In addition to local governments, I also do a bit of work with small businesses helping with their communications and social media outreach.
Just last week, two unrelated businesses dealt with the same issue, the grumpy customer.
- Business A sells finished industrial products and is in its third generation. They are considered experts in their product field. Last week they received profanity laced e-mails from a customer complaining about service they received over the phone. The customer claimed the person they talked to was rude and didn’t know what they were talking about. The customer had actually spoken to the business owner who told him that they didn’t sell the product he needed. This prompted the customer’s first e-mail. The business responded professionally and suggested the customer try a different store to find his product. This only infuriated the customer who wrote back with another rude, profanity filled reply. He was looking for someone to engage with him, and the business was not interested.
- Business B makes a consumable product. The business is only a few years old, but their entire product line has won a number of awards for taste and quality. Last week they received an email about their “awful product.” The customer went into depth about how terrible the product was, how he had his wife taste it also, and that she agreed that it was, indeed “awful.” He then suggested that the owner rework the recipe for this product, because he is sure that everyone else hates it as much as he does. The owner replied and offered a refund for the product the customer did not like. (Later, the owner actually received an apology from the customer’s son, saying his father was an “old coot” and favored his own product that he had consumed for years.)
Both of these businesses replied within hours of receiving their respective e-mail messages. Both tried to appease their customers, knowing that neither one would actually have the e-mail writer as a customer again.
How do local governments compare in their customer service? How should they deal with aggressive people (citizens/taxpayers/residents) who just want to argue? What kinds of responses are necessary when a citizen asks questions in an aggressive way?