The Abuse Exception | Angry, Red-Faced Customer

All Customer Service Is Subject to the Abuse Exception

President Truman once famously quipped that he wanted to meet a one-handed economist, because all of his economists advised him by saying on the one hand, on the other.

Like economics, disciplines based heavily on human interactions are also context-dependent, lending themselves to an abundance of caveats and conditions. Customer service is one of those disciplines.

The Abuse Exception | Angry, Red-Faced CustomerAs I write about customer service, I often find myself having to qualify my statements. Most of the time I am writing about what we should be doing for the customer — the attitude we should embrace as we interact with the customer. In short, the many ways we should be there to serve the customer.

But there are always limits.  Always.

Some customers are unreasonable, some customers are unsatisfiable, and some customers are downright abusive. These customers are the exception to most customer service admonitions.

The Abuse Exception

The abuse exception is simple: most customer service rules or precepts are thrown out when customers cross the line in to abuse.

What is abuse? Truly, it is in the eye of the beholder, but here are a few examples:

  • Unwavering insistence on unrealistic demands that the customer knows, or should know, are not remotely appropriate to the situation
  • Verbal harassment of the customer service rep with inappropriate language
  • Repeated threatening of adverse actions if the customer does not get what they want (i.e. Blackmail)

Of course, the gamut of abusive behavior is much wider than the above, but the list gives a sense of what is meant by the term.

It is important to note that angry and abusive are not the same. Much of the above is dependent on context for determining whether it is abuse or a momentary “losing of the cool” that can be walked back from.

To put it bluntly, if you are in customer service, your job is to take crap. Yet, there is a limit and when that line is crossed, the dynamic changes and so does your duty as a customer facing professional.

So, be awesome to your customers and do everything you can to give them what they ask for.

Just know, that advice is subject to the abuse exception.

Have you ever had an upset customer cross the line into abuse? Ever had to fire a customer?


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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