Teaching the customer a lesson

Today, we start with a story – a true story. There once were two gentlemen sitting across the aisle from one another on an aeroplane. They were the last to be served at mealtime, and when the flight attendant offered them what was left on her trolley, neither man could eat it because of dietary restrictions. One man said, “No thanks, it’s fine, I’ll eat something when we land.” The other man, becoming irate that he would not be able to have his preference, began shouting: “This is ridiculous! We should be able to have the same choice as everyone else on the plane! This is unbelievable!”

After a few moments, the flight attendant returned with a steak from business class, and kindly presented it to the first gentleman, who had been understanding. “What!?” roared the second gentlemen. “Why does he get a steak, and I had to settle for what you had left!?”

“Well,” said the flight attendant, turning to the second man with a sarcastic smirk, “I guess there’s a right way to complain, and a wrong way.” With that, she turned and walked away.

Ouch! She sure showed him…or did she? At the same time she thought she was really teaching the second man a lesson, when in reality, she was cementing his impression of flight attendants as rude and conniving.

If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to ‘get’ an annoying customer, you’re probably suffering from what is known as PACS – Passive Aggressive Customer Service.

Typical symptoms of this condition include a loss of professionalism, an acute need to assert your authority, and a general desire to provide a lesson in manners to those who are bothering you. But beware; this condition is fatal to delivering a Five Star service.

To be clear, Five Star service is not about accepting abuse. But it is about being able to assert not your authority, but your professionalism into a difficult client interaction. It takes someone with the calmness of mind and awareness of self to realise that, usually, difficult clients aren’t difficult for nothing; they’ve got pressing deadlines, troubles with their manager, or even problems at home. More often than not, customer service professionals receive the brunt of this misguided aggression as unfortunate as this may be.

Anger is not like a cupcake. If I give you my cupcake, then I no longer have a cupcake. But if someone is angry – let’s say, a customer – and they give you their anger, then you both have it, and it’s quite likely that you’ll pass it on to someone else. In this way, anger and negativity are like viruses; they contaminate an individual, and then pass from person to person via social interaction. And then, of course, both of you end up having a bad day. However, if you stop the contamination. If you choose not to accept the anger and frustrations of your customer. Then you stop the whole chain. In the end, you can’t control how customers behave, but you can choose the way you respond to them.

Remember the flight attendant; she didn’t teach anyone a lesson that day. She simply showed that she could be as petty as her unruly customer, and in turn, she probably ensured that the angry gentleman would never book a flight with that airline again. It’s a triple-lose situation; she loses her professional integrity, the airline loses a customer, and the customer may very well end up losing respect for all flight attendants in the future.

So, the next time you’re feeling the pangs of passive aggressive customer service, take a deep breath, remember the flight attendant, and remind yourself what is at stake when you try to ‘teach the customer a lesson’; after all it can destroy trust and poison customer relationships. Instead, make the choice that all customers deserve an exceptional, memorable experience, and you never know…you might just thaw some hearts and change some minds in the process!

By David Melnick, Learning and Development Coordinator MITIE Client Services

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