesses incivility.


First, the researchers argue that stores should focus on training employees to be better at conflict resolution and "dealing with difficult people." The researchers also propose that stores train managers to be better at spotting situations in which something looks like it's going wrong with a customer. When an employee is rude to a customer, the researchers find that the best way to fix the situation is for both the manager and the employee to apologize cordially in front of the customer.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:


Sep 28, 2011 3:25PM
I see more rude customers than rude customer service people. 
Sep 28, 2011 3:23PM

i believe customers have unfair and unrealistic expectations of customer service.  agents are there to do a job, not care about every single customer's life story.  many customers are cheats, too.  they want to return things that are five years old (esp clothing) just because they don't like it anymore, they want a ful refund of cash without even a proof of purchase, they want to return things that specifically cannot be returned (ammo).  i just don't get customers lately.  they perceive rudeness when they just didn't get their way.  i will not apologize for that!  we are humans too, and remember the old saying: you catch more flies with honey...remember that you are dealing with human beings not robots.  if you come to me with attitude, then guess what, i don't want to do my best for you! 

Sep 28, 2011 4:29PM
I have been in customer service since I was of working age. I have been spit on, kicked called every name in the book while putting on a smile that would out shine most any other smiles. While trying to give my best "Customer Service" If you want great customer service then start behaving as if the person who is trying to help you as a human being. I cannot help you if I am being yelled at for something I had no control over. Behave like an adult instead behaving like a spoiled child. The lack of respect is unbelievable at best. If you want great customer service behave accordingly lashing out at someone is never appropriate or exceptable.   Manors from both sides goes a long ways of helping find solutions so everyone comes out ahead. I agree the customer pays my check but I am tired of being treated like crap by people who are out of control with their behaviors.
Sep 28, 2011 4:05PM
Sorry but I too have been waiting in lines at checkouts and have witnessed down right nasty behavior coming from customers. Seriously they have to have some kind of patience to stand there and not reach across the counter and pop the customer. At some point something has got to give. I saw one woman screaming at the customer service Rep, when the Rep asked her to please calm down or she would be asked to leave, it went from bad to worst. Oh and yes she threatened to go on the internet and leave a bad review. I personally don't take much notice of the complainers. I just figure that is all they have in their sad lives.   
Sep 28, 2011 3:00PM
Of course rude customer service is rampant, there are Rude Customers. Where I work (Rental Car) a lot of people treat us like the devil when most of us are trying to help, that is everyone except rental agents who want to sell. I even saw one situation where the rental agent was trying to find someones reservation and they couldnt so when they asked the customer for the confirmation #  the customer gave it but they also rudely said that "this was the worst part of my trip and im posting this on twitter and on my facebook that i had bad service" when the customer actually put her nickname, although she was really ignorant. Plus also when you are at a minimum wage job you have a lot of real problems that you worry about  bills, food, gas, etc.. that you get fed up with everything.
Sep 28, 2011 5:02PM

I think consumers are more the problem.  With that said, I in no way am saying there isn't unjustified bad customer service out there which should be addressed.  In my opinion after over 5 years of being in customer service for a large electronics store this argument goes both ways. 


American consumers want to pay as little as possible for everything in a lot of cases, including electronics.  Places like amazon and walmart need to provide little to no customer service, which keeps overhead very low, and allows them to drop prices.  Stores that have to have somewhat educated sales people in order to sell products and services are suffering, because they cant profit as much when they have to provide 2-3 times the people to help customers than walmart or amazon do(look at what best buy is going through right now).  People used to come into our store, pick our brains and then say "well amazon has the same tv for $250 less".  This would put the tv either at our cost or below what our company paid for it.  Those customers rarely bought accessories, and we lost money if we price matched.  Not only that, but customers would get angry and "demand to speak to a manager" when we couldn't match the price.  Many times management would cave in, in order to keep the customer happy. 


Because the overhead is shrinking, so is the amount companies can pay their salesmen/women.  Companies like Best Buy have put pay caps on their floor level employees (at least in TX they have) which has eliminated most of the good sales people.  Now you are stuck with people who have no intentions to make a living off of sales, but just need a job.  Some of these people care about the job and some don't.  The one's that don't care are usually easily spotted, and have little motivation to work hard for minimum wage, or little more.  The ones that do care get spit on by a good 30% of the ignorant customers they have to deal with who are rude for the sake of being rude, have a power trip, or just don't understand the way things work.  A lot of people treat customer service reps like dogs or servants.  While it is their job to "serve", they should not be treated as lower beings. 


I think anyone criticizing customer service reps should try and walk a day in their shoes.  It is easily one of the most stressful jobs out there.

