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Monday, August 16, 2010

Decency is a customer role.

While the commentary on the Steven Slater incident is already overdone, this story has clearly captured the public attention, perhaps because and the deteriorating state of customer behavior and the customer / service provider relationship in general represents a social aspect most of us have sensed first hand if we haven’t been guilty of participating in ourselves.

I won’t offer an opinion on whether or not Slater was justified, but will cover a needed fix for the source of his actions.

It’s a paradox in service businesses that the employees most responsible for the company / customer relationship and that most personally reflect the brand are front line service employees ranking among the lowest paid in the company. We place these service professionals in front of customers and entrust the encounter, and our brands, to their care. Their success is a direct reflection of the support they receive – training, service processes, enabling technology, and management backing they perceive as they do their jobs.

Some companies are exceptional at providing the needed support for front line providers to be effective. But when you look at the worst service companies and even entire industries, their shortcomings are usually indicative of a lack of support for the roles of front line providers.

As the airline industry has cut customer value, so too has it reduced the tools available to employees to serve customers effectively. Fewer benefits & less support have created one of the most antagonistic service environments – in some cases verging on customer mutiny. In most cases what you get is a bare minimum, where FAA-required service components are retained at the expense of relationship-building opportunities.

But decency is customer role and a service provider right. While it would take time and resources, why not spend some time in every flight reminding / setting expectations with both the service provider and the flying public about the role of each in the successful encounter?

The poor-quality image above is the customer bill of rights posted in the back seat of every Chicago taxi. As a passenger, it lets me know what I can expect and reasonably ask for in any encounter. (Yes, I have invoked my rights a time or two) It also reminds me of driver / service provider rights, and what my role is in providing that environment. This could easily be done in the airlines. A seat-back card, some language inserted into the pre-flight brief that lets customers know their service rights, and what environment the service providers can reasonably expect.

It is valid to say that such an effort shouldn’t be needed, that people should know how to act in public. Perhaps, but setting role expectations in the service environment is never wasted effort. More to the point, if people need a reminder not to be a jackass to someone serving them, companies should be willing to provide that as process support to the critical teams of professionals that steward their customer relationships and their brand.


Wim Rampen said...

do you know of the Company - Customer pact?

You can find it here: http://www.ccpact.com/f/pact.pdf

Anonymous said...


Mike Brown said...

Chris - It's interesting that the number of times we'll actually need/use the mandatory safety overview read on every flight is slight compared to how many times a customer behavior expectations overview could come in handy (nearly every flight).