Rude Customers meet history

December 14, 2006 at 10:53 am (General)

Anath over at Applegeeks linked to this blog posting about rude customers. While I agree with almost everything that the author says, I just want to disagree on one point: this phenomenon did not start with the American slogan ‘the customer is always right,’ it’s been around pretty much since the beginning of time. It’s called ‘bullying,’ and it will be around as long as there are power differentials in unsupervised environments such as the one that exists between a server and a customer in a restaurant, or between kids on a playground at school. Or at least until we find a way to ‘educate/train people out of it,’ if that’s even a good idea (there are a lot of good, natural reasons for such behavior in a species). However, I firmly agree with her conclusion in the first part of the article, that most people do it because no one calls them on it; return to what I said above about “unsupervised environments.” The reaction of people around you, even people whom you don’t know, to your behavior is as much a form of supervision as a manager or a parent. Historically (that is, when people lived in small villages/nomadic societies), it was this very social pressure that kept people ‘properly behaved,’ whatever that society’s standard of behavior was. This is to what Hillary Clinton was referring with her book title It Takes a Village, not that I consider her a shining example, mind you. I believe (by which I mean that I have no empirical evidence other than reflections upon my own behavior) that most people in the world are just intimidated by bullying behavior, hence no one reacts. I certainly have been (intimidated, I mean) in my life. I applaud the author of this post for speaking out, and I hope that, the next time I observe such behavior, I have the courage to do the same. (Mind you, I’m deliberately ignoring my mother’s likely response to such a statement, which is, “What if (as can be the case with bullies) they don’t control themselves when you call them on their behavior, but instead get angrier and direct their anger at you?” That’s a conversation for another time/post.)


  1. Mutton said,

    I feel that corporate involvement in retail is a big part of the picture. It disempowers the ‘manager’ when a customer needs to be put in their place. If you own a store and someone is disrespecting your employee you will likely kick them out.However, if you are only a duty manager in a chain store your power to act is severely restricted by the ‘the customer always (being) right,’ edict from your superiors.

    My experience is that this type of bully always backs-down.

  2. John said,

    That’s fair. The only point that I was really trying to make is that bullying (even in business) did not start with “the customer is always right.” But, in the specific case under discussion, I hadn’t considered the difference between the small business and the corporate environment, so thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Smarry said,

    I hadn’t considered the difference between the small business and the corporate environment, so thanks for pointing that out.

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