Is there a better translation for the German word "Kundenbekämpfung" than "customer combatting" ?
I looked up synomys and translations of the noun "Bekämpfung", but somehow this translation just doesn't feel right...

Example sentence for word usage:

What a pity, yet another company that specializes in "customer combatting" instead of customer service.

(meaning yet another company that fights its customers rather than caring about them)

German original:

Schade, schon wieder ein Unternehmen, das sich auf Kundenbekämpfung statt auf Kundenbetreuung spezialisiert hat.

I think customer counteraction/prevention would not necessary be a better translation.


One example could be: Crappy company pays employees crappy salaries with no share in profit.
Now instead of serving customers, the employees try to get rid of the customers, so they don't have to do any work.
The employee is engaging in "customer combatting".

Another example would be:
A company sells something.
But when you have a (legitimate) problem with the product (it doesn't work as advertized/damaged-on-arrival) you get fobbed off, e.g. long waiting times in a for-pay hotline where nobody ever answers.

Or like when you want to complain to twitter when your account got blocked for violating the twitter rules - and realize that if you can't login - there is not contact form, no address, no email, no phone, no legal info, no nothing.

Or like when you sell the same product on the internet in different countries at different prices. Then geo-block so customers from country-A can't get a product at the price of country-B (and i'm not talking about different shipping costs or marginally different exchange rates).

  • 1
    @Andrew Leach: Just generally treating your customers more like an enemy than an asset. Doing what is good for the company, instead of doing what is good for the customer. Telling the customer what he has to want, instead of doing what the customer actually wants (this implicitly assumes the customer is not an idiot - else it would not be "customer combatting").
    – Quandary
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 14:20
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    I don't think there is an idiomatic English term here; I've heard a lot of marketing-speak (I work in corporate America), and have never come across a relevant term.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 14:22
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    We use user-hostile to contrast with user-friendly. So, customer-hostile? Or just anti-customer as opposed to the standard term customer-oriented. Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 14:40
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    @FumbleFinger: No no, not a company who doesn't look after its employees (yet that's true, too), but a company whoes employees don't look after the customers - whose employees instead ACTIVELY work AGAINST the customer.
    – Quandary
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 15:08
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    Quandary: No - your text specifically says company pays employees crappy salaries with no share in profit. Maybe employees who don't think they're paid enough tend to treat customers badly, but plenty of well-paid employees do this as well. And maybe the reason some non-customer-friendly workers are badly paid is because they're preventing their employer from making enough profit to pay them better! Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 18:36

10 Answers 10


I know of no common idiom. However, customer disservice is an occasional coinage on the basis of customer service that may work here as a contrasting pair. Using disservice instead of service will make sense to most fluent speakers.

For instance, an article in the Washington Post (Caroline E. Mayer, 28 March 2004, via Customer Care Measurement & Consulting) uses "Customer Disservice" as a title and gives several examples that meet your fobbing-off explanation:

When Mary Culnan's three-year-old Kenmore washing machine broke in February, it took three appointments before a Sears repairman showed up. Before he even examined the machine, he blamed the problem on Culnan, telling her that she had not only used the wrong detergent but also the wrong cycle. The permanent press setting, he said, could have burned out the machine's contacts. "I have no idea what that means," said Culnan, a Boston area professor. The repairman finally traced the problem to a defective circuit board, which fixed things -- for a while

Insuring Quality by Hedy and Les Abromovitz (1998) is more direct:

At some companies, their mission seems to be customer disservice, not customer service. It's a dirty job, but some companies insist on doing it. They work hard to alienate the few customers they have left. And if you want your organization to follow in their footsteps to the bankruptcy courts, here's some advice.

A Practical Guide to Airline Customer Service by Colin Law (2018) also picks up on the concept when discussing call abandonment rates:

A survey completed by the American multinational financial services corporation, American Express [sic] in 2012 has noted that the maximum period of time a customer is willing to wait over the phone for assistance is approximately 12 minutes. As such, it is important for airlines to ensure that all phone calls can be attended to during this period to avoid customer disservice and turning away of potential customers.

So customer disservice can suggest a wide array of behaviors that fight against customer interests and turn customers away.

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    customer-battering would have been a better compound word, only if it was a commonly used word, would have captured the implicit violence in some customer care people's words and attitudes. Concept of providing good service do not apply to these companies; reducing the number of customers seeking service after buying a contract or after paying upfront seems to be their only driving force. Customer disservice is too mild a word in this situation.
    – Wolfim
    Commented Nov 19, 2022 at 6:41
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    ''Customer-battering'' Hahaha no, in the UK at least that definitely sounds like you are physically assaulting them, that sounds very funny. Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 12:19

DeepL would translate the example as

"Too bad, yet another company that specializes in fighting customers instead of serving them."

The German term "Kundenbekämpfung" is not really familiar. In fact, I read it here for the first time.

In the German language, you can form composites from all kinds of nouns and substantiated verbs, and everyone immediately understands the term thus formed.

