“The customer is always right, unless I say he’s wrong”

Is he the “hero” his followers claim him to be, or an employee that completely mishandled a problem and created a dangerous situation?

If you haven’t heard the news, Steven Slater was a JetBlue flight attendant until he hit his last nerve.  It was the last in a 20-year span of passenger confrontations for him.  I’m not going to go into detail about what took place, because there are thousands of articles on this topic.  In my opinion, the most interesting part of this story is how the internet has reacted.

There has been a huge outpouring of support from people with various business-to-consumer employment backgrounds.  While Steven is now potentially facing jail time for his actions, some comments state that not only should Steven not face jail time, he should be promoted to a management position by JetBlue.

On one hand, we have an employee who chewed out a customer and then proceeded to break the law.  On the other hand, we have someone who has just lived a fantasy a lot of us have had at one time or another: standing up for ourselves in the face of a rude customer.

In my past jobs, I’ve worked under employers with differing opinions about how to proceed with rude customers.  Some employers took “The customer is always right” approach.  On the other side of the aisle, I’ve had employers tell me if I encountered a rude customer, I needed to “stand up for myself” and that my time would be better served dealing with customers who were more eager to work with me, rather than shout at me.

Obviously, the best approach is to take care of all of your customers, whether some of them are rude or not.  Each customer represents a source of life for the companies we work for, and we have to ensure those sources stay with us, rather than move to the competition.

The question to ask is this: “When do you draw the line?”

In this particular JetBlue case, Steven Slater was also physically abused by the confrontational passenger, which goes beyond simply being rude (I personally doubt the passenger meant to hit him with their luggage, but this is being reported by various news outlets as what caused the incident).  At what point is the customer out-of-hand in their behavior?

Where do you personally draw the line?  Do you agree with Steven Slater actions?  Do you have (or have had) unique guidelines from employers when dealing with rude customers?  Click Here to leave your comments!

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  • Comments (7)
    • Mark A Humphrey
    • August 13th, 2010

    20 years of frustration is an excuse and not a reason. This is simply a case of an employee on the edge of occupational burnout. The first book that comes to mind for this airline attendant is “The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book”. However, in truth, we should not be passing judgment on this young man over one spontaneous moment in his life. We truly have no idea of his true personality or his intentions. Definitely not a hero, possibly not a knucklehead.

  1. Steven exited at the right time for him. That’s all that happened.

    What is remarkable about this occurrence is that it carried inspirational value to millions of people in the service industry who, on a daily basis, face difficulties we “customers” cause them on a daily basis.

    Anyone who claims that his response was over-the-top is likely the same type of person who believes they are quasi-royalty just because they are being helped by another human being.

    A final note on this point is the protocol employees in the service industry are forced to follow–even when circumstance dictates otherwise. Burnout or not, Steven did what he needed to based on his circumstances at the time.

    “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
    — Abraham Lincoln

    People in general can benefit from taking heed of the golden rule and simply being good to others.

    And…when in doubt, “You gotta get two beers and jump.” – Jimmy Fallon

    • I love the quote, Sean! However, based on your comment that “Steven exited at the right time…,” there are now reports saying that Steven wants to go back to work at JetBlue as a flight attendant. If you were the decision maker at JetBlue, would you give him a second chance?

      • He is currently the most valuable asset the company has. While JetBlue can’t condone his actions, they can put a positive spin on it and use Steven’s fame to strengthen the brand. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions have heard the story by now and have shown support for Steven. Why not use that support to garner favor for JetBlue by putting Steven in the spotlight and bringing those people on board-literally. Steven could promote a special: Buy a ticket on JetBlue to “Get Two Beers and Jet!” Two free drinks on your next flight….

        There are opportunities for JetBlue here. I wonder if they’ll take one and run with it.

    • Abe
    • August 14th, 2010

    I personally don’t believe that “the customer is always right”. I am more inclined to go with “the customer is always first”. Regardless of behavior, nice or rude, the customer deserves courtesy in an employees response. However, the line is drawn when a customer tramples on an employee’s rights as a human being by way of an attack on ones dignity as a person or by way of physical violence.

    • Very well said, Abe! I think your distinction between “right” and “first” is dead-on. It’s a shame that “the customer is always right” is the common phrase because I think your definition would help those in a service role better assess tough customer situations.

    • jacob Crudo
    • August 14th, 2010

    i think he did well, it sends a message to all fliers that they really need to sit tight till they tell you to get up.I’ll bet there were less incidents after this publicized event.

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