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Rude Customers Get Varying Treatments in U.S. & China

bad service . / Credit: Bad Customer Service Image via Shutterstock

It turns out dealing with rude customers transcends cultural differences. New research has found that workers from both Eastern and Western cultures will respond negatively to rude customers, though they will do so in very different ways.    

Overall, North American workers are more likely to respond to a rude customer by evening the score with that customer individually, while workers in China were more likely to react by disengaging from customer service in general. In fact, North American workers were 20 percent more likely to resort to sabotage in order to get revenge with a rude customer. On the other hand, Chinese workers were 19 percent more likely to shut off from customer service in general. 

"Our research shows that culture plays a significant role in how frontline workers deal with customer abuse," said study co-author Daniel Skarlicki, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. "In North America, employees tend to retaliate against offensive customers — doing things like giving bad directions or serving cold food. In China, workers are more likely to reduce the general quality of service they provide to all customers — nasty or nice."

Skarlicki, who conducted the research with former Ph.D. student Ruodan Shao, examined surveys from 214 employees working at the front desk of hotels in Beijing and Vancouver. The researchers say that the responses of workers reflect the individualistic attitudes of North American workers and the collectivist attitudes of Chinese workers.   

"North Americans take a surgical approach to abuse, zeroing in on individuals who mistreated them," said Skarlicki. "Chinese don't blame the transgressor. They blame the system — the company or customers they serve."

Those findings have serious implications for companies with global operations, researchers say.  In fact, Skarlicki and Shao advise companies to be aware of cultural differences when shaping their customer service policies.   

"When service-oriented companies go global, they need to heighten their sensitivity to how culture in a new market can influence the performance of frontline staff and tailor their customer service operations accordingly," said Skarlicki.

The research is set to be published in the journal Personnel Psychology.

Email David Mielach or follow him @D_M89. Follow us @bndarticlesFacebook or Google+.