Do you train your customers to battle your frontline?

A WAYPOINT about…frontline authority

By Mark Renfro

My friend’s flight was canceled as she stood in line to board.  The gate agent offered her a flight two days later.  She is a mild-mannered person, but she knew better than to accept the offer or leave the desk.  She asked for a manager.  The gate agent got a senior agent on the phone who offered her a three-legged flight the next day.  She refused and stood her ground – uncomfortable but insistent.  Finally, a manager on the scene moved her to another airline with a satisfactory deal.

So, another customer trained to fight with customer service reps.  Another customer service rep forced to give inferior service only to be undermined by higher-ups.  And a lot of other customers who took the first offer unhappy about the inferior service they felt obliged to accept.

Are you training your customers to fight your frontline?  If so, you’re putting in place a long train of undesirable incentives.

A bank customer complains to his favorite teller about some surprise overdraft fees, explains the unusual circumstances, and asks for a partial refund.  The amount is above the teller’s authority, but she acknowledges the customer’s point and offers a smaller amount.  The customer objects; his voice rises, and he demands a manager, who grants his request.

If you’ve ever been that customer, you don’t feel good about the interaction.  Who wants to have angry interactions just to get what’s fair?  You’re not mollified by getting it because you had to make a scene.

If you’ve been that teller, there goes your hard-earned relationship with a customer.  There goes your credibility, since the manager did what you wanted to do and knew your manager would eventually do.  And there goes your morale, because you were expected to persuade the customer to accept the smaller amount.

If you’ve been that manager – well, you used to be a teller, so you know she feels undermined and ineffective.

What’s the waypoint?  Examine how much authority your give your frontline to give the service customers expect.  Don’t make them fight with your customers and vice versa.

Mark Renfro is a Managing Partner at Dallas-based Waypoint. He can be reached at