Late Spring 2007
On a recent vacation, I was sitting in the hotel lobby when 3 couples approached the desk to check in. Within a few minutes, it became apparent that there was ''a problem,'' because one of the men was raising his voice and becoming quite animated. Apparently he was upset that the pool was under repair due to damage from a recent hurricane. Really upset. I could see him stomping his foot and hear him yelling while the other 5 people in his party made it a point to back away and give him space. The hotel desk staff was infinitely more patient and conciliatory than I would have been had I been in their shoes, even when he demanded that the one male staff member come around from behind the reception desk so he could punch him in the face. If this wasn't horrifying enough, the desk called hotel security, who escorted Mr. Bad Behavior to the corner, sat him down, and, yes, believe it or not, promptly upgraded his room and comped him a night's lodging. My friends and I heard every gory detail later, in the lounge, as Mr. BB gloated loudly to his friends and virtually the entire place.
Some might call the hotel's course of action ''good customer service,'' but I've been thinking lately about how customer service has evolved over the past years and how it can encourage and reward alarmingly bad behavior. Good customer service involves acknowledging customers for patronizing and supporting a particular business. It also involves doing whatever possible to correct a problem without the customer having to turn into a raving maniac. Yet, the old adage ''the customer is always right'' has created monsters of unreasonable expectations and even dishonesty. From hotel front desks to airport ticket counters to department stores, we observe that the loudest and most obnoxious customers get their way. And believe me, we'd shudder at what goes on behind the scenes, where thousands of employees make their living answering phones and taking orders and reservations, dealing with an increasing number of people who behave unforgivably bad in order to get what they've decided they deserve, no matter how unreasonable.
What's wrong with this picture? How did the concept of ''good customer service'' incubate such hideous conduct? What makes some people feel entitled to so much more than most reasonable people would expect? What in our society has changed that makes it OK to give the bullies their demands on a silver platter, rather than insisting that they act with respect and reason? I don't have the answers, only my growing dismay at the bloated sense of entitlement of some of my fellow human beings. What in the world are we thinking rewarding a tyrant who throws a tantrum because a hurricane has closed a hotel's pool?! As far as I'm concerned, it's not only a case of ''shame on the bully,'' it's also a case of ''shame on us'' for tolerating such behavior.