Are you a bad customer? How to get better


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You’re angry. You just went to a high-rated restaurant that has been the talk of the town. Your food was expensive, as expected. It tasted excellent, but you weren’t blown away. You walk out of there scratching your head. What could have been better? Then, BOOM, it hits you.

The service.

You weren’t greeted or seated in a friendly manner. It took 20 minutes to order a drink; the food took four times longer. Not one time did a member of the restaurant staff come over to apologize or try to make your experience any better. You think, “Why did this restaurant get five stars?”

You turn around and walk back into the restaurant and scream at the managers like it was their personal fault. You cause a small scene. You tell them about the experience you had, hoping they’ll offer to compensate your next experience if they ever want you to return or write a positive review. It’s really a verbal threat.

But, what you didn’t think about when you had this average experience is, “how did I just deal with that?”

Often, bad customers have no idea they’re in the wrong. The key to recognizing those actions and turning them around is simple: don’t operate on autopilot. Good customers are self aware throughout every exchange with vendors, knowing that their feedback and reactions can truly help – or harm – the organization or company they’re addressing.

This doesn’t only apply in restaurants – it happens in businesses. Business owners and vendors should observe the behavioral patterns of any bad service they receive to make sure they’re not providing that to their own customers. Because in any service-based situation, the way you’re treated is a part of the overall experience. It’s not enough to just sell a good product. The customer experience must be factored in as No. 1.

As a customer to any business, too many think that launching a vehement reaction or treating the company poorly will somehow win the battle for better service. Some think it’s motivational. Wrong. How many people got what they wanted by constantly battling, pushing and yelling at people?

At my company, we call them vendor abusers. The definition: Client contacts that question every move, don’t trust you to do your job, verbally abuse your team or take their internal stress out on you because they think they’re paying you to handle them no matter what. Even when you are doing your job, meeting your goals and you’re pushing the client’s business forward.

The problem that these “vendor abuser” types don’t realize – just like an angry customer yelling at a restaurant manager – is they are acting like distractions instead of motivators. In my experience, they hold providers back instead of making us better, and let us work harder to deliver excellent service. And, above all, they keep us from providing an above-average experience and creating a happy environment.

So, next time you’re on a call with the cable company, in a restaurant or talking to one of your company’s vendors, and you aren’t happy with the quality of service that’s being delivered, ask yourself: “Is the way I’m about to react going to be beneficial to the goal I’m trying to accomplish?” “Will what I’m about to say make this place better?” “Will I make a difference through my delivery?” Every service industry fields complaints all the time, but you can turn those complaints from noise to constructive feedback by acting in a way that demonstrates a legitimate need for the vendor to change.

Thinking about how you affect other people, especially from a day-to-day working relationship, is half the battle. The best people to work with are the ones that act as a team to accomplish an overall goal, respect one another and treat each other with respect and kindness. Remember that next time you choose to react poorly to a service.

Melissa Cohen
Melissa Cohen, managing partner at Metis Communications, turns emerging companies into industry influencers. Her collaborative and analytical approach has delivered measurable business results for numerous organizations.


  1. Hi Melissa, while you are right that customers also need to adhere to some civilized standards companies are well advised to cut away the emotion (abuse, yelling, etc.) from the message. The point remains that, especially if they get lots of ‘abuse’, they are in all likelihood not operating up to their own promise. One could also assume that most customers do not tend to turn back and yell at the company staff on the very first occasion of disappointment – unless it was a REAL bad experience, that is.

    You take cable companies as an example – well, they have a notoriously bad record. And they do not seem to do anything about it.

    The problem for companies will remain, with few exceptions to the rule, that the customer has choice. They do not need to return. So, regardless whether the complaint comes in an adequate delivery or not, companies are well advised to listen and act.

    Just 2 ct from Down Under

  2. Thank you for your comment, Thomas. Much appreciated. The article is actually about customers that have this first-time reaction. I have faced and witnessed this many times within my current business and within other businesses. Customers of any business do have a choice, like you noted, especially if they want a positive service experience with excellent results.

  3. Vendors and customers have an implicit social contract, and both parties must accept the risks. For sellers, one of the risks that must be accepted is that customers might not comport themselves in ways that are honest, kind or fair. And customers must accept the risk that less-than-perfect [stuff] happens (in fine dining or otherwise). For both sides, entering a transaction with only puritanical expectations for things going right is a recipe for profound disappointment. My suggestion: if either party is unwilling or unable to accept these risks, then don’t engage in a transaction.

    As a customer, I think it’s helpful to put myself in the shoes of the person delivering the service. Maybe they have all the best intentions, but it’s just not their day. Problems at home. Money. A sick family member. Bad news they received just before their shift started. It’s convenient to say they simply shouldn’t have clocked in, but things are not that straightforward. Many service workers don’t have a choice, and yet customers expect nothing short of perfection. And they feel entitled to rant, including berating employees with expletives. That’s wrong, but not everyone feels compelled to adhere to a social contract.

    Similarly, in the buyer-seller social contract, vendors must be aware that customers have duress, and often bring emotional baggage, too. They must make their employees aware that some customers can complain vociferously about things that the employee has no control over, or in fact are not defects. They must equip employees with proper ways to respond.


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