August 19, 2010

We Pay Them To Be Rude

Peggy Noonan is right. In her recent Wall Street Journal piece, she said, in part, the following:

"I pay them to be rude to me" is kind of an anthem of the service economy.

You know the story: A steward named Steven Slater, after a difficult flight, apparently got fed up, grabbed the intercom, cursed out passengers, and made a speedy and unauthorized exit, activating and sliding down the emergency chute, some say with a beer in each hand. Then he drove home. He says passengers were unruly; two Wall Street Journal reporters, Tamer El-Ghobashy and Sean Gardiner, tracked down passengers who said he was unruly.
Once we were a great industrial nation. Now we are a service economy. Which means we are forced to interact with each other, every day, in person and by phone and email. And it's making us all a little mad.
In a service economy in the age of no manners, everyone gets on everyone's nerves. Everyone wishes they could take the chute. Everyone understands someone who did.

The other night Beth and I were sitting on the couch talking about the kind of awesome customer service we'd gotten from Sears. See, our washing machine crapped out and the repair costs rang up somewhere around $1500 which was more than twice what the thing was worth new. If you have kids you know that you can do without a washing machine for, oh, about an hour and forty-five minutes before feeling any pain. I met Beth that evening at a couple places, scoped out some replacements then headed home to do some research online. And Consumer Reports' top-rated model - a front-loader from LG - was available for a great price at Sears. Beth called. They cut us a sweet deal, taking a hundred bucks off the advertised price, and scheduled delivery for a day and a half later. Their delivery people called twice, first to tell us that they were scheduling delivery and would soon have a time then later to give us a two hour delivery window, 12:30 - 2:30. Amazingly at 12:30 the truck rolled up and two very nice men offloaded and installed the new one and hauled off the old one. Then their customer service people followed up to make sure everything was okay.

What struck me more than anything was that such great customer service was very much the exception, not the rule. And that's really very sad.

Surely I'm not the only one experiencing this. Is good customer service really the exception? Is everyone just phoning it in? Has no one learned that in a service-oriented economy during this economic slump how critical being nice is? And is the Jet Blue guy a hero or an asshat?

(By the way, Sears didn't sponsor this or anything. They just rocked. Credit where credit is due.)

Posted by Chris at August 19, 2010 6:50 AM

We bought a new stove from Home Depot and had a similar excellent customer service experience. Maybe it is just that appliance delivery folks rock.

And the Jet Blue guy is an asshat.

Posted by: Nancy at August 19, 2010 7:10 AM

Sorry, he's an A**hat.
I took a flight to Berlin recently and on the way over I have an all male flight staff in Business Class. These Gentlemen were polite, fun, did their job well and made my trip more than pleasant! The trip back I had 4 women. 3 were over 70 years old, and one woman who was like me, probably going through menopause! Oh. My. God! It was the flight from hell! Making me believe that it's sort of the luck of the draw.
In my job, I try to be friendly and open and even when volunteering, I always smile a lot and say please or thank you.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 19, 2010 7:37 AM

I have extremely high standards for customer service after spending years as a clerk of one form or another. I have made a personal promise in my life. If I get good customer service some place, I immediately ask for a manager and tell him/her about it in front of the employee. When I return home, I email or phone the home office. I do this at least once a week.

I don't think that customer service is a dying art. If we all encouraged it, it would be more prevalent. So? Did you phone or email Sears?

Posted by: Christy at August 19, 2010 8:03 AM

By accident, after the birth of my youngest daughter I ended up in a customer service job(they gave my job away while i was on maternity leave. Yeah. Shitty, right? So, I'm lucky to have a job at all, let alone one I can do from home - but it's primarily customer service).

While great customer service may be the exception, I have found that recently... CUSTOMERS ARE GETTING MEANER.

People don't hesitate to make judgement calls, point fingers, make personal assessments (including the guy who felt the need to snidely remark to me, "APPARENTLY *YOU* NEVER WORK ON FRIDAYS." Um, buddy... not your business, but I'm a part time employee - I DON'T HAVE TO WORK ON FRIDAY). And the people who will escalate and escalate a claim to someone higher, even when we are perfectly justified in saying, "Sorry. Can't help you." (As in, Sorry, you broke your product. You said you broke it. That's not because of how we built it, but how you used it).

