How to Be a Good Customer: 16 Ways to Not Be a Jerk

June 7, 2012

Here at Customers That Stick, we focus on customer service from the perspective of customer-facing professionals and companies. Yet, customer service is inherently a two-way street, and when you talk about customer service long enough you eventually run into a simple fact:

Customers have some responsibilities in the company/customer relationship.

How to Be a Good Customer | Young woman, money in mouth

Sure, the customer is paying you, and they rightly have expectations that come with the economic value they provide you. They expect service, and/or they expect a product. But service to the customer does not mean servitude, and selling someone a product does not mean selling one’s dignity.

So, in this post, we are going to flip perspectives, and look at 16 ways everyone can be a better customer.

How To Be A Good Customer: The Big Picture

#1 Remember The Golden Rule — Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Pretty simple. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of what you are dishing out? Wouldn’t like it? Then don’t do it!

#2 Separate The Person from the Policy — This is one of the most difficult challenges, even for the usually fair-minded. Some company policies can be personally frustrating; don’t shoot the messenger. Chances are they did not create the policy and do not have a choice but to enforce it.

#3 Separate The Person from the Performance — People screw up. There is a big difference between an accident and negligence, between a mistake and malice. Many times the person in front of you is trying to do a good job — if so, then cut them a little slack.

#4 Don’t Be a Bully — Pushing around the sales clerk who is half your age by raising your voice, making unreasonable demands, and showing utter contempt for their very being does not make you powerful, it just makes you a bully. Don’t push people around just because you think you can.

#5 Don’t Make Threats — The go-to move for bullies but also a favorite of the exasperated. If you are making threats not because you have a serious grievance but because you just want what you want, stop! Threatening to report someone to the Better Business Bureau, your thirty Twitter followers, or the International Criminal Court is not productive and almost always unwarranted. Don’t draw that gun unless you really mean to use it.

# 6 Adjust Your Expectations — Expecting great service is your prerogative; expecting great service to mean that the company does whatever you want, whenever you want, and for as little as you are willing to pay is not. Adjust your expectations to the realities of the business you are dealing with. If you are complaining to the manager at McDonald’s that your Big Mac came wrapped in paper instead of being served on fine China, you need to get a grip.

#7 Respect The Rules — Hey, the coupon expired last week. If you want to ask whether the company will honor it, feel free. However, do not get mad if the company says no. It had an expiration date for a reason.

#8 Give The Company An Opportunity to Solve The Problem — Are you really concerned with the problem or does it just feel good to complain? Give the company a chance to fix the problem before taking away your business or sending that angry tweet.

#9 Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood — It is amazing how much better everything in the world would be if people took the time to follow Mr. Covey’s Fifth Habit. I know it’s fun to hear yourself talk, but maybe try listening and even understanding before declaring war.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the big ideas in how to be a good customer, let’s talk about a few smaller action-items that many of us could improve upon.

To Be a Good Customer You Should…

#10 Attempt To Put It Back Where You Found It — And if you don’t want to do that, at least don’t hide it on a shelf where no one will find it for a month. Stores make money by selling inventory, not by hiding it. If you won’t put it back, then take it to the register so the store can do so for you.

#11 Pay Attention to Signs — I just screwed this one up recently. I was buying a “treat” lunch for my employees, was having a meat grinder of a day, and got in the express lane with like 25 items. I didn’t even notice. The cashier checked me out and then politely pointed out that if I had more than ten items I should use one of the regular lanes next time.

#12 Say Please and Thank You — Your mother already told you this; you should listen to her.

#13 Understand Tipping Protocols — It’s important to understand the tipping expectations, if any, of the business you are patronizing. I have had the most trouble with this one historically, but smart phones are magical things.

#14 Ask For The Manager — Yes, do… then say something nice about the employee that served you.

#15 Herd Your Cattle… I Mean Kids — Here’s the deal. You chose to bring your children to the restaurant. If you can’t control them, they get to ruin your meal not everyone else’s. Take them outside; too bad if the waitress just brought your food. That’s on you.

