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We’ve taken to calling them ‘Karens,’ but they abound across both genders and beyond

Where does customer service cross over into undeserved customer entitlement? A recent T-Mobile ad campaign got me thinking about this important distinction, with the “I want it all…and I want it now” theme. While competent, dedicated and sincere customer service needs to continue growing in this country, the opposite is true of our entitlement mentality, showcased by this ad. As everyone continues to suffer through the pandemic, political dysfunction and economic loss, it’s time to reassess what we’re truly entitled to (e.g., appropriate healthcare, a good education for our children) versus continuing to live by our spoiled-brat ways. Along the way, consumers also need to reframe how they interact with customer service forces—who are suffering the same setbacks as the rest of us.

Mark Lusky

While there’s a well-deserved, much-needed push for improvement on the customer service side of the equation, it’s also time for customers to quit acting so entitled. Just as enlightened customer service must proliferate across all commerce platforms, enlightened customer behaviors need to replace entitlement expectations.

A recent report on GeorgeTakei.com (you know, the Star Trek star) by Koh Mochizuki calls out the “Karens” of the world: “Unsatisfied female customers who are entitled and raise a fuss inside stores have become known as a ‘Karen’ in common parlance. But regardless of gender, you know the type. I encountered many of these annoying customers who never take ‘no’ for an answer when I used to work in retail. A flustered woman asked me to find the right size slacks from the back of the store after I had already told her we were sold out. But she insisted I still go and check, even though I knew we were out of her size. When I told her I couldn’t help her, she told me I was ‘a waste of space’ and then asked to speak to my manager.”

It’s one thing if someone clearly doesn’t make an attempt to fully check out the situation. We’ve all suffered through the customer service “shrug off”—people who can’t be bothered to confirm accurate information. On occasion, we get the extra mile of service as I did a few weeks ago without asking for it. But, it’s important for consumers to not push the boundaries (aka be a Karen) in an effort to make someone be at their beck and call.

An article published four years ago provides interesting insights into customer entitlement from the customer rep perspective: Published in Technicianonline.com, the article by writer Aditi Dholakia carries the headline: “The customer service paradox: consumer entitlement versus unattainable employee perfection.”

She notes: “Compared to other countries in the world, such as Germany or Switzerland, customer service employees in the United States are treated almost worse than garbage, paid less than a pittance and yet are expected to remain loyal to their employers and treat their customers like royalty…What’s even more interesting is that the ‘customer is always right’ mindset is really only prevalent in the U.S. Customer entitlement has been proven and supported time and time again. Customers know that if they kick up enough of a fuss, whether or not their complaint is valid, management will give that customer preferential treatment cushioned by free merchandise.”

The article continues, “In Germany, customer service and retail-oriented jobs are much more straightforward. Customers enter an establishment, whether it’s a clothing store, a grocery store or a restaurant, with the express purpose of minding their own business with as little fuss as possible. Store checkout employees are permitted to sit behind the counter while scanning, and they are paid much more than American employees. In the event that there is a problem, customers respectfully work with employees to make sure it is resolved as quickly and quietly as possible.”

It’s time for customer service and customer expectations to seek common ground that honors everyone, and provides a way to address issues thoroughly, robustly and respectfully.

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Mark Lusky
mark@marklusky.com

Mark Lusky (aka The Happy Curmudgeon)
is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm. He’s a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience, and author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage.

One reply on “We’ve taken to calling them ‘Karens,’ but they abound across both genders and beyond”

Amen and amen. Somewhere along the way, courtesy has been devalued and ignored. As a result, we have become a nation of self-centered Yahoos.

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