Did THAT Just Happen? Bad Customer!
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Did THAT Just Happen? Bad Customer!

Have you seen the recent blog posting - Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You're a Bad Customer? It’s been forwarded to me at least a dozen times, and I’ve seen it shared on every one of my social media feeds. It’s obviously quite popular, because at the time of this writing it’s been liked by 558,929, shared on Facebook almost 96,000 times, and tweeted by almost another 3,000. And keep in mind that these are only the stats from the Huff Post blog. The article was originally published earlier this month on the author Matt Walsh’s site and it’s now been spread and repurposed multiple times over, so the actual numbers are much higher.

If you are one of the few that haven’t read it, let me give you a quick synopsis. An irate customer storms into a crowded fast food restaurant and barges to the front of the line. Once there she begins screaming at the cashier about the substandard delivery of her order. It seems she waited in the drive-through for 10 minutes, placed an order for a hamburger without ketchup, and then subsequently received one with…yes…ketchup. And so now she was taking her frustration out on an employee that had not actually wronged her. When her profanity-laden tirade was met with confusion, she vehemently began demanding to be escalated to a superior for assistance.

I get it. I too hate ketchup.

No, I mean I really, really hate ketchup.

It’s Not Really About the Ketchup

We all know that it’s not really about the ketchup. So what is the real significance of the article? Accordingly to the author, he was attempting to provide a teachable moment for the customer, and for every customer like her.

Hmm…I need to wrap my head around this a little.

I’ve been in the customer service industry for a long time, and specifically within the contact center. Over these last 19 years I’ve certainly heard my fair share of bad customers. I’ve had to take over calls from agents who were being sworn at, I’ve had to mediate customer and agent shouting matches, and I’ve personally received more than a few threats of bodily injury when I’ve refused a customer something that they thought they were owed. I mean seriously, you are going to threaten to physically come to my office and harm me because I won’t refund you $50 for a service you used and abused? Yes, there are a lot of bad customers.

Walsh goes on to say that essentially the woman received bad service because she was a bad customer (hence the title of the article).

“You asked: "Why can't I ever f*cking get good customer service?" Well, ma'am, that might have something to do with you being a vulgar, miserable, malicious person. Maybe you get bad customer service because you're a bad customer. Did you ever consider that possibility?”

I do consider that possibility and I may have in fact used that same rationale on a customer or two. I’ve also fired customers or gracefully asked them not to do business with my organization anymore because “we just weren’t right for each other.” Even though I am in customer service, I do not follow the mantra that “the customer is always right.”

Here’s though, where I take issue with Walsh’s approach:

“I'm sure some people might take your side. They might come to your defense by telling their own horror stories about all the times when customer service has failed to live up to their standards. Those folks are under the same delusion as you. They think their hallowed "customer" status somehow gives them the right to treat everyone with a uniform and a name tag like garbage. They think their past encounters with sub-par service makes it acceptable for them to fly off the handle about ketchup every once in a while. They think the rules of basic decency and respect come second when they are The Customer. And they're wrong.”

Customer Relationship Management

It’s called customer relationship management (CRM) for a reason. The give-and-take between a customer and an organization is a relationship. Sometimes it is one that lasts for 2 minutes, and sometimes it may last for hours, days, weeks, or months. The ultimate goal for almost any organization is for it to last a lifetime. A lifetime as long as it is mutually beneficial for us both; it’s a relationship.

And while I don’t agree with the approach this particular customer took, I also don’t agree that her experience should be dismissed so easily.

ICMI officially defines CRM as, “the process of holistically developing the customer’s relationship with the organization. It takes into account their history as a customer, the depth and breadth of their business with the organization, as well as other factors.” Basically we are saying that it is the responsibility of the organization providing the service, product or experience to set the standards and the rules of the relationship. If the company doesn’t do this, and abide by it, then all bets are essentially off.

Again, I know nothing about this situation other than what I read, but I would be very surprised if both parties were not equally at fault for this bad experience. And while I would not tolerate the customer’s behavior towards one of my own agents, I would better arm a team with processes and situational-awareness to mitigate and diffuse.

It’s Not About the Ketchup; It’s About the Experience

In order for companies to truly understand the experience their customers are having, they need to be measuring it; and measuring it well.  And equally as important is the correlation back to the means of improvement. Take this situation for example, how do the leadership and staff of the fast food restaurant know if this woman’s experience is a one-off or a trend? She seemed to make reference that this has happened before. What if every third customer was getting an incorrect order? What if it was the drive-through channel that was the problem? What if it was a specific employee? Or an antiquated process with the ketchup?

Once you determine that the experience some or all of your customers are having isn’t ideal, how then do you rectify that? Now we get into the classic contact center conundrum; the cause of the poor experience. What agent activities are contributing to the poor customer experience? Is it knowledge? Is it empathy? Is it adherence? Is it behavior? And then you have to extrapolate out and determine the root – recruiting, training, management, leadership, channel selection. And then let’s not forget the factors which are typically outside the control of the contact center (or the front-line of the restaurant) – the product, marketing, budgetary constraints…you get the picture…it ALL contributes to the customer experience. And that is what makes it so darn challenging. But THAT is also why it is the responsibility of the organization to manage, and not that of the customer.

Sometimes it IS About the Ketchup

As I mentioned earlier, I happen to hate ketchup. If it was repeatedly fed to me, I would be a very unhappy customer. And while I certainly wouldn’t exert all the negative energy that the aforementioned woman did, I definitely would take my business elsewhere. And that is truly the teachable moment.

You can learn more about how to equip your own contact center agents on managing difficult customers through ICMI’s On-Demand training. ICMI also holds a customized Program of Excellence in Customer Service which also helps agent’s understand the nuances of challenging customers and how to deal with the stress that often accompanies those interactions.

Topics: Customer Experience


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Jeff Toister — 11:39AM on Aug 30, 2013

You raise some very good points. I'd like to add my own three cents.

1) I agree that the give and take between a customer and an organization should be considered a relationship. And, like all relationships, that relationship should end once it becomes abusive.

2) You are absolutely right that there's still an opportunity for the restaurant to learn from the experience by examining what they can do better.

3) Enraged customers exaggerate as a way of justifying their anger. Psychologists call it an "emotional hijacking" and they aren't always conscious of it. This makes them even tougher to serve because we're naturally less inclined to want to help someone who is obviously lying or exaggerating. This can be very difficult for customer service employees to recognize and overcome.


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