An Open Letter from a Customer: I Don’t WANT to Abuse Your Employees and Be Rewarded for Gaming the System

CJSHayward.com/customer

Dear Customer Service;

I don’t WANT to abuse your employees and be rewarded for gaming the system.

As a customer and as a member of the public, I like being treated with courtesy and respect, and it is nice if customer service employees can be gracious to me whether I am right or wrong. And if “The customer is always right!” is about being gracious and representing the company well whether the customer is right or wrong, then I’m all for that version of, “The customer is always right!”

However, if you say “The customer is always right!” as a policy that invites customers to be deliberately abusive, and treat your employees as punching bags because they know you will treat them better than customers who act like mature adults, I will take my business to places like Starbuck’s (for one example) where employees give the excellent customer service that only employees supported by their management can give.

I do, sometimes, come in with a complaint that I want help with. But even then, I’m not looking for “free hits” on a punching bag. I’m not even looking for a shoulder to cry on, although it might be nice if customer service can offer a sympathetic ear when a customer has had a rough day. What I really am looking for is help fixing a problem, and the bigger the problem is, the more an emplowered employee is my best ally. An unsupported employee who has been put out as a punching bag, and is trying to hide resentment from being put out as a punching bag by management, is not nearly so big a help to me as an empowered employee. I’ve heard that bad internal customer service never gives good external customer service, and when I need help, I want an empowered employee acting with management support, not someone management pushes forward as a doormat.

Like a lot of other people, and like a lot of other customers, I don’t like to watch someone be abused, and then treated better than those of us who try to respect your employees as humans. The message is very clear, whether or not it is one you would want associated with your organization. The message? You are willing to let us see others who are obviously acting abusive to your employees to get ahead of us when they are “just” being abusive to game the system, while people who treat your burning-out employees with respect are effectively second-class customers. Why? Because we are not gaming the system by abusing your employees.

I’ve heard of stores where the management treats employees with enough respect to call the police if a customer will not stop treating employees abusively. This happens perhaps once or twice a year; most of the time the employees are trying to make any reasonable effort to please customers. But when it does happen, the spontaneous response from the other customers is to clap and cheer. Most customers do not enjoy seeing someone be abused, even if the abuser isn’t getting rewarded for gaming the system.

I spent a bit of time in England, and one thing that really struck me there was that customer service settings seemed to quite often have a poster that said something like, “I am here to help customers. Please let me do my job. If you treat me in an abusive manner, my supervisors will put their foot down and call the police if they need to.” I was, for a very, very short while put off the first time I saw one of those posters, and then very, very impressed. And I realized that those posters went hand-in-hand with excellent customer service: not just the routine details, but deftly smoothing some very ruffled feathers when a customer was wrong and upset at not getting what he wanted.

And perhaps it stands to reason. I know the English place an emphasis on politeness, but customer service people who are treated as punching bags will probably be working hard to hide resentment. I may be missing something, but these customer service people didn’t seem to have much resentment to hide. (If any.)

I miss that customer service, and for that matter I miss the posters. Now I often get the inferior customer service that comes from employees who know that management doesn’t support them (and knowingly expects them to take abuse), not the top-notch customer support of employees who are supported by management, are not expected to take frequent abuse, and act empowered and free to help me as the customer. It’s quite a difference.

It’s a shame when “The Customer Is Always Right” gets in the way of treating employees well enough that they can deliver good customer service.

As a customer and as a member of the general public, and as a man and a human being, I would appreciate if you treat your employees as human beings who you will no more allow to be abused on your premises than a customer.

Sincerely,
Christos C.J.S. Hayward
CJSHayward.com

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