Whose Customer Service Comes First?

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When a customer is unhappy with a purchase, she can take it back to a store or ship it back for a refund or replacement. Companies are so eager to please and retain customers that the old requirements of store receipts or original tags go out the window. 


Customer service events are a little trickier. These happen in real time. A customer comes up to the front desk and makes a scene. A customer decides to have a long argument with a restaurant server. Those situations are a little more difficult to handle because they are public. A complaining customer might hold up the line, insisting on having the last word or refusing to accept a negative response. In those situations, a customer service rep can find himself between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” One customer affects the comfort and service of the rest. Whose customer service comes first?


Holding up a customer service line is one thing, but diverting an airline flight and inconveniencing the rest of the passengers for one unhappy customer is another. An article from ABC News, “JetBlue Flight Makes Landing in Denver Because of ‘Unruly Customer,'' illustrates the dilemma customer service reps deal with when one bad apple affects the rest of the good ones in the barrel. 


A JetBlue flight from JFK Airport in New York destined for San Diego had to make an emergency landing in Denver because a passenger objected to a seat change. Not hers, but another passenger who was reassigned because the TV monitor at his assigned seat was broken. The complaining passenger was miffed because she paid more for her seat. She started to argue with the flight attendant, the air marshals got involved, and things got hot in the air.


Instead of accepting the flight attendant’s decision, she became verbally abusive and uncooperative—so much so that the crew made an emergency landing in Denver, handing her off to awaiting law enforcement officers. 


An unruly customer at 30,000 feet in a commercial airplane might be a little more urgent than someone who complains because they got pickles on their Quarter Pounder with cheese, but the principle is the same. In the case of the JetBlue flight, the rest of the passengers didn’t just have a small inconvenience. It takes time and aggravation to coordinate an emergency landing, handle a situation and get back in the air. Some passengers may have missed connecting flights or meetings in San Diego. 


Delivering customer service to an unruly customer affected the positive customer experience for the rest. In the end, no one was arrested and charged. The unruly passenger was released, and the incident was deemed a customer service issue. 


Customer service reps have to make these decisions every day. Who do you serve first? The one unruly, unreasonable customer or the rest who just want a solution to their problem? Unfortunately, the patient many are usually at the mercy of the unreasonable few. 


Until companies are willing to take a stand against disruptive and unreasonable customers, the rest will have to suffer. Though it took some drastic measures, but JetBlue took care to get the happy customers to their destination. In the end, the unruly customer paid a higher price but still was able to board another flight. What is your company willing to do to protect its customers from the unreasonable few? JetBlue may have gained some customers through their action to resolve a problem. Other companies who are willing to take the same steps may gain some new, enthusiastic customers as well.


Photo Source: Freedigitalphotos.net


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  • Tennia B
    Tennia B
    I think the disruptive customers have been fostered by companies bending over backwards to appease them.  Companies in general tell customer service representatives to give the negative customer what they want because if the customer calls corporate headquarters they will get what they wanted initially and then extra discounts or rewards to compensate them for their troubles.  Companies must stand behind their employees who are delivering exceptional customer service while protecting  and increasing the company's assets.  Empower the frontline employees to make sound decisions.  I believe then and only then will we be able to curb the culture of "disruptive and negative" customers.
  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    Barbara, you're right...CSRs have to keep the safety of others in mind, and the confined space and dangers in a airplane in flight would swing caution to the side of the offender.  However, in other situations where there isn't the same level of danger or threat, the good of the rest should be considered.  I like the analogy of the bees...you shouldn't have to sacrifice the larger group for one unruly customer.
  • Barbara D
    Barbara D
    "Until companies are willing to take a stand against. . ." Woe! Wait! Is that not escalating the level of violence??? After all, before things go from bad to worst, Is it not better to defuse the situation. Calm the angry customer first and foremost, before anything worse happens.
  • Doug L
    Doug L
    Perhaps the crew could have offered the unruly passenger an upgraded seat(if available) to calm this person. The airlines need to make available discount vouchers to help resolve issues in flight. I imagine the stop over cost them dearly.
  • Charles J
    Charles J
    As a manager in retail I understand these situations too well. Its sad that we sacrifice the happiness and the right to shop in peace for the few spoiled people who only care about getting what they want when they want it. Companies will not make a stand because they may loose a dollar and employees can't make a stand for the risk of losing their jobs. If you have 1000 bees secure in a basket and one persistent bee trying to get in. Do you risk losing them all by trying to catch one or do you ignore the one and keep the 1000?
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