In an effort to be friendly or nice some frontline people give up assertiveness. Assertiveness is a way of thinking and behaving that allows a person to stand up for his or her rights while respecting the rights of others, in a nurturing and non-emotional way.
You may have encountered a customer who is non-assertive in either a passive way or an aggressive way. Passive non-assertion is often a case of being overly congenial even when it's counterproductive. Aggressive non-assertion typically manifests itself in a more personal attack that doesn't really establish a set of rules or rights for future interactions. The abrasiveness of the two approaches is very different but they are similar simply because neither method is an effective way to get the person's needs met.
Here’s an example:
John approaches Mary’s desk and asks: ‘Would you finish these reports for me? I hate doing them and you’re so good at it.’
Mary’s desk is already laden with her own reports to finish, but she feels she can’t say ‘no’. Even if it means she’ll be hours late leaving tonight, she says a meek ‘okay’.
She feels victimized and unhappy about the situation and builds resentment. Eventually that resentment will build up and she is likely to lash out aggressively in a non-assertive way.
Understanding and asserting your right to draw boundaries around what you will, and will not allow is a critical skill when dealing with others (both internal partners and external customers). Asserting yourself in a nurturing and relationship-building way is an essential skill that frontline people must develop so that they create a productive environment.