A recent Time article suggested that rudeness has increased as part of the pandemic, particularly towards those in customer service roles. If this is true, what steps should we take?
I’m not going to debate whether customers are in fact ruder now than before the pandemic. The article gives several examples of how public discourse has changed in previous years. Whether people are more or less rude, it seems clear that stress is higher throughout the world. And where there is stress, regardless of its cause, we can expect stress to escape in ways that don’t demonstrate our better nature. An overheating automobile radiator will eventually find relief – often at the worst of times.
Here are 3 things companies should do in the midst of this high-pressure environment:
- Protect employees – Companies should not tolerate abusive customers. Just because someone has money, doesn’t mean they have license to berate your employees. Accepting poor customer behavior sends a clear message to employees that they aren’t valued. With a labor market that favors employees, expect those who are treated badly to exercise their options elsewhere. Word will get around. (Read more here about when to stop advocating for customers.)
- Create space – What I mean is that if customers are indeed a bigger challenge, then companies should give more to employees. Give them extra breaks to recover, more recognition, and added management support, etc. Essentially, companies should overcompensate when customers are at their worst.
- Demonstrate appreciation – This is a wise practice under any scenario. Under the current pressure cooker, it is an absolute must. Even if you operate a highly automated company, your employees are the ones that will create differentiated service. Fail to value them at your own risk.
Businesses want the world to go back to normal quickly. That sense of normalcy will be possible only when customers and employees work together in healthy ways. We expect employees to serve customers naturally. We must maintain a similar expectation for customers to be patient and civil. Even if companies can’t control how customers behave, they can control who they serve. Companies can/must protect and appreciate their employees from abusive behavior.
Finally, while I have focused on the “business” environment, it is important to acknowledge that similar high-stress situations exist in classrooms, boardrooms, political arenas, the military, etc
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”abraham lincoln
The pivot point is for us to exercise our better angels by urging civil behavior where possible. Where not possible, protect the employees working so diligently to get our economy back on its feet.