By guest blogger Margaret Jennings, M Squared Consulting
Cybersphere’s newest celebrity, Steven Slater – the Jet Blue flight attendant who announced to the world he was quitting his job by releasing the emergency chute at JFK and, literally, leaping to freedom – was reportedly provoked by a difficult passenger who pushed his patience too far. For his actions, Slater has become an instant folk hero.
If Slater is to be believed, it may be that, in this instance, “the customer is not always right.” But some pundits say that Slater, like any other flight attendant on any given day, should have bitten his tongue and continued working normally despite the apparent abuse from the passenger. But at what point do we, as individuals and as business leaders, draw a line and take responsibility for the well-being of employees over demanding and/or abusive customers?
Many successful, savvy executives (including Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines) have built their empires on flexible employee-customer policies. They believe that the happiness of their employees comes first, because disgruntled staff are not well-positioned, nor, at the very least, motivated, to provide excellent customer service. Kelleher once wrote a personal reply to a passenger who regularly flew on Southwest, and, consequently, complained after every flight. ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’
Yet, when an employee accepts a job offer, shouldn’t they be aware of, and take some responsibility for, the type of stress (and abuse?) inherent in the new position? Certainly, employers should be recruiting people with the right temperament for the job and providing them with adequate customer training. But it is not always possible to walk away from challenging customers, just to keep your employees happy. Small businesses in particular face a dilemma when dealing with difficult customers, as a single lost account could mean disaster.
So, if the customer is not always right, where do you draw the line between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? Set the line too high or too low, and you risk alienating either the customer or the employee. Finding that perfect balance is difficult, and different for every business.
For information about how M Squared Consulting can help you manage your flexible workforce strategies, visit www.msquared.com or call 888-818-2505.