I am kind and I am helpful, but I get emails and phone calls and letters from people so scathing and so mean that there've been times I can't sleep because I'm so upset.

So, it definitely goes both ways. I will never be mean to someone. I value being employed too much -- but it's hard to soak up venom from customers. And while I imagine my breaking point will be much less public and less psychotic than the Jet Blue guy, I know that I will ultimately hit a limit for how long I can do this job.

(Anyone want to hire a FABULOUS marketing professional?)

Posted by: sarah at August 19, 2010 8:22 AM

For the most part, I think I tend to get decent, though not great, customer service. It's just so much easier to remember bad service, and I have had some doozies lately.

Ironically, one of my worst customer service experiences lately was with Sears Home Repair. I called for service and had to deal with an automated phone scheduling service that was difficult to communicate with. It offered me its first available date - 13 days from the day of the call between 1 & 5 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. on the appointed date the repairman arrived without apology or explanation only to give me a repair estimate that was about the original cost of my 7 year old dryer. The guy was nice enough, and I remembered him from a past repair that went very well. But being that late for a four hour service window without any warning is inexcusable in my book. I did call Sears during the hour and a half wait only to be told that they couldn't do anything but confirm that he was still on his route. (After Beth's post about washers, I now know that I could have scheduled online for faster service but at a $50 higher base fee.)

Posted by: Kate M at August 19, 2010 8:47 AM

i was so excited about competent tech support from my ISP a few months ago that I blogged about. (

I also tracked down the email address of the company CEO and emailed him a link to my blog post. In surprise #2, I heard back from the CEO in under an hour.

Posted by: COD at August 19, 2010 8:56 AM

I generally get good customer service, but I think it's because I'm nice. At work we have a very high standard of customer service due to our clientele and I think that the better the service, the less likely I am to receive a complaint.

That Jet Blue guy is an ashat. However, I do work in the airline industry and hear about a lot of the crap that flight attendants have to deal with and I don't think they have an easy job. I think I would go a little crazy if I had to deal with some of the stuff they do. Like crazy out of control people that you just can't get away from because you're stuck in this vessel thousands of miles in the air. But it's never okay to be such an ashat.

Posted by: Nila at August 19, 2010 9:06 AM

It's such an exception, it gives us the warm fuzzies when anyone, anywhere gives good service, ever.

JetBlue dude is the physical representation of what we're all feeling and it made me laugh heartily. I might have even slapped the desk a bit. :) However, he's still an asshat for making other people clean up his mess and do the remainder of his job.

Posted by: Brad at August 19, 2010 9:15 AM

It must have been your particular Sears store that has great customer service, because overall, I've never met a Sears store I didn't hate. I can't even get the people at my local Sears to pick up the phone. It can ring for hours and it will be ignored. When we built our house I made a hardfast rule. Nothing from Sears goes into the house. My builder forgot that rule one day and put in a Sears thermosstat. Guess what the first thing in our house to break was? Yep, the thermostat. Once we replaced it, I'm happy to say our home is Sears free.

Posted by: pinetree22 at August 19, 2010 9:33 AM

I've never had a whole lot of bad experiences with the folks that have delivered something or installed stuff in the house. Part of it might be that I actually talk to them and, in the case of the cable dude, can speak their language on the networking side of the universe. Same with contractors; I've done a lot of home renovation, so we can gab about some of the finer points about what they're doing and why and how they're doing it. I think the key to any interaction might be finding just a little bit of common ground, which comes across as empathy/appreciation.

As for the JetBlue guy, he's not a hero, but he's not an asshat, either. He's a human who's dipshit-tolerance meter was pegged. I guarantee that there are people in his profession everyday that are on the verge of doing something similar to what he did.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 19, 2010 9:44 AM

Oh, the Jet Blue guy is a raging asshat, for sure. I'm not saying I can't understand what he did, but part of being a service worker is nodding and smiling and treating even the worst specimens of society nicely and providing good service. The whole "catching flies with honey" thing.

I agree that good service has become the exception, which is sad because it's just not that hard. It requires a little bit of extra effort and thought, but there's nothing difficult about making an extra phone call or putting a little bit of effort into making your customers happy. I think the real problem is related to the fact that everyone these days feels entitled to something. The pay in the service industry tends to suck, so those people feel like they're entitled to do a poor job because of it.