Sep 28, 2011 6:05PM

I have been in customer service for over 30 years, true there are some rude employees. However more often than not the customer, that's right the customer is in the wrong. The old adage of the customer is always right is not true and it is used and abused by many so called customers. People(customers) think that by yelling and threatening the employee they will get their way. These are the people who use/misuse items and then return them with missing or broken parts or just use them for their own benefit and return them claiming some defect. Or they try to return the box with something other than the item inside, claiming that is they way they bought it. These are not customers, they are low life's who abuse the system and drive up costs to the business and real customers.

  As for the employees that really are rude, it is the fault of management for not providing the proper training, not recognizing the good employees they have, and not paying the workers enough  to give a damn about the business. Many of the front line customer service employees work close to minimum wage,  have huge responsibilities and are gong to school or working another job also at minimum wage. Meanwhile the senior executives are raking in huge salaries and bonuses off the sweat of the front line staff. So the next time an employee is rude, please be patient and consider their situation. Also don't be a low life and return items improperly. 

Sep 28, 2011 3:55PM

The customer is NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. I work in "combat retail"  and have most of my working life. I can tell you that more often than not it is the customer who draws first blood. I get personally attacked every day by customers with unrealistic and absurd expectations: all I am trying to do is help. And the Liars, Cheats and scammers are rampid among the consuming public. Many take pride in "getting one over" on there retailers after spending untold amounts of energy scheming and planning. BELIEVE IT In my opinion Company's like Wall-Mart that will take any item back for any reason breeds the misconception that the customer is always right. The customer needs to shoulder personal responsibility for their consuming actions as well. The price of most retail goods would decrease significantly if the amount of Fraudulent Returns could be reduced. As retailers we cant just "write it off' like many consumers erroneously think.

Customer Service issues aside Wall Mart is killing America. Not a believer???? Go look at ANY small town in middle America...there all but dead because Wall Mart in the neighboring town has sucked the life out of the surrounding communities. That's not building a better mouse trap it it PREDATORY.



Sep 28, 2011 7:31PM
Half the time when I witness a 'rude' employee the reality of the situation is the customer is being argumentative, not listening to what the employee is trying to tell them, demanding they break policy, or doing something else completely unrealistic and asinine and then throwing a temper tantrum when they don't get their way and blaming the employee and the manager and the company and anybody else they can think of while completely ignoring their own childish behavior. In face if you find that you constantly receive poor service wherever you go maybe you ought to consider the problem isn't people's work ethic in this day and age, but your own poor attitude as a customer that most of us don't get paid anywhere near enough to deal with.

Yes there are bad employees, but poor customer service is no more rampant then poor customers. Maybe the article writer should look in a little deeper into why those people were unhappy. I bet it wasn't anywhere near as black and white as "the employee was being rude".

Sep 28, 2011 5:38PM
After spending 6 years as a store manager, I can say from my experience, the people that claim someone was "rude" to them, were usually the people who came in and started yelling and cursing before anyone even had a chance to say hello.  These people wanted to complain about something, and they tried to take it out on the employees.  There were cases of rude employees for no reason, and I made sure they were without a job quickly.  But the others accused of being rude, I watched the interaction that took place and at no point were they rude, and usually when there was a complaint, it was either because the employee couldn't give them what they wanted, either because we no longer carried it, or it was no longer on sale- at that point they would yell for the manager and claim the employee was rude to them and demanded a discount.  while 99% of customer/employee interactions are superb, that 1% is always someone just wanting to complain because they think you are "beneath" them because you work in a customer service job. 
Sep 28, 2011 3:33PM

Such BS, I have yet to see and article ever written that did not place all the blame on the employee. There are three parts to this problem, employee, employer and customer. Every article comes to the same conclusion it’s the employees fault, and since the issue is getting worse maybe its time for a professional to look and see if maybe the real problem lie’s with the employer (under pay employees) and customer (rude). Maybe then we can find a working solution.

Sep 28, 2011 4:56PM
I worked in retail for about four years in varying positions including CSR and cashier; the overwhelming majority of the time customers are the cause for rude behavior by employees. They expect to be waited on hand and foot, and one misstep is the end of the world. Because of my retail experience, I always try to be nice to CSRs, waiters/waitresses,etc. because they have crap jobs that get no respect. Most people don't understand what those jobs are like. It should be a law that everyone has to work one year minimum in a service role (CSR, food service, retail associate).
As a business owner who routinely reviews things with my customer service staff, it seems that customers overall are far more rude than customers service people. When I started my business 9 years ago this wasn't the case. But now in 2011 most customer service support tickets or phone calls start with someone screaming "You'd better fix my problem or I'll call my lawyer and the FTC and ruin you" etc etc. This is inappropriate and unnecessary. 99% of the time we can easily fix the problem and it's almost always a misunderstanding or a mistake on the customer's part. The other 1% of the time when we can't fix it, we just give them their money back.

I look at how stressed out and deflated my customer service people get as a result of taking this needless abuse all day and I feel terrible for them.

