Staffing for Wired and Dangerous Customers


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After musician and passenger Dave Carroll learned United Airlines baggage handlers were damaging his guitar on the tarmac in Chicago, he was unable to find anyone willing to make the situation right. So, he made a music video about his woes. He posted the video on YouTube, chronicling in detail United’s failure to provide appropriate service and their limp approach to reconciling the situation.

This negative view of the United brand has been viewed by well over 10 million people! According to a blog written by The Economist, the Dave Carroll incident has cost United Airlines about $180 million! And, even though the incident happened two years ago, his video remains in cyberspace and continues to harm the United brand. That is wired and dangerous!

There was a time when customers’ needs were simpler, their patience longer, and their loyalty easier to retain. If you provided a good product or outcome at a fair price with solid service, you could effectively compete. And, the occasional upset customer at most told a few friends about a service hiccup. Those good old days are gone. Today, the customer is king. Enabled and equipped by the Internet and angered by the long recession, today’s customers can quickly bring any organization to its knees.

Wanted: A New Type of Employee

Post-recession customers are Picky–more cautious in their choices and interested only in getting obvious value for their money. They are Fickle–quicker to leave if unhappy. They not only show a lower tolerance for error they will exit on getting plain old indifferent service. They are Vocal–more apt to assertively tell others their views of service; they also listen to fellow customers’ reviews. And, they are Vain–meaning they expect treatment that telegraphs they are unique and not just one of the masses.

It means the new normal customer expects a new normal employee. The role requirements that match up with today’s customer expectations are employees with a partner-orientation, generosity and imagination.


According to recent Convergys research, forty percent of customers surveyed think companies do not listen to or act on customer feedback. So customers turn to social media. Social media today drives five times the impact of traditional word of mouth. Think of it as word of mouth on steroids!

Employees who treat customers like partners are great listeners. They value feedback as a tool for learning and therefore invite candor. It means the selection process must include ways to determine the self-esteem of applicants. People who feel good about themselves do not get defensive when customers have an ax to grind; low self-esteem people, on the other hand, view complaints as personal attacks, react defensively, and shut down further communication. Customers turn to the internet and “word of mouse” makes their feedback go viral overnight.


Organizations have taught customers to be picky. Customers expect to get good value for their hard-earned, ever declining dollar. And, the winners find ways to deliver good value plus value-added. The abundance customers enjoy most is not the baker’s dozen or the “free upgrade.” It is the “go-the-extra-mile” attitude from front line employees who provide more energy, offer more passion, show more patience, and deliver more kindness than customers expect to receive.

Generosity rarely shows up on the selection criteria for a new position. Yet, the most service-sensitive industries—the helping professions, hospitality, and theme parks—can ferret out a giver mentality through the way the applicant treats those not directly involved in hiring—like the security guard or the receptionist. It can be reflected in references to volunteer work or answers to situational questions designed to reveal such an attitude.


Customers have been taught by organizations they can “have it your way.” Anything less has become ho-hum. Customers want a memorable experience. Features have become more titillating than function; extras more valued than the core offering. It means employees must now think of service as an attraction.

Employees today must have a playful, imaginative side that is allowed to permeate the customer interaction. It does not mean employees failing to take serious their responsibility. It does mean insuring they have the capacity and permission to be creative in treating customers as individuals. As customers, we enjoy the warmth of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant; we detest robotic responses from the front line employees more interested in procedures than the experience they are creating.

Emerging from a time of layoffs, cutbacks and all types of subtractions, customers are picky about what they buy, fickle with their brand affinity, vocal in communicating their needs, and “vain” in their expectation of personalized treatment. It requires a new type of employee—one with the patience of Job, the generosity of a grandmother, the partner perspective of a great marriage, and the creativity of a magician.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


  1. Very well said. I completely agree on you arguments here most especially on the last with regards to imagination. I think that the whole population of clients and customers continue to evolve based on many different factors, thus, organizations or companies have no choice but to adapt to these changes and be more creative all the time.


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