Posted by: Dawn at August 19, 2010 10:15 AM

I went through the washer thing recently too. Found a great deal at Best Buy.

No delivery charge (as opposed to Sears) and the price was comparable. They delivered early the next morning. No complaints from me. I've had good luck with Sears too but it's been ages since I've bought anything there.

I haven't had that many bad experiences but I know they happen. On the other hand, I've been in line behind customers who treated clerks horribly for no reason except they could. I would cringe and be more than my usual polite when it was my turn.

Rudeness can be a two way street.

Posted by: Ann Elizabeth Adams at August 19, 2010 10:24 AM

The JetBlue guy just snapped and luckily he didn't have a gun, it could have been much worse so let's be grateful for that!
The best customer service I have ever received has been from, I cannot say enough about them, they totally rock!
I ordered something, they emailed to say they were upgrading the shipping to overnight because I was a new customer. I emailed back to thank them. They emailed back to tell me they were thrilled I was happy and gave me a coupon for a future purchase. Totally above & beyond anything required or expectd.
I also think the service you get is partially affected by YOUR attitude as a customer. Some people are so rude, it boggles my mind. Yes it's their job to make the customer happy but some "customers" take advantage of that and some also are just impossible to please. They're miserable in their lives and take it out on service people.
There's a quote that goes something like "Be kinder than necessary because you never know what someone is going through"

Posted by: laineydid at August 19, 2010 10:24 AM

Awesome to hear a story like this because it's true, it is rare. Kudos to you guys!!

Posted by: Holly at August 19, 2010 10:33 AM

My husband may or may not be a pilot for the same company as Steven Slater. His daily stories of confused, ignorant, and sometimes downright rude customers are abundant. Thankfully, he gets to shut the cockpit door and ignore them for the most part. Flight attendants do have a really tough job and put up with a lot of stuff. All that to say, my husband points out that the only reason Slater has even the possibility of being a hero is because no one was hurt when that slide inflated. It very seriously could have killed someone on the ground. As they say, "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt".

Posted by: Therese at August 19, 2010 10:59 AM

I have very few fantastically bad customer service stories, although I did have one about six months ago with Norton/Symantec

Granted, in the end they did refund my money but maintain that the computer had a virus.

As someone who has worked in retail, I can say that most customers are generally pretty good to deal with. The ones that drive me the most crazy? The ones who ignore you as if you are the slime from the bottom of their shoe, and talk in their cell phones the entire time. I'm a person, dammit. Look me in the eye and talk to ME.

Posted by: Scatteredmom at August 19, 2010 11:32 AM

I don't think good customer service is the exception yet, but it does seem to be leaning that way. I get more and more borderline service as time goes by, and bad experiences are on the rise.

I do agree with the person that says customers are getting meaner though - I work technical support and it's disheartening how rude some people are even though we often go above and beyond the call of service. Though at the job I have now, most of our customers are really nice, and tell us that our support is way better than others they've recently had.

Posted by: Katie at August 19, 2010 11:49 AM

I've been in customer service pretty much my whole life. One of my first jobs was with the Disney Store. They were hard core about excellent customer service, all the time. I gave it, and now I expect to get it. I am often let down. I think that people don't have pride in their work anymore. I hate my current job, but I do it well 'cause I don't like to be incompetent in my work. I think customers are also getting meaner. Frankly, I love that Jet Blue guy. I have that feeling every day: I'd love to grab a beer and peace out of here but I need the money pretty badly.

Posted by: Brooke at August 19, 2010 12:06 PM

For me, GREAT customer service is the exception. Mediocre substance is the rule. Horrific service happens often enough to make me say "really? In this economy?"

Someone mentioned customers being meaner. I completely agree with that. I go to the same grocery store, pretty much the same time, to almost always the same checker every week (what? So I can be OCD.) She is fast, kind, efficient and really - after going to her for a year, she's quite the doll. The way I see people speak to her? Completely without merit. I could not do her job.

The flight attendant? Ass-hat. Especially when you hear of his behavior during the entire flight from other passengers.

