Arrogance Or Integrity?

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The Angry Customer

As I dozed off in my comfortable business class seat on a premium airlines, heading off to a business trip to Vienna, Austria from Cleveland, I was jolted awake by what appeared to be shouting and commotion. As I peered around my seat, I saw a very wealthy looking gentleman in an Armani suit and a Hermes scarf, red in the face, perched forward on his seat and shouting. His hands were waving around wildly and he looked intoxicated.

A hapless air hostess was apologizing profusely and trying to calm him down. A couple of minutes later, another air hostess and a steward came up and tried their best to calm the man down. From his frenzied shouting I could make out that he was demanding some thing that was not on the plane. He wanted more of his favorite drink – which it appears he had already consumed quite a lot. The steward was explaining that there was no more left on the plane and the man had already had all there was.

The man would not hear of this and was gradually getting into cursing and profanity. Another few minutes passed and this time it was the captain who came down from the cockpit. The angry gentleman stood up and in very threatening manner proceeded to let off a barrage of curses at the captain. He claimed that he was so and so and that he travels around the world and that he was a frequent flier with this airlines and that he had done over 300 thousand miles and so on.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Captain had had enough and threatened to have the man restrained if he did not calm down. A couple of other fellow business class travellers got up from their seats and joined the debacle to help ease the situation. I was one of them. The man sat down after a little while and shouted that he would never travel in this airlines again and that he would sue them for threatening to restrain him and that in fact he would get this airlines shut down and all that.

Thrown Off The Plane!

Anyway, to cut the long story short, when we landed in New York for a brief stop, this man was escorted off the plane! He wasn’t too happy about this and even though he appeared to have sobered up a little bit was still shouting. I was a little surprised that a business traveller, and a frequent flyer at that, was thrown off the plane!

As we headed off from New York, I began to reflect on how customers sometimes treat service staff badly and how the companies then deal with such customers. Several times in the past, in various 5 star hotels around the world, I had witnessed such customers making unreasonable demands on the service staff and getting down to shouting and threatening and almost always I had seen the hotels “make things happen” and satisfy the customer in question. By the same token, I have also seen customers told off or shouted at back or removed from the premises. I have also witnessed retaliation from the service staff on par with angry customers and profanity being exchanged.

I then thought about my business and industry segment. There were many times in the past when a client would simply get angry and start treating designers or the management very poorly. Most recently we were working on a branding project where we had created the logo design, were working on the stationery design and would eventually work on the website design. Right from the initial design concepts phase, there was major friction between the client and the design team. Apparently, the client could not view the images posted on the online studio floor. This was a simple web page with images listed vertically. The team checked the page and not finding any issue with it, messaged the client to say that perhaps she should try opening the page in a different browser or even on a different computer just to make sure.

Designers Treated Badly

The client then blew up and sent back a barrage of messages shouting (in ALL CAPS) about how she can not open the images and that she has paid for this service etc etc. I then got on the phone with her and received very condescending treatment even though I was actually trying to walk her through the process and help her open the images. Having no success with that process, I promised her that I would send her the images via email so that she can simply view them in her email client. After I had sent her the email, I got an email back from the client – once again shouting at me that she could open the images but that they were too small and she could not see them properly. She accused me of poor service and how we should learn how to run a business and all that.

Next, I resized the image and sent her a very larger version, via email again. Another angry email from the client. This time that she was getting the email but with out the attachment. I realized that perhaps her ISP had a restriction on the size of file attachments and proceeded to upload the file to an image server and sending her the directly link. She was finally able to see the image but her feedback and responses were not any kinder. From then on, every email she sent us was either accusatory or simply angry.

So, what do we with such clients? These days, designers and design firms are treated like second class companies – thanks mostly to the low quality overseas design sweatshops and the plagiarising communities of contest sites. Designers are now seemingly considered to be snake oil salesmen or worse. Other times they are treated like cheap unskilled labor. It is a sad state where clients shout at design professionals for things that not related to design or the designer’s skill set.

Should such clients be escorted out of the business? Or should the companies grovel and continue to take abuse? What is right or wrong with any action or inaction in these situations?

Is it arrogance?

In the above project, once the stationery design phase was completed and when had to initiate the website design project, we simply canceled that portion of the project and issued a prompt refund to the client. We apologized that we could not continue working with them and wished them the best of luck. In fact I am now seriously thinking of making it a company policy that if a client were ever to abuse or mistreat a designer – with or with out a valid reason – then we would simply cancel the project and refund the client.

Is that the right way to handle such clients? When we demand respect for our profession and ourselves from our clients, is it arrogance or are we showing integrity?

I have seen this happen quite often in a lot of design firms out there. I have shared these experiences with my friends in the industry and it is very worrying. Of course on the other hand, there are 100s of happy satisfied customers who treat us well and are very patient and enable us to build long term relations with them. We have 100s of examples of clients for whom we had created logos years ago and who still come back to us for graphic and web work as their business grows.

We thank them all!