The Customer Isn’t Always Right: Steven Slater, We Salute You

August 11, 2010

He did whaaaat? It was the kind of “take this job and shove it” moment that most of us have probably salivated over. In a curious blend of crazy and courageous, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater literally jumped from a plane to escape an abusive customer, dropping an f-bomb or two along the way.

And then a surprising thing happened. People all over the world came together to say Slater did the absolute right thing. In fact, during the short time that the kerfuffle took place, Slater amassed 25,000 Facebook fans, tons of tweets, and support in all forms across the web.

While we don’t condone opening up an emergency slide for making a dramatic escape (or anything that would put anyone at risk of harm), there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t relate to Slater’s reaction. We’ve all been victims or witnesses to a customer acting in a way that’s revolting; behavior so atrocious that even if the customer was initially right, their actions render any rightness null and void.

The customer isn’t always right and below is a list of situations that we at Zengage think unquestionably makes it perfectly acceptable for customer service reps to drop their smiles and raise their middle fingers.

The scenarios below have been culled from real human beings.

1. Blatant disobeying clear and established rules for the sake of being an ass.
For instance, when your flight crew tells you to sit your butt down, then do it. That’s right. It’s an airplane, and believe it or not, they can be a little dangerous. Sure, you’ve flown enough times that you think you know more than the pilot and flight crew, but guess what, you totally don’t. Unless you can fly the plane, take a seat.

2. Asking for things that are above and beyond what’s reasonable.
When you choose to use something built for convenience, let’s say the drive-thru window of a fast-food chain or franchise, certain sacrifices are made, such as license to order a complicated coffee beverage that requires a chemist’s precision. If you really can’t drink your coffee without a half-packet of Splenda, counter-balanced by an entire packet of unbleached raw sugar, a heavy pour of fat-free milk, and a splash of cream, then you got to get out of the car and mix this stuff up yourself. It’s a drive-thru, so drive on through.

3. Thinking you are better than someone without any clear cut evidence.
Openly making fun of someone because of the job they hold is rude, wrong, and in our opinion, does not have to be taken by anyone. One gal reports a drunken patron at Jack in the Box ordering an application for employment along with his fries. You know what? If you are too good for an establishment or superior to the people that work there, just leave.

4. Save the inappropriate flirting for the bar scene.
Here’s a story about a gal recalling an incident from her former retail career when some dude in her store decided it was perfectly OK to walk behind the cash register and put his arm around her. “I think my biggest takeaway was that he actually thought I shirked away from him because I had a sore back, rather than the real reason, which is I was totally freaked out,” she says. This particular customer fled the scene unscathed, but had it ended with a drink thrown in his face, we’d replenish this lady’s glass in a heartbeat.

5. You really can’t, and shouldn’t, try to return everything.
Another story from the trenches: a woman who tried to return an ice cream sandwich roughly 20 minutes after she purchased it because it melted. She then proceeded to make a stink about it, ridiculing the cashier’s intelligence in front of a store full of people. The cashier in question actually gave the woman her money back, but if we had our druthers, said woman would have left with neither refund, nor ice cream, and instead a firm “please take your asinine requests out of this store and do not ever come back.”

6. Discriminating in any way shape or form.
Customers that go down the road of mocking someone for their accent, gender, skin color, disability, fashion choice, whatever the hell it is, you have immediately revoked any privilege you might have had to receive any form of customer service. Period. If you are on the other end of a call, hang up; if this idiot is in your store, tell them to leave. No one has to stand for that BS.

7. If you start with an insult, do not expect to end up with a compliment.
If you’ve decided to initiate barbs, then it’s only fair the customer agent you are dealing with gets to throw them right back. This particular exchange was overheard by a Zengage reader at a bank:

Teller: How would you like that $100?
Customer: Oh, $20s are fine.
<under breath> Idiot.
Teller: Kiss my @$!”

High five.

8.  Disrespect of other customers.
Now a lot of this discussion has looked at customers offending customer service reps, but you know what, we also want to talk about customers offending other customers. When there are obvious impositions on a customer’s comfort, such as crowding someone out of their seat at the bar, or less direct offenses, like playing your handheld video game in a public place with the sound cranked up, the customer service rep is like a mama bear. Do not mess with one of her cubs.

Now while we consider these the highest offenders, we’d love to hear what things our list might have missed. When is the customer wrong? Holler back.