Posted by: Mindy at August 19, 2010 12:17 PM

I can understand how someone in the airline industry *could* snap, I just don't condone it. He could have hurt someone, and he should have known that.

As to customer service, on July 3 a couple of years ago, I woke in tremendous pain. A tooth had decided that this was the day it was going to demand attention. I called my dentist and he got me set up with a perio right upstairs from his office. I learned an important lesson that day: Root canals don't hurt. Root canals take away pain. The perio was fantastic and done in about 20 minutes with the first part - the getting rid of the pain part - of the root canal (the second part took an hour and change, but that was a month later). Then, that night, my phone rang and it was the perio himself calling to check how I was. On the night before the Fourth, here was a medical professional personally calling his patients to make sure they were doing OK. If I ever need another root canal, I know where I'm going.

Posted by: Foggy Dew at August 19, 2010 12:28 PM

I worked customer service in the past at a library in a really ritzy part of town. The customers were rude and just plain a**hats (to borrow your term).

Ever since then, I've made a habit to tell customer service folks at the grocery store, etc. "thank you" and "have a good day," often before they can say it to myself.

Once again, I work customer service, this time at a mid-range hotel. I specifically targeted this price range rather than a ritzy one because frankly, these folks (construction workers, salesmen, families on vacation), while not always nice, are still a hell of a lot nicer than those with more money.

Kind of a sad commentary, huh?

Posted by: Heather at August 19, 2010 12:56 PM

Good: We bought winter & summer tires at the same time & then totalled the car w/o using the summers. Insurance would only give 75%, tire guy took them back AND gave us crap tires to put on the car to be scrapped (we wanted to keep the winters too, car must have tires to get your claim). No gain for him, no real cost either, just spanking good will all around.

Bad: bought a suit (for husband) for a wedding in plenty of time. Store dorked around with the alterations for 3 visits. Ended up doing them *while we waited* before going to the wedding (we were 5 min late). Their response to a lengthy letter we sent (we aren't generally reactionary in this area, but we were PISSED), was a 10% off coupon. You. Just. Don't. Get. It.

Good: Avent bottles. Their packaging always included more (back when they were still made with Baby Poisoning Agent) than it seemed like it might (North American pkgs state *exactly* what's in there an Not ONE Penny More). Once when a part was missing, I sent an email requesting it, and the sent me a whole new assembly. When I emailed them comending their business model/customer service, they sent me a baby spoon as a thanks for the thanks!

When you look out for the other guy, you seem to get it back in spades. When everyone is looking out for themselves (including - maybe especially - corporately), no one is happy.

Jet-Blue guy - asshat. As an urban legend, it's a kind of a cool drinking tale. Probably alarmingly many folk heros are asshats when you get the whole story.

Posted by: harmzie at August 19, 2010 1:51 PM

Just to give you an example of how bad customer service has become, I will share this with you:

We had a new couch delivered 72 days ago. Last week, the recliner on one end broke. As in snap, crackle, pop. No one can occupy the last seat, making the "larger" couch not so large anymore. Everyday, I wake up and put "Call __________ about couch" on my list of things to do. Every day, I manage to avoid calling. I know it is going to be a pain in the ass. I know that the "warranty" they sold me at the store will probably not cover whatever it is that they claim the problem was that broke it. Just thinking about it makes me grit my teeth and my jaw ache. Maybe tomorrow.....

Posted by: Jen at August 19, 2010 2:41 PM

If I'm not happy with customer service, I take my business elsewhere and make sure management knows it - and why!

That said, I recently had a nice, positive customer service experience and it even involved dealing with my auto insurance. We had a big crack in the windshield. My insurer made arrangements for the glass company to come right to our house to replace the windshield. They were right on time, did the job quickly and up to my standards. Props all around for Geico and Safelite.

Posted by: Traci at August 19, 2010 3:51 PM

I seriously peed a little while reading this today and wanted to high-five Sarah for pointing out how mean customers can be. I wish everyone would stop and think 'is this really bad service or am I just being a bitch?' because I think you may be surprised if you're honest.

Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there are plenty of crappy asshat customer service reps too. I've dealt with them my self before. But I once worked on a construction site for 2 years and didn't hear the kind of language I receive now working reception at a hair salon.

