After half a decade of living in New Zealand I can finally see how abnormal it is to assume that the customer is always right, and that they always have a right to get angry about it.
As an American can claim you are immune to these expectations and behaviors. I promise you’ve engaged in them hundreds of minor times. That’s true even if you are someone who is often on the receiving end of that same rage. As with many things in America, the cruelty is baked into the system.
Your dish came out a little bit wrong at the restaurant? Rage and ask for a discount. Service on your car didn’t quite repair the problem? Rage and demand an immediate fix. You received an online shopping order with an incorrect or slightly-dinged product? Unleash your fury and require free return shipping.
Some people manage to make these demands without demeaning the person who has to accommodate them, but just as often we assume that absorbing our accumulated fury is part of the job. If someone wants to be able to afford health care they have to be willing to soak up an amount of capitalist vengeance.
That’s American life. It’s part of the sickening caricature that “American Exceptionalism” has become, where everyone is encouraged to be their own plucky protagonist expecting perfection at all times. It’s the land of the Karens.
For most of my life I didn’t think too hard about this. In fact, my viciousness as a consumer always seemed like a fun feature of my perfectionist personality rather than a major bug. I was infamous amongst my friends and colleagues for causing a scene and storming out of retail situations gone wrong. I learned it by watching the adults in my own life as a kid. I wasn’t trying to be specifically cruel to any employees. I just needed to get exactly what I thought I was paying for (even when that wasn’t what I actually ordered or was ever offered).
It never seemed abnormal to me in part because my own clients demanded the same level of perfection from me all of the time. I built up a thousand little defenses and extra processes to deliver things flawlessly every time, as many Americans do, and so I expected perfection from everyone else.
Becoming a people manager changed that. The first time one of my direct reports got yelled at – I mean, really screamed at – by a client radically altered my approach in a way that being yelled at myself never did. I understood how ridiculous I had always been. I “fired” several clients for the misery they caused my team not being worth their subscription fee.
Yet, if someone made similar demands with a smile, we kept them around.
I adopted the same personal approach. No more cruelty, no more storming out. Yet, my demand for perfection didn’t change. I would complain sweetly, kindly, patiently, and with many compliments to the manager of the person I was speaking to… but, I’d still get my way in the end.
Our move to New Zealand turned my last vestiges of twisted American Exceptionalism on its head. [Read more…] about the customer is always angry (in America)