By Jim McCarthy Aug 13, 2010 1 comment

Jet Blue’s Steven Slater Is a Hero of Absolutely Nothing

Shallow and childish.

Not Steven Slater.  The people who are celebrating him.  Although he pretty well fits that description too.

What about his actions are worthy of praise?  I was reading some comments in support of him that said “hey, it’s great that he spoke his mind!”  Is it really so great that he spoke his mind?  What was the outcome?  He threw a tantrum, spoke abusively to a whole plane full of people, who in buying a ticket on Jet Blue, were paying his salary, and severely inconvenienced not just the people on the plane, but everybody delayed by what followed to get the plane back in working condition and out of the way of traffic.

A passenger abused him verbally.  Well, by all means, make the situation much, much worse, Mr. Slater.  Feel free to make hundreds of unrelated people pay the price for your hurt feelings.  Because what’s important here is that you express how you feel.

But not just verbally.  Oh, no.  Do it with actions that are dangerous, dramatic and really make life hard on a bunch of people who’ve done absolutely nothing to you.

If you think this is heroism, you’re nuts.  If you run an organization and can muster even a mild affection for your customers, he’s a great object lesson in what’s wrong with customer service in places like Jet Blue (and Jet Blue is far from the worst airline in this way.)  His greatest desire is to stop treating you nicely and start treating you the way he’d really like to, which is with contempt.  The veil came off for a moment, and now you know how somebody like Steven Slater really feels about you.

And while we’re at it, this isn’t about the customer “always being right.”  That’s not a philosophy I teach because the customer can be abusive, the customer can be drunk, the customer can be a lot of very wrong things.  The philosophy I do teach is that you can’t win an argument with a customer, because if you’re in an argument with a customer, you’ve already both lost.  If Jet Blue or Steven Slater’s philosophy is that the way to deal with difficult customers is to smile and “let them win,” then this is not surprising.  One of the weaker minded people on the staff is going to crack and doing something stupid and futile like this, eventually.

Yes, customer service can be stressful, and the added dimension of close quarters in an airplane add another dimension to it, but this has nothing to do with that.  This is how Steven Slater, in his many, many years of serving customers on an airline, has always wanted to act.

How sad is that?  To think of spending your life waiting for that moment when it was acceptable to behave how you really want to behave instead of how you’re forced to behave is depressing.  But the question is then, why do it?  Why spend decades giving people phony grins and sniping at them when they’re out of earshot when you’re standing in the galley?  Just do something else.  Just live a different life that doesn’t require so much lying to get by.

Even if the passenger, as some have said,  injured Slater with her bag, this is still a destructive response.  Obviously, the injury wasn’t bad enough for him to spend a lot of energy putting on quite a show in the moments that followed.

On the plus side, the Steven Slater story does give us the opportunity to talk about what customer service is and isn’t.  It isn’t: sycophantically pretending to care about customers until you feel you’ve “earned the right” to abuse everyone around you.  It is: actually caring about people and having the grace under pressure to know that when things go wrong, the right answer is never to purposefully make them worse.

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    1 Comment

    • Kara Larson

      I agree this episode and Jet Blue’s reaction to it reveal something about their real attitude. This is an airline that gives exactly the same crap customer service as the others but seems fun and likeable by using a social media voice in ALL their corporate communications; but not actually being different. Their version of “listening” consists of waiving the carry-on bike fee–big whoop.

      I recently took a 1/4 full Jet Blue flight on a one-hour route. The plane was configured with two consecutive exit rows, each 6 seats across, for a total of 12 seats with extra leg room. Of which two were occupied. Since I was seated in a crowded row, I took the liberty of moving two rows back to the empty exit row. The flight attendant acted like I’d taken aim directly at him. Dripping with condescension, he informed me that people paid extra for those seats and that I would have to move back to my crowded seat. Whom did that help? Certainly not the corporate bottom line. And it was the reverse of “customer service.”

      The point? Jet Blue is a thin veil of “hip” branding over a business that operates exactly like the rest of its industry. And the first airline to have really service-oriented staff, instead of the Steven Slaters of the world, bids fair to become a huge success. Any takers? Anyone?