The Customer Service Trap

It’s a common enough occurrence. We’re in a restaurant, and the table next to us is complaining about their server, their meal, or something that has made them unhappy. A manager is called, and comes over apologetically and offers to pay for their meal. Appeased by the manager, the table happily finishes the meal they’ve been vehemently complaining about leaves the restaurant not even leaving a tip for the server.

As a teenager, I had a youth pastor who he and his wife prided themselves on the fact that they never paid for their meals at restaurants. They complained about their meals enough that their meals were always comped. As teenagers, we looked up to them, and we were so impressed by their cleverness. Our moral leaders were telling us it’s OK to cheat the system in order to get a free meal.

In my professional life, I’ve run across companies who have had customers threaten to give them a bad online review if they don’t reduce their price. In the customer service industry, employees have become the hostages of the whims of consumers.

We know if we threaten to go to social media, and companies, restaurants etc. afraid of those negative reviews will comp or deeply discount the service they’ve already provided. For many people it’s become a game. They don’t pay for anything because they’ve learned to work the customer service system.

We’ve forgot that this clever game affects real humans. It could affect the livelihood of a single parent struggling to make ends meet, who has no choice but to work nights and evenings away from their children submitting to the abuse of unhappy customers. Where every complaint and every meal comped is another pink slip in a file that could force that parent back to collecting unemployment and applying for welfare.

Wouldn’t it be such a better world, if instead of looking to benefit from every mistake made, we instead recognize that someone is struggling, and instead of complaining to their manager potentially costing someone their job, we instead offer a word of encouragement or offer twice the tip they would normally get.

Wouldn’t that unexpected act of kindness completely turn that server’s bad day around? And maybe, just maybe, if we could start accepting failure in others, we could start accepting failure in ourselves.

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