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Customer Misbehaviour – What is it and how is it handled?

S. Shyam Prasad
Ethics in business has two sides to it – one, the firm’s side and the other customer’s side. But in practice, it has been taken for granted that it is the sole responsibility of the firms only to be ethical in all their activities. Have we ever wondered the role of customers in ‘ethics in businesses’? This article looks at the other side – the customer’s side. However, the objective of writing this is not to question 98% of honest customers (see below) but to make us aware that there are some black sheep in the guise of customers and how they are tackled by the firms. 
We are all knowledgeable about customer behaviour. What then is customer misbehavior and how do firms handle it? Any bad, improper, inappropriate, unethical or an act intended to commit a fraud in a transaction by a buyer can be termed as customer misbehaviour. The proliferation of business in different forms and arrival of highly attractive goods have all added to the temptation to have to which unscrupulous customers fall prey. In my opinion, a highly cultured and upright person would continue to be virtuous.
Customer misbehaviour and how is it handled
Marketing and Business to function properly, both marketers and consumers alike must behave ethically. One must recollect Kant’s categorical imperative – a deontological theory – that individuals should be willing to have their actions become universal laws that would apply equally to themselves as to all others (Kant, 1964). The golden rule is ‘do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you or your loved ones’. Yet there have been instances of consumers sometimes taking recourse to unethical behaviour.  Table 1 below lists different ‘consumer-misbehaviours’.

Table 1                 
­  Shoplifting
­ Switching price tags
­ Returning clothing that has been worn
­ Abusing products and returning them as damaged goods
­ Redeeming coupons without the requisite purchase
­ Redeeming coupons that have expired
­ Returning  clothing bought at full-price and demanding a refund for the sales price differential
­ Returning products bought at sale and demanding the full-price refund
­ Stealing belts from store clothing
­ Cutting buttons off of
store merchandise
­ Returning partially used products for full store credit
­ Abusing warranty or unconditional guarantee privileges
­ Damaging merchandise in a store and then demanding a sales discount
­ Copying copyrighted materials (e.g.,  books, videotapes, computer software) without permission


Marketers, in order to build customer relationships, provide discounts, special offers, service guarantees and many such other promotional offers. Some customers tend to abuse these offers. Many of us are familiar with the American word “jaywalker” a term which is used to describe people who cross roads at their convenience with complete disregard to the flow of traffic. In fact, the term “jay” was used to mean a stupid person. Some authors have created the word jaycustomer to mean one who acts in a thoughtless or abusive way, causing problems for the firm, its employees and other customers (Christopher Lovelock, 2006). These jaycustomers are harmful to the good customers in many ways. One, the firms would stop certain offers that have potential for misuse and secondly, as the president of TARP (the company that undertook the studies of complaining behaviour described earlier) notes:
“Our research has found that premeditated rip-offs represent 1 to 2 percent of the customer base in most organisations. However, most organisations defend themselves against unscrupulous customers by  … treating the 98 percent of honest customers like crooks to catch the 2 percent who are crooks.”[i]
 Some broad types of jaycustomers include i) The Thief, ii) The Belligerent, iii) The Family Feuders and
iv) The Vandal to name a few (Christopher Lovelock, 2006).
It becomes necessary for the firms to keep a close watch and scrutinize the claims for compensation or such invocations of guarantees. To monitor the claims, most of the organisations maintain databases of all such claims and keep a tab on repeated claims from the same customer.


In conclusion, one might say that customer-misbehaviour vitiates the image of the customers in the eyes of marketers and firms. The firms need to control the misbehaviour without hurting the feelings of the good customers. However, this is very easily said than done. It is impossible to completely stop the abuse of offers and at best companies can increase the degree of surveillance and discourage misbehaviour.  It is only the values of the customer that will guide his behaviour.

[i]John Goodman, quoted in “Improving Service Doesn’t Always Require Big Investment’” The Service Edge(July-August, 1990):3.
Christopher Lovelock, J. W. (2006). Services Marketing – People, Technology, Strategy. Delhi: Pearson Education.
Kant, I. (1964). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. (H. J. Patson, Trans.) New York: Harper & Row.
Schiffman L. G. and Kanuk L. L. (1997). Consumer Behavior. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall of India Pvt.,Ltd.