Are you a good customer?

By Phil Terry and Ken Surdan

Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, yesterday mistreated one of his drivers and thereby showed us how to be a bad customer (and a really bad CEO). Yelling at a driver while in the backseat of an Uber provides a good example of what not to do (here’s the video first surfaced by Bloomberg).

Lesson #1: CEOs should be committed to listening to their employees (and customers). Even when they disagree, they need to listen. And they definitely should not act in an imperial manner. (Phil has written a lot about the impact of the arrogance of leaders – see Why Most Products Suck or Xerxes and Reed Hastings Walk into a Bar).

Lesson #2: All customers should treat drivers and other service providers with respect.

Let’s be honest. While Travis is hopefully a special case of losing perspective, he is not the only Uber customer to mistreat their driver – or restaurant patron to mistreat a waiter, or cable company customer to abuse a call center agent.

One of us, Phil, has spent decades working with companies urging them to treat customers well and build products and services that delight. The other, Ken, has spent decades building products and leading teams.

We both agree that the other side of the equation is important. When we are customers – especially when we are frustrated – we have a responsibility to treat customer service agents, tellers, waiters, flight attendants, drivers, etc well.

Too many customers seem to practice ‘eye for an eye’ morality: If a company treats us poorly, then we have the right to heap abuse back on the customer service agent (who did not set the rules or cause the problem in most cases). Right? Wrong.

Ironically, the very day this Uber video surfaced, a group of researchers published a report, How to Get Better Customer Service, and Skip the Rage. Profiled in the New York Times, the report analyzes this very issue and, among other things, explains some of the reasons many people yell at and mistreat agents, drivers, and others.

According to the researchers, customers often feel invisible, not listened to, deceived, misunderstood (none of these are Travis’ problems, BTW). As a result, customers then often lash out.

We understand how difficult and annoying it can be to receive bad service or be mistreated by companies. And we are not perfect ourselves. We – like many frustrated customers – can get angry, but we made a commitment years ago not to take that anger out on flight attendants, call service reps, etc.

The millions of people who work in the service economy have hard jobs. They also tend to make less money than many of the customers they serve. Most importantly, they do not set the rules or policies or make the products that frustrate us.

So – what do you think?

  • Do you think it’s ok to yell at the hard working people who serve us?
  • Will you join us in publicly committing to being a good customer?
  • Are too many CEOs and other leaders caught up in a sense of entitlement in the way they treat drivers, waiters, flight attendants, customer service agents, and even their own employees?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Phil Terry is the co-author of Customers Included and Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, a leadership development community for product leaders and general managers at companies ranging from Apple and Airbnb to Walmart and Warby Parker.

Ken Surdan is the Chief Product Officer of Endurance International Group (NASDAQ: EIGI), whose family of brands includes Bluehost, Hostgator, iPage, Constant Contact and other small business solutions.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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