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A Call for Civility


The LA Times called this morning to get my thoughts on how customer service training might have helped Steven Slater, the 38 year-old Jet Blue flight attendant who went berserk yesterday after allegedly being verbally and physically abused by a passenger.

According to the reports, a woman passenger had some choice words for Slater several times during the flight. Once the flight landed in New York, she got into an altercation with another passenger over some luggage. When Slater tried to intervene, she bashed the her luggage into Slater’s head. Slater, having had enough, grabbed the intercom, cursed out the plane, grabbed a couple of beers, popped the emergency exit, and headed down the slide to go home for the day.

Now what was I going to say to the reporter from the LA Times? I’m sure JetBlue trained Slater trained in appropriate customer service techniques for dealing with angry passengers—techniques like staying calm, not raising your voice, focusing on a solution, etc. We teach all those techniques and they can be quite effective in situations where customers are angry or upset. But how was that supposed to help in this case? I in no way condone Slater’s behavior, but it’s hard to stay calm when you’ve been bashed in the head.

I wonder what was wrong with the woman. Had she just lost her job? Was she ill? Did her medication stop working? Or was she just acting like out like others she’s seen in cartoons, sitcoms, video games, and movies and heard on talk radio? Did Slater do something initially to annoy her? Did he aggravate the situation? We don’t know.

Apparently, Slater has turned into somewhat of a hero of customer service workers, many of whom are sick and tired of dealing with annoying and abusive customers. I travel a lot and I know it can be tiring, frustrating, and annoying. But nothing can be so bad that it permits one person to act like that toward another. So customer service training? That’s not enough to tame this growing trend of disrespect and abuse. It’s time to bring back civility. A few stress reduction lessons couldn’t hurt either!

Originally Published August 11th, 2010 by Peggy Carlaw on A Call for Civility

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