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Customer from Hell #39 “Arrogant Al”: The Condescending Internal Customer

Most of us have ‘internal customers’ – people in our own company who rely on us to provide them with some level of service or support. For many of us, working in administration, human resources, IT, training, etc., providing internal customer service is our primary role. Unfortunately, just as there are difficult external customers, there are also difficult internal customers. One of the common situations we see are internal customers who simply appear to not respect the roles of their internal service providers. They come across as condescending, dismissive, arrogant and sometimes plain rude. It is a recipe for a poisonous workplace atmosphere. What do you do?

To begin with, it is important to remember “Arrogant Al” is often absolutely unaware of the impact his actions are having. He is so consumed with his own job and his own challenges that he hasn’t stopped to think about the people around him. Sometimes he can be ‘fixed’ with just a simple nudge. Here are a few things you can try:

1. Reframe and educate

Rather than thinking “Al doesn’t respect what I do,” try taking the more productive position that “Al doesn’t understand what I do.” Make it a point to gently and subtly educate him on your role. The best way to do this is through questions. So, for example, instead of saying, “Hey buddy, I can’t just snap my fingers and make it happen you know!” try something like, “Al, in order to get this done for you properly, I will need to do x, y & z (that’s the educating part). Realistically this will take about three days, unless you can think of a way to expedite things…” Over time, Al may begin to gain a little more appreciation of your skills and your role in the company.

2. Confront and personalize

If the education process doesn’t work, the next step is to confront Al. Take a personal approach, so Al will better appreciate the emotional impact his actions are taking. You might say, for example: “Al, have I done something to offend you? Clearly there’s something you’re not happy about…” Al now has two choices. The first, and most likely, is to tell you that he bears you no ill will at all. He will, however, think twice about how he treats you in future. His second option is to confirm that you actually have done something to offend him – in which case you have a whole different issue to deal with.

These strategies won’t always work, of course. Sometimes Arrogant Al is exactly the workplace jerk he appears to be. But they are worth a try!

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