Just today, for example, I had to speak with a customer about her upcoming appointment so I called her. When she didn't answer last night, I left a message. When she still hadn't returned my call 24 hours later, I called her again this afternoon and left message #2. She then called me back, told me to quit leaving her messages all the time, canceled her upcoming appointment and informed me she would be finding a new salon.

Which is tame, compared to the voicemail I received Tuesday morning from another customer who dropped the F-bomb 3 times in a single message because we wouldn't return her calls. Regardless of the fact that she made said calls on Sunday & Monday - days our answering machine clearly announces that we are closed.

And both of these women are probably, right now, complaining about the rotten service they got from us. And while they certainly aren't representative of the majority of our customers, I was shocked when I first started working there and realized that this wasn't rare either. I've never gotten yelled at less than once a day in the last 6 months.
Over hair appointments.

Posted by: fauve at August 19, 2010 4:00 PM

Sears was really good about our dishwasher delivery. My husband had a Sears card that earned points, so we paid almost nothing for it, which was awesome. Regardless, their delivery and customer service was excellent. (I'm not a huge Sears fan, but they've been fairly good to us.)

Posted by: Kelly at August 19, 2010 4:02 PM

My wife and son had to go out and buy a new pair of cleats, his broke at practice and he needed a replacement. So off they go to Dick's Sporting Goods because, well, they sale sporting goods which includes soccer cleats. The get to the shoe department and run into some slacker that is just phoning it in, he actually stated that going back and looking for a pair that would fit my son would be too much work. *blink* My wife called me up and was doing the whole speaking loudly so the kid could hear her complaining. Nothing. She even had me on speaker saying "call the manager." to no avail.

They decided to leave, when another employee came up and talked to her, not sure if he was a manager or not but he bent over backwards to help them find some shoes, which the did find. Needless to say Dick's got a sternly worded email later that evening about both employees. Grumbles for the kid, and kudos for the manager.

Oh and the Jet Blue guy was an ass-hat.

Posted by: Roger at August 19, 2010 4:08 PM

I've blogged about this on a few occasions lately.
I remind people that if you get good service you may tell a few people, but if you get bad service you'll tell everyone you know. In this economy businesses can't afford to be rude anymore! There are many businesses that I won't do business with because of how I've been treated by them. Be it rudeness in person or rudeness over the phone. I have a contractor I called 3 weeks ago, he still hasn't called me back - sorry dude, you just lost a 5 figure job. If he can't return a phone call when I'm trying to give him business and cash, well then what will happen if I have a problem with his work a year down the road??

Posted by: Rose @Dozenroses13 at August 19, 2010 5:02 PM

I could go on for DAYS about this. I honestly think that good customer service is an exception these days. I have a very low tolerance for bad customer service after having worked in retail for 8 years (and half of that was while I was a teen). It's very rare that I hear people offering assistance on finding things, etc. I often run in to situations where clerks at the register finish a conversation with a coworker before waiting on someone in line. Or they are on their cell phone. My local grocery store is infamous for this, and for the baggers who are so wrapped up in talking about their weekend plans or some hot chick, that they don't pay attention to how they bag stuff. We all love our bleach in the same bag as our loaf of bread, don't we?

Posted by: js at August 19, 2010 5:32 PM

Wow this is a big subject for me because I work first tier support at a "helpdesk" I have always said my job is 50% technical, 40% patience and 10% psychologist!

I know what it's like to be yelled at, cursed at, hung up on, and just generally reamed out for something that IS NOT my fault.

I work really really HARD to be cheery and helpful to EVERYONE who contacts me for assistance- no matter what happened the call before or the last time you personally called me. I am, however, only human and no matter how thick I think my skin has gotten over the years- someone always manages to break it.

I really think we need to be understanding as customers and as customer service representatives...because it CAN be a two way street.

And btw...JetBlue guy? Asshat...all the way.

Posted by: Amy at August 19, 2010 6:47 PM

I had the same experience with Rooms To Go. We ordered a new couch, and on the day it was supposed to be delivered, we knew we'd get it between 7:30 and 12:00. The truck came at 7:30, and by 7:40, our couch was in our (third floor) apartment and the guys were gone. It was AMAZING.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 19, 2010 6:55 PM

i firmly believe that everyone should have to work in some sort of retail/customer service job at some point in their life.