#16 Put Down Your Cell Phone — I get it… trust me. But most calls really can wait. If you can’t dump the call, at least, lower the phone, smile at the person helping you and apologize for being rude. Most service providers do not care if you talk to them; they just care that you don’t treat them like they do not exist.

Of course, this list is in no way comprehensive, but hopefully, it is a good starting point on how to be a good customer. Just remember that when a company does not live up to your expectations to take a deep breath before reacting. Besides being the right thing to do, you’ll also probably live longer.

And then you can be a good customer for a long time. Win-win.

What else can people do to be good customers? What are your pet peeves as a service provider?

Please remember to share this post; there is a chance one of your customers might read it!

13 thoughts on “How to Be a Good Customer: 16 Ways to Not Be a Jerk”

  1. As a customer it’s sometimes hard to separate the person from the company. Everyone has a bad/off day, that doesn’t mean the company as a whole is out to get you. It’s easy to let your frustration run wild, especially when you feel like you aren’t making any progress.

  2. Re the 10-item limit, at the chain pharmacy I worked at, there was a 5-item limit, which the store would sometimes waive on busy days. A women brought an entire shopping cart full of items and asked me check them out. There was a line of people behind her. I told her to ask the people behind her if they minded. They said it was fine, so I went ahead and did it as fast as I could.

    Although I may not have liked doing it, it was the other customers she was inconveniencing, not me. I thought it was only fair they have a say. But I probably violated all kinds of customer service rules by going about it that way. What do you think I should have done instead?

    1. Interesting approach Shakirah! I think that as long as the people behind didn’t feel pressured, it probably was a good solution. You gave the violator a one-time pass but also let the other patrons know that you cared about the rules and were respectful of their time. This goes to the old adage of it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it (which is mostly true). Sometimes, the actual solution is not as important as the fact that a caring person tried to find one.

      Thanks for sharing the story!

  3. So, you don’t think it will have much impact if I send it out to my 30 twitter followers even though 2/3rds of them don’t follow back?

    Rule # 1 usually is the best; just treat other how you would like to be treated and it avoids some of the tough situations.

    At least, that’s what I think……..:)

    1. Well, if they are your 30 followers, that’s a different story. That’s a combined Klout score of like a zillion. Companies should tremble… 🙂

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  7. This article is pure gold! So many good points that empathise with both sides of the service industry. As a retail assistant, it is refreshing to see a post on the etiquette of being a customer as although most people that I encounter on a daily basis are perfectly okay, there are a significant minority whose behaviour is just unacceptable.

  8. Customers made me change career. The idea you can have all for not money has kicked in after the economical crisis. And never left. I had enough to hear it s too expensive. The point here is you can t afford it. That s not my problem. 3 women and 7 kids and 3 push chairs put me off going shopping. Ppl are messy and dirty. Changing rooms are smelly. Customer service became a bend down at 90 degrees… For a bunch of customers that cost you more than they are worth it.!sone business use a higher price range to filter these type of customers. The poorer the customer the more of a nightmare they are. And women are way worse than men. I think we need to take a good look at our selves ‘ladies’.

  9. Amen. I work in a call center. People are rude and jerks and scream at us – because why? They receive too many letters in the mail from “us guys”. I have had people scream at me (not yell, scream) over the phone because they could not figure out their mail from the company. So yes, be a better customer. Your name is not “ummmm”. Your account number, policy number, etc is listed on the page. Do not call us when you are distracted (vacuuming your house, yelling at your spouse). Do not expect us to do your job (I had a man tell me I was not providing good customer service because I would not call a hardware store to get a copy of a receipt for him).

    I could go on and on but I deal with jerks all day who use the Call Center as a way to take their aggressions out on people rather than want a solution. When we offer a solution, they continue to rant for minutes. No one goes to the DMV without docs and expects to be served (or maybe they do), but that is how we are treated when people call in. They are unprepared and when we tell them, like the DMV what is needed for a name change, they demand a manager. Start being a better customer. I will always go above and beyond for someone who is upset but polite.

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