By Eric Sorensen, Contributing Editor
There are Some jerks, and then there are jerks.
Joel Anaya has given them a fair amount of study, focusing on that very special jerk who can take a routine service experience—dining out, paying at a cash register, air travel—and make it a nightmare.
Anaya has even coined a term for it—“customer service sabotage”—and discerned seven different categories of rude customers who can be a serious liability for the service industry.
“Customers don’t just go to a restaurant to enjoy a burger,” Anaya said. “They go to have a good time, to enjoy the ambience of the establishment. If that’s ever affected, if they ever leave liking your hamburger, but saying they had a bad time, that’s not a win for the restaurant.”
Anaya, a McNair scholar and senior in Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, recently presented his findings at the school’s Academic Showcase. The student had set out simply to study customers who misbehave. Then he realized no one had looked at how those customers affect the experience of others.
For data, he culled more than 200 accounts of customers annoying fellow customers from four Websites: notalwaysright.com, dinnersfromhell.com, flightsfromhell.com and servernightmares.com.
“I never even heard of these Websites before,” Anaya said, but the sites turned out to be an eye-opening look at customer service as well as an odyssey in retail-level strangeness.
“There are a lot of weirdoes out there, but what retailers have to take into account is that these weirdoes are now going to be coming into contact with your good, normal paying customers,” Anaya said.
In analyzing the different accounts, Anaya came up with the following categories of customer sabotage.
• Badmouthers. The most common saboteurs, used profanity and raised their voices.
“It’s crazy what a few bad words can do, how uncomfortable they can really make other customers nearby,” Anaya said.
• Paranoid shouters. A close second in Anaya’s tabulations, are really irate customers who don’t know how to handle themselves. “They are like badmouthers, but start yelling at the first sign of inadequate service or a perceived injustice,” Anaya said. They are disruptive, hard-to-please and leave other customers feeling uncomfortable.
• Poor hygiene. Retail customers come in all shapes and sizes. Some need a good bath. “Quite frankly, they smelled,” Anaya said. “Or they sweat on to other people, wiped their noses, sneezed openly or all of the above.” This was more of a problem in smaller retail formats.
• Some customers make outlandish requests, like the one who insisted on paying at a grocery store in pennies while others had to wait.
• Service rule breakers. Retail tends to flow, but some customers refuse to follow social norms, like cutting in line instead of waiting their turn.
• Unruly kids. Parents that refused to control unruly children whose behavior is bothering others was another major turnoff to retail customers.
• Unaware customers. While stores rely on a strong repeat business, new customers that belabor service workers with endless questions or minor quibbles often force others to have to wait longer in line.
Anaya hopes that managers and workers can use these categories to reevaluate customer complaints. In some cases, stores will find that their service wasn’t to blame, but in other cases these examples can serve as experience to modify employee behavior to ensure such conditions never happen again.
“It just begins with the acknowledgment as managers to say to your employees, your front desks, your servers: ‘Keep an eye out for them,’” Anaya said. “These are the type of people that exist. These are the types of people that may affect our service quality perception from other customers.”