Customer Service Workers; Would You Sacrifice Money For Manners?

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Fame

Posted: 03/19/2010

Ok, I realize this is hypothetical and idealistic because unfortunately, we’re never going to change them all…

Nonetheless, I’m curious to know where you stand.

As I’ve been receiving emails and questionnaire responses from readers, I started thinking, Would customer service industry workers be willing to give up some of their compensation if they were guaranteed that all of their customers were good people? Is respect more important than money?

Here’s a little context:

The results from almost 200 current or former customer service industry workers who completed my questionnaire, indicate that 19% of customers are either impolite, disrespectful, or downright rude. Two follow-up questions ask workers to use adjectives to describe their best customers over the years, as well as the types of customers that they prefer. The responses are still coming in, but a quick poll of the top 5 results looks like this (I grouped  similar adjectives together.);

#1- Aware/Empathetic/Gracious.

#2- Respectful/Polite/Courteous.

#3- Friendly/Fun.

#4- Real/Genuine/Easy-going.

#5- Patient.

(I omitted generous, big tippers, etc., and interestingly, the adjectives about money didn’t even make the top ten.)

So, for everyone who interacts with customers for a living, would you trade money for manners if you were guaranteed that all of your customers would be empathetic, respectful, cool, fun, easy-going, patient, or any combo of 1-5 above? Would you forgo a portion of your tips or compensation if you were guaranteed that you wouldn’t have any rude or abusive customers? If yes, what’s the trade-off? How much of a cut in pay would you take for the peace of mind knowing that every customer you come in contact with was going to treat you with mutual respect, the way that they would want to be treated? Run with the idea any way you would like, and please include your industry and job description. Thank you very much for participating.

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11 Responses to “Customer Service Workers; Would You Sacrifice Money For Manners?”

  1. Lou Warren says:

    As much as I love the idea…trading idiots for kind, respectful, fun, funny customers…I somehow believe that when you have that perfect night…good and fun customers, who are generous, your co-workers are all in good humor, your boss loves you, where you almost feel in a state of “grace”, would lose it’s significance if it happened every shift. It would be delicious…but SO unrealistic, I think we, bartender, wait staff, bussers, everyone, would become spoiled and probably unthankful for those terrific moments. Maybe, I am too anchored in what really happens. Straighten me out, please!!!!

  2. Michael says:

    I have to agree with Lou. It’s in those moments of struggling with a difficult guest that I am able to shine. I wouldn’t want all my tables to test me in the same way, but the idea of having only compliant, gracious guests almost removes the challenge of being a server. 16 years of being in this business has certainly taught me how to handle various types of personalities, but winning over the sour lady with the crooked grin and impossibly modified food order is a victory I still savor.

  3. carpe bliss says:

    After a full week and then some of dedicated, professional, competent, customer service… I’m reflecting on how many of my customers truly went away feeling genuinely satisfied, warmly welcomed, informed and enlightened BUT, it is the obnoxious, inappropriate, invasive and ignorant customer that comes to mind as I read the blog and take an inventory of my week… I cannot put a pricetag (YES, I would sacrifice money for manners!!) on being respected, valued, and treated well by my customers.

    As I was providing service (my customer’s GPS was not working and he needed directions from our facility to the local Airport) so I was printing the map and directions for him while he was looking around my office making positive remarks but then started making inappropritae and rather loud, obnoxious, and embarassing comments about my looks… totally off color/pathetically ignorant and rude. I quickly gave him the directions and politely ushered him out…. I felt horrible, degraded and mortified….I’ve been in customer service forever yet .. do we ever honestly as human beings ever get used to being treated like this???? I hope not! I felt sorry for the guy actually because his behavior was so bad and out of line…. no awareness whatsoever!!!! #2 says it all, respectful, polite, courteous!!!!! My God it goes a long way!!!! Ya can’t buy class ladies and gentlemen!

  4. Candace Gibson says:

    It would be nice to only have gracious and respectful customers. But, the truth is we work to pay our bills and put food on our own tables.

    I can’t feed my children with well mannered strangers. I can only feed them with my paychecks. So, not only would I not give up any of my pay for better behaved customers, I would gladly take an increase
    in abuse if it came with more pay.

  5. fair Lady says:

    I have worked in customer service for many years and feel that
    the customers that challenge me make me a better person. The customers that challenge me help me to appreciate the respectful, caring peolpe I interact with each day.
    Such thought-provoking subjects relating to custmer service!
    Keep them coming…..Thanks!

