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The Customer Isn’t Always Right– But They’re Causing More Conflict Than Ever

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused tensions to rise in all parts of life, making customer service, especially in restaurants, more unbearable and exhausting than ever. And as employees across the U.S. quit in masse, small business owners everywhere are failing to provide benefits that outweigh the mental and physical exhaustion of customer service. At the same time, many leaders are unable to de-escalate conflict themselves, let alone train their employees to do the same.

Major brands, airlines, and restaurant chains can more easily afford draws like increased hourly wages, expanded health insurance, and more paid time off. On the other hand, many small businesses struggle to offer much more than a slightly more flexible schedule and a small sign-on bonus. 

More and more workers are choosing to stay home for various reasons: unemployment benefits, having to care for family members or children, or just plain reluctance to return to a “normal” world while Covid and its new variants continue to rage on. Some businesses blame the lack of workers as “lazy” or “irresponsible” employees. But the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a hidden cause of the recent worker shortage: customers.

Impatient, irritated customers are sick and tired of a year in quarantine and taking out their anger on vulnerable frontline workers across the country.

For example, An owner of a bakery and sandwich shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, posted online about a significant rise in unruly customer behavior he has witnessed.

“One of my employees,” he said, “was ripped into by a customer about us not taking phone call orders, and with the current state of how things are, trying to get employees it’s very disheartening, and it makes me upset when people are so rude to the people who are working.” 

“Nobody deserves to be treated like that. Nobody does.”

On the other side of the country, customers had been so rude that one Cape Cod restaurant shut down for a day just to give their employees a rest from the vitriol, according to the Star Tribune. Owners of several restaurants in the area pleaded with guests who were argumentative, crude, and threatening to sue, asking them to “treat us with kindness and understanding,” to “stop making team members cry,” or just begging for “a little grace.”

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world, we need to recognize the unique strain it has put not only on ourselves and our families but the people and businesses around us as well. On the consumer side, it is more important than ever to keep empathy in mind when you step outside, especially for small businesses struggling just to keep the lights on. And on the business side, we need to keep our values in mind and train our employees well so that they can de-escalate conflict as it comes. 

In my new book, I recently published CONFLICT INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT (Conflict-IQ™): The Missing Piece to Turbocharge Conscious Leaders' and Organizations' Emotional Intelligence I introduces different aspects of conflict management, illustrating emotional intelligence and conflict intelligence as indelible factors that enhance any organization’s reputation. 

The book uncovers solutions to conflict and reveals the root causes of why people dread to have difficult conversations. The core of conflict intelligence is awakening individuals’ sense of maintaining a conducive environment for all members to thrive and work in harmony. 

My goal is to show people how crucial conflict intelligence is to an organization where people interaction is required for the company to succeed. By understanding this book and practicing the truths embedded therein, you will become a better leader. After all, the essence is to empower people to become better versions of themselves in a diverse environment. 

As tensions increase in businesses around the world, it is important that emloyees and leaders learn how to voice their frustration and to deescalate conflict.


Yvette Durazo

Yvette Durazo is the founder of Unitive Consulting, a leadership coaching, strategic conflict management, and consulting firm. She recently moved to San Jose, California to expand her opportunities to serve organizations with her unique educational background and capability. Yvette brings a strategic consulting and coaching perspective to finding unique solutions… MORE >

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