I work in a retail pharmacy. I try to give the best service I can to people. I am polite, I do whatever I can for the customer. What bugs the hell out of me is when I legally CAN NOT do what the customer wants me to, and then is mad at ME because of it. It's my fault when they run out of refills, it's my fault the doctor didn't call the Rx in, it's my fault when the insurance doesn't work, etc, etc, etc. Don't be mad at me because they changed the price on something - really I wasn't consulted. Some days I find it so hard to be polite to people and their unrealistic expectations ("Here's my 9 Rx. I'll be back in 15 minutes.") And to the girl who knew she was no longer welcome in our store due to past bad behaviour? Calling me a fat c*nt and throwing stuff at me isn't really going to change my mind about you now, is it?

I think fauve said it best: I wish everyone would stop and think 'is this really bad service or am I just being a bitch?' because I think you may be surprised if you're honest.

Yeah, we all have bad days. Yeah, I've made mistakes that have inconvenienced people. But if you've ever been on the receiving end of a tirade from a customer, I think you'd be a little more sympathetic to me as I do whatever I can to make things right.

Posted by: chrissie at August 19, 2010 8:43 PM

Asshat. Totally. I've gotten several new appliances from Homie D instead of Sears. Simply because of the Sears delivery fee. Joe works part time at Sears, in the tool dept. People suck. They want everything NOW-INSTANTLY and are very, very rude. The customer service thing is a two way street, customers need to understand that stores have policies, and no matter who you bitch to, how nasty rude and loud you get, you can't have things EXACTLY how you want them. CSR's can only do so much, they can only offer what 'corporate' gives them. They're not being assholes, it's only what they can do. Being a dickhead won't get you any further. Everyone needs to practice being civil.

Posted by: Amy at August 20, 2010 7:13 AM

Oh, and Joe says be sure to let Sears know about your great experience.

Posted by: Amy at August 20, 2010 7:14 AM

I think customer service has significantly declined, but I think part of that is because of an increase in rude, overly demanding customers. It's a vicious cycle- mean and unreasonable people put the customer service staff in a defensive position or push them beyond their tolerance, customer service people snap or feel as though the energy involved with going beyond the basic expectation is not worth the hassle. I've been on both sides of the equation, so I try to provide the level of service that was not given to me as well as presenting my issues to customer service people without bashing them for soemthing that was not their fault to begin with.

JetBlue guy was out of line. I understand what he did, but I don't condone it. Grown ups don't get to have temper tantrums.

Posted by: MamaKaren at August 20, 2010 11:58 AM

Jet Blue guy is an asshat, for sure. Receiving excellent service can really make a bad day so much better, or even just having a random person be nice to you. I try to remember that, try to be the "nice one", and thinking of the adage, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." I know a lot of people would never guess what I struggle with from a brief encounter (I come off as the happiest depressed person EVAH :P ) and so I try to remember that, in reverse.

Posted by: Heather at August 20, 2010 4:32 PM

We had such a great experience with Crate and Barrel that I use any opportunity to talk them up. We used them for our wedding registry and they had great, responsive customer service reps when anything went wrong (broken dishes, missing items from order mostly). Yay for Crate and Barrel!!

Posted by: NGS at August 21, 2010 4:55 PM

It seemed like things were getting better for a while, but... nawww.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at August 23, 2010 6:11 PM

Service in my area of the country is terrible. I am mainly speaking of restaurants and stores where the value of the purchase is lower (not appliances).

I recently visited France, where the service in these areas was excellent. I was also in Montreal where compared to my region, service was quite good.

Posted by: Heather at August 24, 2010 10:22 PM

I don't think he was a hero - nor do I think he was an asshat. I think that he did what so many people who are fed up with their jobs wishes they could do! I congratulate him for what he did, but he doesn't qualify as a hero.

I've delt with Sear's customer service before and I agree they rock. I love that they follow up! Hom furniture is another one who will follow up on their service. I like that they take that extra step to ensure that all went well.

I could vent about bad CS - but We'll leave this thread on a happy note!

Enjoy your Vacation!

Posted by: Molly at August 26, 2010 3:14 PM