I suspect that the term in the example sentence is also in an ironic context: Who (except perhaps a totally frustrated or revenge-seeking employee or a participant in a corporate intrigue) has really wanted to "fight" or "combat" customers?

In any case, the translation from DeepL avoids a bad speech style sometimes found in German, expressing many things by nounification (of verbs, in English this would be done by the progressive form ~ing). In school, students in Germany are taught to express such things by verbs. DeepL has also applied this rule, because noun mania does not occur as often in English as in German (especially among politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and other busybodies).

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:06
  • What detail you are you missing? Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 10:44

Perhaps customer harassment would be a good fit for an opposite to customer service: "to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for [someone] especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct".

That contains the "active hostility" aspect of "Bekämpfung" and is a succinct, common term.

Another possibility is customer deterrence, which covers one of the uses of Bekämpfung: The word is used in compounds like Schädlingsbekämpfung, pest control. The best pest control is prevention, a context in which "deter" is used. Kundenbekämpfung is almost like pest control, the customers being the pest.

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    The statement is an ironical one. This translation proposal completely misses this (most probable) context. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:09
  • At least "customer deterrence instead of customer service" captures that quite nicely, I'd think, because of the proximity to vermin control language in the German version preserved in "deterrence". In my opinion, "customer harassment instead of customer service" can be read as ironical as the original as well. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:12

Schade, schon wieder ein Unternehmen, das sich auf Kundenbekämpfung statt auf Kundenbetreuung spezialisiert hat.

It's a pity that there is yet another company waging war on its customers instead of conducting a charm offensive.

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    I like the free translation of "waging war on its customers" but "charm offensive" is just plain wrong. We don't want charm, we want service.
    – David
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 17:37
  • Fortunately, Kundenbetreuung was not included in the question - it cannot be a reason for a down vote :).
    – Greybeard
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 23:52
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    I don't see this as worth spending a downvote, personally, but if you're going to flat out contradict the part of the OP's translation that they thought was good, I think you should at least give an explanation why.
    – David K
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 4:32
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    A bit severe of me, I admit. Tried to reverse my vote but it wouldn’t let me without an edit.
    – David
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 9:14
  • @David: True, but some companies take it to such extremes, that it wouldn't be an understatement - at least not in some cases.
    – Quandary
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:03

"customer discouraging" or "customer deterrence" would likely be well understood and rather accurately reflect what the german idiom expresses.

"bekämpfen" USUALLY has a similar subtle double meaning as "(to) combat", depending on whether the object is a person/group of persons or a practice/social phenomenon ("die Armen bekämpfen" vs "Armut bekämpfen" would be understood equally opposite as "combatting the poor" vs "combatting poverty"!). "Kundenbekämpfung" goes against this, probably for added emphasis, probably because the lines blur a bit if the property of a person/company as a customer, rather than their physical wellbeing or continued existence as such, is meant as the "target" of combatting.


In the first two examples, I would use the term of giving customers the run around.

In the Twitter example, there is no way for the customers to appeal the decision is just poorly conceived appeal procedure.

The last example of different prices for different countries is not really maltreating customers, or is it? Sometimes different countries have different laws, supply-chain issues that affect the prices.


We don't have an exact term for Kundenbekämpfung but for a more general substitute you could use chicanery - a quibble or subterfuge used to trick, deceive, or evade.

In American English we often use sarcasm rather than a specific word for what you're describing i.e. - What a pity, yet another company that specializes in "customer service"(you used quotation marks to highlight the phrase "customer combatting" but they could be used ironically in the actual translation to imply the "service" offered is superficial and insincere).


Holding hostages

In the restaurant and food service industry, where servers are customer service, there is a metaphor for when a table asks for or expects the check and has to wait an unexpected or inordinate amount of time for the server to bring the check. This metaphor might sound controversial, but it's a metaphor used in training new hires to explain why you should give them their check before they ask (anticipating the need):

Don't hold your tables hostage.

This is within the realm of the combat zone word in German. Every time you've turned around in your chair in frustration looking for your server to bring your check, you're trapped in your seat. To emphasize how trapped customers feel at that moment, in an industry where time is of the essence, some restaurants train with the phrase "Don't hold your tables hostage. Check back, check down."

Similarly, long checkout lines hold customers hostage when shopping, and long wait times hold customers hostage to their telephones. It is, as Taliesin Merlin said, customer disservice.

Some businesses and some employees cannot be concerned with letting the customer/hostage go, and others prioritize it.


Instead of a single word, how about inverting a well-known analogous phrase instead? In place of "customer service", use

The customer is always right

The opposite of which is

the customer is always wrong


the customer is never right

So, to put in context, using your original sentence:

What a pity, yet another company that specializes in "the customer is always wrong" instead of "the customer is always right".


An individual who treats customers poorly might be called a Jobsworth as in "It's more than my job's worth to help you with that." This expression is also used, however, with workers such as security guards enjoying their position of power a little too much.

One reason a person might behave in this way is because they have a dispute with their employer. Rather than strike, they might work to rule which means that they do the bare minimum required of their job and no more (though this can often apply to unionised factory jobs rather than customer facing roles.)

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