Nasty Cashier? Indifferent Waitress? Here’s Why You Should Complain

If you find that you're treated rudely when you patronize a store or other business, don't take it personally: A new study finds that one-third of consumers say they experience disrespectful treatment once a month. This uncivil behavior hurts companies' profits as well as customers' feelings.

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If you find that you’re treated rudely when you patronize a store or other business, don’t take it personally: A new study finds that one-third of consumers say they experience disrespectful treatment once a month. This uncivil behavior hurts companies’ profits as well as customers’ feelings, according to the professors at the University of Southern California and Georgetown University who wrote the study. 

Rude employees have a multiplier effect when it comes to how much their actions hurt their workplace. Instead of complaining to a supervisor after being treated poorly, most disgruntled customers just go home and gripe to family and friends about their experience. The customer who was the initial target of the employee’s bad behavior is less likely to return to that business in the future. If they’re angry enough, they may abandon the brand entirely, and they’ve given their circle of acquaintances a heads-up to avoid it, too.

As for what’s behind the groundswell of bad behavior, the study’s authors theorize that workers who interact with customers are under more stress today, and that stress can be a trigger for rude behavior. They also point to the growing tolerance for incivility in general discourse, such as the bickering and name-calling that takes place on Internet forums.

(MORE: Customer Service Done Right: When an Actual Human Being Answers the Phone)

Interestingly, consumers don’t even have to be the target of the uncivil behavior to form a negative perception of the business; the researchers found that customers were also put off just by witnessing rude behavior directed at another customer or another employee. The study warns:

“When customers observe a boss belittling a subordinate, a salesperson making a sarcastic remark about a fellow employee, or a customer service representative using a derogatory term to describe another employee, customers’ evaluations of the firm’s other employees and the firm itself may suffer.”

(MORE: A Few Thoughts on the God-Awful State of Customer Service)

Restaurants and retail establishments in particular are hotbeds of rude behavior, according to the study. (It could also be that the frequency of customer-staff interactions is higher at these types of businesses, so there’s more opportunity for impolite interactions to take place.) The authors suggest that businesses implement training programs that emphasize civility, since its absence can be so corrosive to a company’s bottom line.

So go ahead and let the manager know if an employee gets snippy or acts like they’re doing you a big favor just for doing their job. You may give them some heartburn in the short term, but in the long run, they’re more likely to appreciate your speaking up about the poor treatment you received. Readers, what makes you sound off to a manager rather than just venting to a friend?

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