I work in local government - planning department. A customer recently complained about the delay in an application and during a call verbally abused a staff member. When the complaint was escalated to me I called her from my mobile. The customer kept on asking if it was fair that her application had been delayed and said things like the staff member became a " %itch" and purposely made it difficult for her. She hardly allowed me to respond. I did admit the delays hadn't been fair and that I would ensure it is resolved asap. The customer in our discussion also asked whether everyone was "slow over there"? I asked her to repeat what she had said; as if I hadn't heard it. So she did. I did not take it up any further at that stage as there had unfortunately been delays in some of the processes and I just wanted to resolve the matter. I also didn't want her to think that if I spoke to her about her verbal behavior she would then just go on blaming us for purposely delaying the matter even more just to "get back at her". She had also made mistakes on her plans but I desisted as far as I could to remind her about her mistakes made. The matter has now been resolved (with no thank you for my intervention or the staff member's prioritizing of the case to get it resolved). (Interesting note about the customer is that she called me and the other staff member 35+ times on the day I had confirmed that we had received her latest submission (corrections of her mistakes) and would be looking into it asap. She called our landlines and to my mobile phone over and over and over, not leaving messages, and even changing her phone number setting to 'private' with the hope I would pick up. I eventually did answer even though I was in (and chairing) a long meeting as I thought that perhaps it was someone else and that it was urgent, or someone had an accident etc. I kindly told her I was in a meeting and would get back to her and ended the call. She again called immediately after that! I did not answer. A truly difficult customer. But we did go out of our way and prioritized the matter to send her the permit she was keen to get just after 4pm on the very day of the 35 calls. (She probably thinks the 35 calls persuaded us to finalize it!)

So, now after the dust has settled I want to call the customer again and indicate that I wasn't satisfied with her language etc. Remembering I did not get this as second hand information as she spoke directly to me when she said my staff member was being a "%itch" and also in my face said I was also "slow" when she implied everyone "over there" was slow. On the one hand I feel like just letting it go but on the other hand if she lodges another application with us in future the ground rules for customer behavior must also be set. Being public servants forces us to be kind, helpful, honorable, soft spoken etc etc. I get that and agree. Moistly. But I need to protect my staff and make them feel supported. Who holds the customer to account and how? What advice do you have for me?


arobertson's picture

While I understand the desire to give the person feedback, I see an opportunity for the team to come together on how to handle the next time something like this happens. This person has created stress and it would be great if something good could come of it. I don't know how you could hold the customer accountable now, but I also don't work in a local government - planning department. There might be options and I am unaware.

SETM22's picture

I have many government employee friends and the answer to your question is generally "no".

You'll need to defer to the policies of your department or agency. It's likely those things go way up the chain to a political appointee or elected official. In that case, it's usually a big fat NO. Unlike commercial enterprises, government is a different animal. I think previous advice to examine it as a learning experience is best.