Customers aren’t kings

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Customers aren’t kings

This week the media and Internet went wild over a scandalous incident involving a corporate executive of Posco Energy who was sacked for allegedly rowdy behavior of physically and verbally abusing a female flight attendant. Why has the incident stirred so much talk and controversy in our society? What is the limit to customer service and customer feedback? Society must examine whether it may be pushing too far and demanding too much from face-to-face customer service people like flight attendants, bank tellers, receptionists, cashiers and sales personnel in retail stores.

Customers are the center of a market economy. No products can be sold and companies cannot be sustained if there’s no one to open their wallet to make purchases. Korean customer service is not entirely satisfactory. Products are sold without thorough explanations and refunds are often deferred or sneakily avoided. But instead of fixing this basically structural problem, companies tend to lay the burden and pressure on sales or services personnel to cope with customer complaints. Overall, society began to believe consumers are kings and can get away with practically anything.

A survey by a research institute run by Green Hospital in 2010 showed that 26.6 percent of customer service attendants suffer depression that requires psychological therapy. Most receptionists at businesses and call centers are contract-based and work under insecure conditions, which prevent them from filing complaints about their work. The Seoul city government took legal action against four citizens who regularly called and harassed receptionists at its call center.

A credit card company took a more practical step. Since February, Hyundai Card authorized call service staff to hang up if customers continue with sexual or verbal harassment after two warnings. Resignations by the company’s call center staff, which reached 13.3 percent in 2011, dropped to 6.5 percent last year and 4.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. Customer complaints also plunged by 45 percent. The company improved the overly submissive language of its receptionists. It said what customers want is not blind obedience but accurate and quick solutions to their problems. Excessive friendliness can lead to disrespect and humiliation.

Just because they have paid for a product or service, customers are not entitled to be all-demanding. They too must maintain decorum and refrain from behavior that is insulting to employees. Companies must also try to serve customers with better services and products instead of telling customers they are kings.
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