One of the sad realities of owning a food truck is that a small percentage of food truck customers will resort to threats to try to get what they want. The reasons for these customer threats always seem to vary. Some times a customer becomes exasperated and will lash out. In other situations a customer doesn’t receive what they want and escalates the problem it to see if you will back down. In very rare cases, the customer may just be a jerk and likes to threaten people.
Once a customer threatens you or your food truck staff, it changes the dynamic of the conversation. Depending on the severity of the threat, it might actually end the conversation.
Today we’ll cover some typical customer threats and some strategies for responding to each type of threat.
How To Handle Food Truck Customer Threats
These customer threats are listed in increasing order of severity.
Going To The Competition Threats
This threat is nothing more than stating the obvious. When a customer voices it, it is because the customer is not getting what they want and have resorted to actually saying what everyone already knows. Unless the problem is properly resolved, unhappy food truck customers tend to go to the competition.
So how should a vendor or their staff approach this type of threat? You can either ignore it, and stay focused on problem solving or address the threat in a way that you can turn for the positive.
“If I felt the way you do, I would take my business to another food truck too. But here’s the thing, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure not only that you stay with us, but that when you walk out of our line today you are looking forward to coming back with your friends.”
Online Or Better Business Bureau Customer Threats
These threats are probably the most common threats leveled at food trucks these days. Consumers are drunk with the power of the Internet and social media, and they vastly overestimate its power in the case of a simple customer service disagreement.
Online threats are a dime a dozen. For the most part, one online comment often doesn’t even rate. While online criticism should be monitored and addressed, you should not fear it and not let it be used against you in any significant way.
The easy way to approach these types of threats is to ask them, what they hope to accomplish by going online? Or… If they wrote a bad review, what would they say?
Once they answer, your answer is simple. Tell them that your goal is to help them fix every one of their problems so that when they leave your food truck, the only thing they have left to write is how much they love your food truck.
Threats To Contact The Food Truck Owner or Manager
This threat is often used to threaten service window attendants. These customers have decided that threatening the job security of the staff member by trying to get them “in trouble” is the way to get what they want. There are many variations of this customer threat.
How to train your staff members to approach these customer threats:
- Accept the failure and try to make up for it. They could say something like, “I am sorry to hear you say that, not because I am worried about getting in trouble, but because I know you feel that I have failed to make you happy. I would love it if you could just give me another chance to see what I can do to change this.”
- Help the customer contact the owner/manager. Have them say something such as, “You know, at this point, I think that is a great idea. I am sorry that I can’t resolve your issue. If you don’t mind, I would like to personally get my owner/manager so they can help resolve this issue.”
Legal Customer Threats
Unfortunately in our litigious society, people think they can sue for anything. In most cases, the threat is made in the heat of the moment. In other cases the customer actually hires an attorney to write a threatening letter.
When this happens, they are trying to see what they can get without suing you. That’s the point of the letter and not issuing a notice of lawsuit. Once you receive a legal threat, end the conversation. If a customer brings up the lawyers, any future communication needs to go through yours.
Physical Customer Threats
We’ve found incidents of a customer who demanded a cash refund on the spot and refused to leave a food truck’s line, another customer who threw a tantrum at a young service window attendant and stormed out of line saying “this is NOT over,” and a food truck owner who had a stalker. While overreaction should be guarded against, physical threats should never be taken lightly.
From the customer service standpoint, our advice is simple. Just like a legal threat, once a physical threat is made, the conversation is over. Once a customer has crossed the line by threatening you or a staff member, the conversation and transaction is over.
Use your judgement how to do this based on each individual situation. A physical threat should never be tolerated. There is plenty of other business. Protect yourself, protect your staff, and protect your other customers.
The Bottom Line
Being threatened by a customer is never a pleasant experience. Even lesser threats like the loss of business are tough to receive. Helping your food truck staff members understand the different types of threats and how to handle them can give them the ability to stay calm under pressure and how to turn customer threats into a positive end result.