If customer service is getting worse, it's because the customers themselves are increasingly acting like self-entitled jerks, which makes the customer service reps more and more jaded and increasingly unwilling to go the extra mile to help people. It's a downward spiral.
Sep 28, 2011 4:39PM
I've been in the customer service industry for 7 years and have been teaching it for 4 years.  The message is to always treat the customer with respect and care about their well being.  The vast majority of people that come into our stores are really nice and friendly.  I agree with some of the other posts that some customers are flat out rude, and they want everything for free, they lie, they can't wait for 5 minutes to do anything, and they tell you all of their personal problems instead of the problem they're having with your company.  There is one thing I have learned in this business, if you need help, try being nice and you'll get more than if your rude.  Trust me, it works. 
Sep 28, 2011 4:19PM
I have been in customer service my whole life and I have never been rude to anyone. HOWEVER, some customers will walk away or hang up the phone thinking I have been rude to them because I did not break a rule or the law for them, or waive a state fee, etc. While most people are neutral or really pleasant, there seem to be more and more entitled, vile, nasty customers out there. At a previous insurance job I asked a customer to sign a state-required form and stayed on the phone with him for an hour while he threatened to drive up to my office and find me if this form wasn't legit. After swearing at me. Others have called me stupid, a b****h, etc. And people are whining that they didn't get a "thank you" from a rep? Uh... I'll trade you.
Sep 28, 2011 7:23PM
I have been in the retail business for well over 30 years and I can tell you it's hard these days more than ever. The old saying "customer is always right" was something that we need to stop thinking back in the 20's in people actually were decent. Ever been cussing out with language that would make a sailor blush! Objects thrown at you! or better yet been physically attacked for nothing more than saying " I understand" .... People are stressed and money is short and tempers are even shorter! I do think that my customers are my paycheck however i will not stand for being abused verbally or physically to stand by the old saying of "Customers are always right" Times are different I think no matter what class you can take handle customers people are violent and short tempered and you never know how to react to you.
Sep 28, 2011 4:48PM

and to end this stupid article saying ' the best way to fix the situation is for both the manager and the employee to apologize cordially in front of the customer' is just assinine!  sometimes the customer needs to be the one apologizing.  there are so many people that are just never happy no matter what you do.


 they are not paying my wage...they are taking away from my wage!  because of the amount of returns, fraudulent or otherwise, the amount of my raises has been lowered.  returns cut into business' profits.  as a stockholder in the company where i work i am shocked that we are still in business.  we basically have a policy that says never say no to a customer.  pretty much whatever they ask, they get.  there are somethings that cannot be negotiated, like ammo or laws (state or federal) but our customers are still NEVER happy!  i don't care if i make $35/'s not enough to deal with customers that treat me like i am not human and as if i have to live to kiss their a**es and when i do, they still aren't happy!

Mar 14, 2012 5:06PM
I spent about 10 years in retail customer service.  Prior to that time, i liked people.  That has changed.  Without fail, the people who complained to my manager where people who where abusive to me because i wouldn't break clearly stated rules for them (like not getting cash back on a return with no receipt or requiring an id for alcohol purchases).

Yes, there are crs's who suck, but there are more who would be good employees but got dragged down by the general public.  The customer is NOT always right and the general public needs to get over itself.

Thankfully i'm out of retail now.. and i'll go homeless before i EVER go back!!

Nov 23, 2011 10:52AM
I've worked retail now for 8 years now, and for 4 years before that in computer technical support, and this past year has been the worst I've ever seen in regards to customer/employee incidents. As much as I hate being screamed at by customers, I understand some of their frustrations. In this day and age, consumers get screwed at work, working more hours for the same or less pay. Consumers get screwed at the gas pump, grocery store, walmart/target, etc. By the time I deal with them selling wine and spirits, anything can be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I wish customers could put their actions in perspective sometimes however. Taking out the frustrations of the world on clerks is just sadistic. Yet, every time a customer screams at me, I'm left with the feeling that we as a country are spoiled rotten to the core. Can we not act with civility, must we degenerate into self centered temperamental sadists inflicting our frustrations several fold upon others? The culture of "me first" and every child being "special" or never wrong has come back to bite us with a vengeance.
Sep 28, 2011 3:47PM

We have to stop blaming over worked under staffed Customer service for all our problems. After all you are obviously calling about a product or service that did not meet your expectations. But the person you are talking too did not make your product or service you are calling about. They are just the messenger who get's a paycheck and tries under the company rules to satisfy your complaint.

I have found that if you are rude to the customer service rep. They will be rude right back. Its human nature to do so. Its certainly alright to be upset and to express that to the customer service rep. But try and make sure not to direct that anger directly at the customer Rep. I have also found that calling in off peak hours is much better then peak when the CS have probably talked to a lot of idiots before you.

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