Customer Says One Thing Employee Says Another

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a team member: I have received an email from a member of staff from another department, who claims that one of my team members was rude to her and shouted at her.

I work for a large firm in the city, where I am a supervisor for a team of ten. Just recently I have received an email from a member of staff from another department, who claims that one of my team members was rude to her and shouted at her. I have spoken to the person in question to get his side of the story. He claims he was not rude and did not shout, and was just trying to explain why we could not provide a certain job for her.I’m not sure who to believe. The person in particular may have been a bit abrupt, but I cannot believe that he shouted at this lady. Any help would be appreciated.

Signed, Investigating

DearĀ Investigating:

It’s always challenging when a customer claims one thing and an employee tells another story and there are no witnesses–or no witnesses who will tell the truth about it.Often when a complaint can’t be proven or disproven, managers tend to apologize to employees for having to investigate it, but I hope you won’t do that. The fact that someone from another department would go to the trouble to tell you her feelings, indicates something was upsetting to her. Most of us encounter a dozen rude people before we get one that is so egregious we feel we have to report them. Unless she is known as a constant complainer or is known for being rude herself, I think you can figure something more happened than just a routine conversation.

She may have been asking for too much and should have known better, and the employee may have just been frustrated with her and more forceful than he realized. But, now you have an opportunity to talk to her about her request and perhaps prevent future misunderstandings about what work your department can provide. You can also calm this issue and help her feel more positive about it. At the same time you can use it as a way to discuss with the employee the best way to handle such requests in the future.Consider this: Call or email the complainant and ask her if you can come by her office to talk to her in person or, if that is too far away, talk to her on the phone. Let her tell her story again.

You may hear a different version of it or not, but it will allow her to feel that she is being heard. I often ask people who say that someone has shouted, to say the words to me that they heard, at the same volume they heard it. That may not prove anything, but it shows them that I really am trying to investigate.If you can, explain to her about the work your department can provide and what it cannot. Then, you can thank her for the time she has taken to let you know of the situation and that you’ll use it as a training opportunity.

Ask her to call you if anything like this happens again, even though you are sure it won’t. A good touch is to ask her if there is anything specific you can do to help her feel more positively about your department.When you get back to your office you can talk to the employee involved and tell him that you’ve discussed the matter with the other person and feel that she is satisfied with knowing the matter will be used as a training reminder. Then you can tell him that if such a situation seems to be building, he should tell the customer that you have said you’d like to know of the request so you can discuss it with them.You said that the employee may be abrupt but you don’t think he would shout.

The truth is that being abrupt isn’t good customer service either. Often an abrupt person sounds rude to those who aren’t used to tolerating it for years. Also, someone who is abrupt isn’t thinking about service but rather about getting the person off the phone or out of the office. I doubt that you would be abrupt, so it isn’t appropriate for him to be abrupt either.I mention that as a reminder that often managers minimize rude behavior by employees by making it sound inconsequential, since they’re used to it. But, it isn’t a small thing to others. I’m not saying he is problematic, but I picked up on that comment, because it implies you know his style is not conciliatory.So, it will be beneficial to let him know that in the future, if someone doesn’t believe him when he says he can’t do a job for them, he should offer to contact you immediately to talk to them. But, he should do it in a courteous way and never give the impression he is arguing with them.I would imagine the employee will once again tell you that he didn’t do anything wrong. A good response might be, “I don’t think you shouted. But, next time, call me rather than arguing to the extent that it sounds like we’re refusing to help someone.

That way you’re covered and the department comes across as more helpful.”If he is a problematic person he will react in a petulant or angry way and you will know that he might very well have been rude and you can keep a closer eye on such behavior in the future. If he’s a good employee he may be frustrated about it, but he’ll assure you that he will be sure to avoid a situation like this in the future.I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.