By Ian Whitworth
Audio Version 4 mins
Infantile, Whiny Dickheads
Big business gets plenty of stick for being, well … big, inflexible and predatory. Hey, I did that last week.
But credit where it’s due. Woolworths: nice work on that plastic bag phase-out. Not just for doing it, but the way it was done.
It’s not your fault some of your customers are infantile whiny dickheads who should have their shopping licenses revoked.
For our international readers, Woolworths is one of two major grocery retailers here, and they just stopped handing out unlimited free single-use plastic bags. That takes 3.2 BILLION bags a year out of landfill and the mouths of marine life. Did people say: “thanks Woolworths, on behalf of customers and cute turtles everywhere”?
A few did, but were drowned out by the shrill bleating of the Mildly-Inconvenienced.
Woolworths had to go on the defensive, giving out free bags for the next few weeks to help people through the trauma of having to think about bags for a few seconds.
What is with people?
The Right Thing To Do
There was plenty of warning about this.
Woolworths gave everyone a year’s notice.
I shop there every other day and got told about it every time for the last month. Their staff had clearly been well-briefed, and they delivered the message pleasantly and professionally.
They offered backup options: if you forget your bags, you can pay 15 cents each for heavy duty plastic bags. That’s not much in stores where a punnet* of blueberries is currently $7.50.
That should have been enough for us. There was a time when we realized we had to take the lead out of our fuel, the asbestos out of our classrooms and the direct sewage pumping out of our beaches, and everyone was OK with that. Because it was the Right Thing To Do.
Throwing The Toys Out Of The Pram
Now we live in the Entitled Toddler era of customer behaviour, with unlimited scope to vent petty gripes on social, and an expectation that nothing in society should change without our personal permission.
That noise becomes anecdata for armies of media spokesclowns claiming to be the voice of the free market, despite never having run a business in their lives. They’re on TV with medieval fearmongering about reusable bags spreading disease. It’s left to Woolworths to be the only grownups present.
The hysteria escalated. Store staff were abused. One got grabbed by the throat.
Those aren’t people you should pander to. Those are people you should ban from your store.
If you missed our business travel guide last month, the only foolproof test of whether you are a good or bad person is whether you are pleasant to service staff.
The Customer Is Not Always Right
It highlights the broader issue for business: the idea that “the customer is always right” is … wrong.
A percentage of customers, fortunately a very small one, are just horrible. They demean your staff and make life unpleasant for other customers.
As a business, I think you tend to get the customers you deserve. Over the years we’ve had a few clients – a tiny minority – abuse our people. We’ve called them up and politely told them we can’t work with them any more.
That has a direct benefit for our business. If staff see that you’re prepared to stand up for them rather than just keep throwing them under the bus, they are much happier and do a better job for your nice clients.
Great staff are much harder to find than bad clients.
Woolworths have done a good job. They should continue to support their front line people against rogue customers. And in the long-term they’ll get the goodwill of the quiet majority of customers who support businesses doing the right thing.
*In Australia we like quaint British words for our berry packaging
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