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How to Drive a Customer Crazy

How to Drive a Customer Crazy

Through most of my corporate work career I’ve been associated with the “hospitality industry:” hotels and resorts and all the amenities they are made of, e.g. restaurants, retail and recreational outlets and the like. The hospitality industry is a labor-intensive one, where the majority of employees do come face-to-face with the customer. Within it, nearly every manager can tell you how they will limp their way through the dreaded monotony of daily pre-shift meetings, sometimes called “the line up.” For most of the hospitality industry the purpose is the same: 10-15 minutes at the beginning of a work shift to keep staff as up-to-date as possible, and in-the-know enough to have a decently savvy stage presence for the customer.

Coming up with engaging conversations for pre-shift was this on-going game with me; I took it on as my own personal challenge to make the 10-15 minutes as entertaining for all of us as possible, while sharing the knowledge everyone needed for the day ahead. If we had to have line up, we may as well enjoy ourselves and learn something useful at the same time.

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One of my favorite line-up routines was to do a 5-minute brainstorm we called “How to drive a customer crazy.” We talked about what not to do in a way that had most of us rolling in laughter at the possible outrageous scenarios. However it was also very effective in actually speaking out loud those reminders of bad habits we really shouldn’t do. The staff would throw out suggestions that sounded awful, but usually they were possible: They really were big no-no’s, and saying them out loud, even in jest, kept us aware of them enough to keep them at bay.

Here are some samples of what would come up for us:

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How to Drive a Customer Crazy.

Pretend you haven’t noticed they are there.
Stay in first gear, especially when they are rushing.
Let them overhear your personal phone call, and make no attempt to end it.
Open late. Close early.
Say “That’s not our policy.”
Say “That’s not my job.”
Say “I’m not allowed to do that.”
Say “I have no idea.”
Say “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Slouch. Chew Gum. Twirl your hair between your fingers.
Give them a blank stare, or worse, roll your eyes.
Fidget distractedly. Appear bored.
Finish whatever other task you have at hand, while they wait for you to attend to them.
Talk story with other employees. Laugh at an “inside joke” they are not privy to.
Speak in a monotone. See how long you can go without smiling.
Be late for their appointment or with their reservation.
Take shortcuts with your service, saying “you don’t really need this part do you?”
Make excuses.
Have a quick comeback for every point they may wish to make with you.
Offer mechanical, routine service that is so uneventful, so ordinary, that they expect to pull a number and listen for you to call out “Next!”
Look at them with open disapproval or impatience.
Speak so softly, or in such a rush, that they need to keep asking “What was that?”
Give them directions so involved or confusing they have to write them down.
Give them “scenic” directions that take them out of their way when they really wanted a shortcut.
Ignore the very young and very old in the group, talking only to the ones you assume are the “responsible ones” – or the paying ones.
Assume that all customers are the same, and you already know what they want.


Is your pet peeve here?
What would you add to the list? What drives you crazy when you’re the customer?

Rosa Say, author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog.

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Previous Thursday Column: From Mistake to Marvel.

More by this author

Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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