Does Your Company Bully Customers?
April 2022. I have just re-done my annual coaching training for youth sports. One of the topics is “Bullying” and I have a question. Why do we work so hard to eliminate Bullying with youth, while allowing it — even making it policy to bully customers — in many businesses?
Bullying: Behavior intended to control or diminish, to force compliance, or to exclude.
This definition fits exactly some of the interactions I’ve had with some banks, attorneys, the police, and unfortunately, far too many businesses. I see tactics of bullying in business policies much too often. From phone support conversations to unsolicited sales calls, from warranty questions to political ads, to – perhaps most subtly, bullying in EULA’s.
Does your company also bully customers? It is definitely worth thinking about your business practices to see.
The result of bullying for kids on the playground is usually hurt feelings and often tears. The result in business is very much the same, though not as visual. If customers feel manipulated, or taken advantage of, they may have been bullied. Maybe by you.
I must first point out that not every interaction that creates frustration or anger is due to bullying. Many times as a customer, we may feel some anger about thoughtless policies. We may feel taken advantage of because we didn’t know a policy or because of our circumstances, not the company. Some policies can feel like bullying when circumstances are simply not to our liking. So, not every unhappy interaction is bullying. The classic example is a limited return policy for open products. If the customer opens the product, then decides they don’t want it, they may feel angry when a refund is not given. This, in spite of knowing the policy at the time of purchase.
That may or may not be a good policy, but it is not what I mean here. In this article, we are highlighting times where a customer must change paths, often with significant expense, if they don’t succumb to the bullying.
This article is about company policies that “control or force compliance”. Where the company has policies to bully customers.
The Bully EULA
Most of us are familiar with EULA’s (End User License Agreements). We have to agree with them before using almost all software and apps. The concept of EULA’s by themselves are not a problem — they are to protect the relationship and the intellectual property involved. So, in that way they are good.
However, the way companies choose to use a EULA can definitely make them a bully. Like when a company decides to make a change, then forces it on customers by bully tactics.
Take MicroSoft for instance … For that matter, I just went through this with PayPal, MyMail, etc.. They send a notice about changes in their EULA with a statement saying something like … if you don’t agree, then quit using the product.
On the surface it seems matter-of-fact, perhaps it is even worded nice so it seems polite. However, the implications of discontinuing use can be catastrophic!
In truth, that simple statement is a carefully worded threat – like the bully shaking his fist at you, the customer. The phrase and the implications behind it are most certainly a bully tactic.
The MicroSoft Example
June 29, 2022: MickySoft just issued a new “Services Agreement” which states “If you do not agree, you can choose to discontinue using the products and services”. While it sounds simple enough, the implications are enormous! It’s carefully crafting a cloak of violence.
How many thousands of hours and dollars do we have wrapped up in MickySoft products. To “discontinue using” means throwing away years of work (along with all the money we have paid them), simply because we can’t access our own information without using their product.
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the notice is a marketing piece with words to make you feel like they are doing you a favor. Sneak it in under the radar, and most people won’t even notice.
This is Forcing Compliance by Bullying. And by deception. Effectively “You can’t play because we just changed the rules.” Classic 2nd grade playground bullying. Even if it is subtle, this is how they bully customers.
If you don’t agree, you must suddenly find a different way to handle years of work and rebuild anything you still need — all at your expense, in a month. That is BULLYING !!!
Whether in business or on the playground, is it ever OK to be a Bully?
The PayPal Example
Yes, MicroSoft is easy to pick on because they do so many bone-headed things. Unfortunately, because of their size, other companies follow their foibles down the same dishonorable path. PayPal is one of the copycats doing the same thing. (Now, in 2023 they are doing it again.)
To be clear, I’m not talking about changes in fees or in methods for support. I’m talking about fundamental changes that affect the ability for the customer to interact. PayPal changes the way they wish to handle things, if you don’t agree, you must suddenly find a different supplier and rebuild your website — jumping through hoops and expense on a moment’s notice. They don’t want to live up to their end of the agreement, so they force you to accept a change. Forcing customers is BULLYING. Strong arm tactics are still BULLYING. How is that OK?
Seriously, as a 1st world society, why do we allow big companies to BULLY customers? Why is that OK?
Unfortunately, there are so many more similar examples.
See It For What It Is
Things like the EULA act as a contract. They provide the software, and we agree to use it with certain terms. However, because of the clauses saying they can change it at any time – makes it ONE SIDED. They expect us to live by it, and obey, but they can change it randomly to suit their desires. That’s not a contract, it’s manipulation – ie. Bullying.
