I'm not sure how many of you caught the story about Steven Slater, a 38-year-old veteran steward for JetBlue who earlier this week became an instant folk hero to front line customer service workers everywhere, but it's an interesting one. The confrontation/melt-down occurred when Slater apparently asked a passenger to sit down while the plane was taxiing (as is legally required). The passenger then told Slater to “go fuck himself” and, according to many accounts, he proceeded to do exactly that. Slater took to the plane's PA system to deliver a colorful, profanity-laced lecture on rudeness and airline travelers, grabbed a couple of beers, deployed the plane's emergency's exit chute, slid down, and went home. He was later arrested.
If the world was a fairer place, they would have redacted the passenger off to Algeria, but that's not the way things work.
I'm sure anyone who has ever worked a cash register felt some sympathy for (and solidarity with) Slater and as a result, the story went viral. It's a real life version of Falling Down (the Michael Douglas film). It's an amalgam of Network, Office Space and Deathwish and it guaranteed Slater his 15 minutes of fame. The reaction to this story has been twofold. On the one side are the millions of people who have faced similar circumstances on the job and support Slater's dramatic Robin Hood escape from the service industry. On the other, countless people who have faced the inverse experience – getting dusted off by some cheese-eating high school boy at a local box store. So who's right?
The answer is.... it doesn't matter. Both and neither. On a semi-related subject, I responded to the writer of a yelp.ca comment about the FBW today, who complained about one of our staff not being very helpful recently (see P.J.) The situation as it was described didn't sit all that well with me, because it was completely unnecessary. I'm not casting dispersions here, because I don't know the entire story, but from what is posted, our customer service was lacking in this particular circumstance. Regardless of the specifics, this customer left our shop and proceeded to post disparaging comments about our store and staff. It reflects badly on all of us. In an age where consumers have been empowered to the extent that they have and moreover, have access to a multitude of platforms from which to air their grievances without repercussion and with complete anonymity, front-line employees and the businesses that employ them are faced with a nearly no-win situation. Regardless of how many times you get it right, the one time you get it wrong will likely end up on something like yelp.ca.
But that doesn't mean we should stop trying. Experiences, both good and bad (and on either side of the counter), are cumulative. A day of pleasant exchanges and limited conflict in the trenches generally equates to a good one. A day of endless whinging and relentless displays of hipster-entitlement can grind you into a seething paste of bile-spewing hate-monkey. Too many of the later and you face retail burnout and the next you know you're doing a Douglas, sliding down the emergency chute screaming obscenities at shocked-looking toddlers eating crunchy-frog baby cones. Customers (well,...everyone, in fact) face similar days. They might have had to talk to Bell Canada, or worse Rogers, that day. They might have got 2 parking tickets in 45 minutes picking up the kids from dance camp. They may have had to go into a bank or Walmart for something. Their A/C might be on the fritz and it's 42C outside. The point is, nobody seems to want to cut anybody any slack these days and it's undermining our society and its civility. Acts of goodwill, respect and polite sincerity, even in the face of a hostile and selfish world, elevates us all, but there's too few of them.
Joe faced a difficult former customer at the FBE yesterday who'd been banned several years ago for countless late, lost and damaged disks. In this age of entitlement, the customer demanded she be reinstated because “she was once our best customer” Psshaw! Well, to make a long story short, I reluctantly agreed to a restricted trial-run membership. I hated to undermine Joe's firm and reasonable approach with the customer (no, you can't rent here because you wouldn't play by the rules back when you did), but rather than face another negative yelp.ca entry, where only one side of the argument gets aired, I acquiesced and folded like a cheap suit ...mostly because it was the path of least resistance. It might have been the wrong thing to do, but we'll see.
How do we reconcile all this? We can't. People have bad days and good days. We have good days and bad days, but on balance it's in our best interests to remain respectful and helpful, even in the face of aggressive and rude behavior. Responding in kind is a recipe for disaster and it serves no purpose. When in doubt, take the high road, smile a lot and avoid doing a Douglas if at all possible. If you get it right, it can be done with grace and moral authority ...and it doesn't mean you have to be anyone's doormat either.
Civility is the goal, because it's something our society is in desperately short supply of these days. It's the reason people are in The Film Buffs in the first place....because we get it right most of the time.