Bad Service Killings: USA Today Forgets to Round Down to Zero

As loathe as I am to led a story with stats, here’s the beef in a USA Today article entitled Enraged customers fuel a disturbing trend. “In 1997-98, 60 homicides were committed by disgruntled customers and clients; in 2007-08 the figure was as high as 133. Overall, 500 such cases occurred from 1997 through 2008, more than half of which took place in public buildings, such as restaurants, banks or retail stores. Of these homicides, 20% involved office workers or health care and social service employees.” While you’re processing that, process this from the FBI: “An estimated 16,272 persons were murdered nationwide in 2008.” In case you don’t have your calculator up and running, 133 murders involving “disgruntled customers and clients” represents less than one percent of the total. Tragic as these killings are, double the number ten years ago (with a smaller population) the total may be, I’m still thinking we should round the “trend” down to zero. Then again, that wouldn’t help criminologists get their work into USA Today or, more importantly, land corporate clients, would it? Not like this drivel . . .

The steady rise in customer/client violence appears to stem from a combination of factors, including worsening economic conditions and greater corporate depersonalization. In a complex, bureaucratic society, more and more citizens are feeling powerless against incessant phone recordings or red tape. Criminologists recognize that frustration increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

Unlike popular recommendations for reducing the threat of employee violence, a company can hardly profile or pre-screen its clientele or refer irate customers to an anger management program. Yet a solution to the problem of the vengeful customer is clear. Companies must enhance their customer relations efforts to deal with the growing alienation and cynicism among consumers. This is more than just a good business strategy; it could defuse volatile situations before they turn violent.

Or, as we like to say around here, not.

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