Mendenhall: Stop Mistreating Customer Service Employees


(Photo by Clem Onojeghuo via Pexels)

By Addison Mendenhall


Customer service employees play a crucial role in the success of any business. They answer questions, give relevant information and assist customers in multiple ways. They are also expected to stay positive, professional and prompt no matter what a situation entails.

However, reports show that in the last few years, customers treat employees significantly worse, especially since COVID-19. For example, minor inconveniences result in full-blown meltdowns and uncalled for temper tantrums. Some situations escalate quicker than others, leading customers to fight or spit on workers. Treating customer service employees with blatant disrespect cannot continue, even if frustrations with pandemic-implemented policies run high.

Prior to the pandemic, positive customer and employee interactions were normal. Employees experienced less burnout and worked their desired schedules without worrying if employers extended or cut hours. I worked a local restaurant job that catered to my class schedule. My friends and I chose to work there because they provided us with the flexibility we needed. If we wanted extra hours, we would pick up a shift. The environment at work was almost always positive, and 99% of my interactions with customers were extremely pleasant. But over time, restaurant employees like myself felt attitudes shift.

During the height of the pandemic, the CDC constantly updated a list of mandatory COVID-19 regulations for businesses to follow. Some of the regulations included mask-wearing, increasing sanitation protocols and social distancing in store. But customers weren’t always willing to comply. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions of the regulations, it’s not OK to accost and blame employees for them. If employees are expected to treat their customers with respect and appreciation, the expectation must be reciprocated.

Employees experiencing explosive customer behavior may not talk about it. The fear of losing their jobs is often a large enough concern for employees to keep quiet. Limiting the discussion of mistreatment stifles what is known as “employee voice,” which is communicating suggestions and concerns that benefits the workplace. Employee voice should be a priority for businesses because it can prevent negative situations from happening again. Examining a negative customer experience through employee voice can improve the workplace one step at a time.

The labor shortage created an increase in the amount of customer service jobs available over the last few years, leaving many positions vacant and businesses at a major disadvantage. Nobody wants to work in environments where they could be yelled at or mistreated by customers. There are signs in several local businesses I’ve visited over the last few months that desperately advertise the need to hire more staff. Businesses must know that employees don’t want customers to mistreat them, and want to work in environments where that won’t happen. Though workplaces may not be responsible for how customers behave, employers can foster a positive environment regardless.

For example, I keep my current job in customer service, because of my positive work environment, separate from negative customer experiences. My coworkers and I get good benefits, have an open dialogue with management and establish good work friendships. These friendships are important to me because we empathize with each other and have a safe and relatable place to vent. 

In addition, changes occurred in response to feedback that my coworkers and I give. Our employee voice does not fall on deaf ears, and for that I am thankful. Even when I have an interaction with a customer that is negative or uncalled for, my work environment is generally positive and helps balance that out.

Employees should not have to subject themselves to an onslaught of unnecessary customer abuse. If jobs and businesses want to turn the issue of negative customer interaction around and have hard-working employees willing to work, employers need to address the root of the problem: customers.


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