Friday, February 1, 2013

Applebee's Backs Customer Who Abused Employee

The customer is not always right. I learned that years ago from one of my first business heroes, Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines.

 In his 1998 book, Nuts! He had this to say about the idea that the customer is always right:

“No, they are not, and I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’”

It's brilliant. If you want employees who treat customers well, defend them when customers treat them badly.

That's why I think Applebee's messed up when it fired the server who posted the above receipt online.

The dismissal stoked the fury of a huge number of people on social media.

On the Applebee's Facebook page, a spokesperson wrote:

“We wish this situation hadn't happened. Our Guests’ personal information—including their meal check—is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy.”

Typical customer responses went like this:

"Shame on you for firing that waitress, No more visits for me. That customer was a jerk, that guest check was meant to intimidate the waitress, and if she didn't want someone to see it. she should not have put it out there."

The customer, a pastor no less, expressed regret when her name came to light:

"My heart is really broken, I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”

The server did not go out of her way to identify the customer, and says she even gave an inaccurate physical description to throw people off, although the signature is pretty legible.

Granted, posting it online was probably not the best decision, but not as bad as what the customer did, and Applebee's reaction was excessive. They could have reprimanded the server. Instead, they lamely pointed to the corporate policy book to justify firing her.

What do you think?