Business 101: Don’t Blame The Customer

If you travel for a living (like myself), then you’ve probably at least caught wind of the financial troubles American Airlines has had recently. In the midst of a nasty battle with its employees, the company has filed for Chapter 11, with its management hoping to emerge from bankruptcy some time in 2013.

I, however, have my doubts this will happen. Instead, I think the airline (or at least its management) will “disappear” next year. That’s because American Airlines seems to have no respect whatsoever for its paying customers.

Besides its financial problems, one recent American flight had a row of seats come loose while en route. When the company investigated this issue, it concluded that “years” of customers spilling soft drinks and coffee on the floor of this plane’s cabin had compromised the seat row’s locking mechanisms. And, no, despite how it sounds, I’m not making this up.

Now I have two problems with this explanation. For one thing, are we – the traveling public – to believe that American’s cleaning and maintenance crews are so lackadaisical in their jobs that it’s been “years” since this plane’s cabin or seats have been serviced?

The much greater issue, however, is this explanation puts the problem squarely in the hands of American’s paying customers. “If you were less of a slob on our planes, we wouldn’t have this problem” seems to be the message.

I’ve been covering the ag retail business for more than a dozen years now and I’ve heard a few stories about the wrong product being applied or higher-than-expected winds causing spray drift to damage a neighboring field. Sometimes the blame is pegged on the applicator; sometimes it falls on the manufacturer. But in none of these cases have I heard a retailer proclaim the fault was the grower-customer’s, “for giving me his money in the first place.”

In this sense, we all can gain an important lesson from American Airlines – if you want to stay in business, don’t blame the customer for your own incompetence.

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