If you work for a company with policies to BULLY customers, take it up with your bosses. I’m sure they won’t care, but they need to know they are asking you to be a bully too. Help them see it for what it is.
The point: You don’t have to Bully the customers in order to make changes. Concepts of Respect and Gratitude will go a long way in helping to form proper policies.
A Non-Bully, Respectful Solution
We have often said Software companies demand more than they are willing to give. Software companies don’t have anywhere near the commitment to their customers that customers have to the software. And, we see it again in the bully tactics with EULA’s.
Change is inevitable. They say it’s the only constant. I get it, so how do companies make those changes without bullying?
First, Put Some Thought Into It.
It is very easy for humans to focus on their own needs (or needs of their company) while forgetting or overlooking the needs who they serve. It’s easy to focus on one problem while ignoring the majority that are doing just fine.
So, the first thing is to think about what and why changes are needed. Approach them very cautiously and find other ways to deal with the “one” issues without overturning the apple cart. Maybe, in the case of MickySoft where they want more freedom to profit off of you, this paradigm is beyond their ability. IDK. (Based on the stupidity in so many things in their software, maybe ‘thinking’ is an intellectual step too far. Oh well.)
However, ego of some (so titled) “leaders” aside, it really does not take much to mentally trade places with a customer to consider the true ramifications. I am pretty convinced that some large institutions like Wells Fargo have a “dunce dome” over their workplaces to suck the intelligence out of their employees while they are at work. Perfectly wonderful people outside of work become idiots while at work.
If stress is the atmosphere at work, perhaps that is the source of some bully policies?
Whatever the reasons, it’s wrong to have policies that bully customers. Please, think beyond the company pressures, and find respect for the customer.
Second, Act Honorably.
I find it amazing when companies want customers to show respect and to act honorably, but fail to do the same. Seriously, if you want to change the rules, do it with your new products, and honor the agreements in place when customers engaged with you in the first place. That would show much more respect.
For a company like MickySoft, that can mean a new EULA when a customer gets new software, or upgrades to the next product. But leave the current agreements alone. — Too hard you say? Maybe you should not be in business if you can’t handle the complexities of showing respect.
Oh, I can hear the complaints about how it is not easy with the way things are now. HOGWASH. Go back to the First recommendation, and THINK about how to show respect. There is always a solution, it’s just a matter of finding it. If you really can’t figure out ways to treat your customers with respect, please quit. You are obviously not smart enough to have the job.
If you have built disrespect into your products and services, re-do it better. It’s NOT all about you. It should be all about your customers.
Bullying As Standard Practice
There are many more ways bullying is standard practice. Here is an example. (Warning: Stay far away from M&T Bank.)
Recently a family member passed away. They had a mortgage with M&T Bank, so I called them. Of course they couldn’t say much for privacy reasons, but they assured me it was fine and they “have programs to help with these situations”.
A few weeks later when the proper legal documents where issued, I contacted the bank again. I was informed that since I notified them the person with the loan is no longer living, they already started foreclosure. So, they wouldn’t let me make payments before court documents are issued, then because it was more than a few days (courts are slow over Christmas), they start foreclosure. Apparently their “programs to help” mean accelerating foreclosure to take advantage of the grieving family and seize the property.
The bully part continued as they insisted, with threats of taking the house, that I pay right then – everything. They wanted full payment (immediately) or foreclosure would proceed. Normally a customer must be 3 months behind to start foreclosure, but because I notified them (out of courtesy), they accelerate it?? The bullying was so bad that they called me again and again demanding full payment.
I got a bigger bully, an attorney, to correct the M&T Bank tactics. While it may be legal, it is also immoral. It is crazy that it takes legal action to make people think and stop the bullying! The worst part, this bully is by company policy!! While they did cease most of the bullying to me, I’m sure it had no effect for other customers. (Honestly, I don’t know how the employees can live with themselves.)
Don’t EVER Use M&T Bank. You’ve been warned. Enough said.
Walk The High Road
There are times and places where things get uncomfortable, I get it. While it’s hard, walking the high road is definitely a better approach than bullying. Yet, in reality, the hard bits are the temporary situations.
The focus of this article is the planned, schemed, bully tactics that businesses use to cowarce customers. Those have no place in our society. Companies like MicroSoft and PayPal that use those tactics regularly should absolutely be ashamed of themselves. Part of being big is being better. Since “better” is not a usual descriptor of MickySoft, they have work to do. Honestly, this applies to many companies.
Yet, before we get too much into the finger pointing, now is a good time to reflect on ourselves. Are there ways that you, and I, use bully tactics in our business practices? That’s a really good question to consider.
Good luck as you re-focus, and find greater respect for your customers.