  6. michelle says:

    Ok, I just got home from work, ( well not just..) about an hour ago. So. would I ? or wouldn’t I. I would like to say, that I wouldn’t , ( forgo a portion of my tips ) because I don’t believe that a person has the right to treat another with disrespect or rudely just because they are a paying customer. ( does that make sense ?) Of course it does. I too am a daily customer, whether in a dept. store or in a restaurant, and I would NEVER consider it ‘o.k’ to treat some one crappy just because I’m giving them money for a service. However, I have had tables ( guests ) rude enough that I didn’t care if they left anything at all, just wanted them gone.! But no. that’s my answer.

  7. Hank says:

    I work in the service industry as a university professor. I would not trade money for manners. I’ve accepted that many student-consumers are developmentally delayed and/or were never taught appropriate social skills. So, every class I gear-up, put my teacher-as-servant “hat” on and stand-and-deliver. I correct, plow-over and through them and give the student-consumer the best “me” I can. I need the money to feed my Newfoundland dogs. I could eat from a dumpster, if needed.

    Dr. Hank

  8. Marianna says:

    For me, I like to keep a distinct line between US and THEM. If all my customers were truly great people, and I was equal to them, I would want to sit down and eat/drink and enjoy their company! It’s my job, not my social club. I have my own friends, who are not at my place of employment.

    small town server, 35 years experience

  9. Liz says:

    At the fine dining restaurant where I work, we often deal with the more abusive, uppity customer and have often discussed in the kitchen trading tips for a little respect. This trade-off, of course, is always within reason, and clearly outlined even in these hypothetical discussions. “I would happily take a consistent 15% from polite customers every day of the week….” comes to mind as a well received bargain in these kitchen negotiations. Of course, this is based on the fact that 20% is the expectation for the level of service provided, and the reality that it isn’t always received. In fact, when you get down to the nuts and bolts, especially with the downturn in the economy, a consistent 15% would be an improvement at times.

    Until reading other servers comments, I really think that I believed that I WOULD trade income for civility (of course at a reasonable rate like that discussed above). Now that I think about it again, however, I realize that in the moments after having been dumped on by an arrogant customer we all FEEL that way – it is a reaction to the injustice of being treated so badly based solely on your profession (over and over and over again). It is part of the anger you feel knowing that the same customer would have treated you much differently had you been wearing a different uniform, or had you met in street clothes in line at the grocery store. The real irony (and perhaps source of that feeling of injustice) is that most of us professional servers truly want the customer to be satisfied, and come back again even, as that is our number one job objective, and in reality, our livelihood.

    Manners, however, aren’t what we want – what we go to work for, and the evidence is abundant. Although families with children can be the nicest customers of the night, they are not known for their tipping or large tabs, and grumbling can often be heard coinciding with the spotting of small children in a server’s section. Elderly ladies are generally not acid-tongued, and while they can be time consuming to wait on, are generally very pleasant. Yet no one jumps for joy upon seeing six matronly retirees sit down in his or her section, because experience says the tip will be the jangly, silver kind.

    There is truth to the feeling of victory at having won over the customer who was determined not to enjoy the experience at all, and the rarity of the really great customer does make you appreciate that really great customer even more. In the end, I find myself agreeing that if everything and everyone were great all the time, it would leave little to talk about, the stories would be much less entertaining, and servers wouldn’t share the strong bond that they do. Us and Them.

  10. Ariane says:

    I don’t work directly in the service industry anymore (although come to think of it, we do provide a service so maybe I never escaped), but I would not have been willing to take a paycut in exchange for politeness. I also do not think overly aggressive tipping makes up for rudeness!

    Michael – I agree that the tough customers are the ones that make you grow. Those challenges I have had to deal with make me better for my gracious clients and more appreciative.

    Carpe Bliss – you sound like a woman since I don’t know many men who would have this issue! I have had pretty good luck with a comment along the line of “Please refrain from commenting about my person” typically has the effect of a glass of ice water!

  11. nana says:

    When we get slammed, I will gladly give a table away, not only to stay out of the weeds but so I can continue to give good service, which keeps my customers happy-and civil- so I guess that is a direct sacrifice of pay, but may result in larger tips from the tables that leave happy. So it may be six of one/half dozen of another…

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