Attitude of Entitlement = Poor Customer Service

Daughter Amy as sketched by a Norwegian Cruise Line employee on the back of a bar ticket (circa 1996)

Customer service is an important issue in the Human Resources world.  As succinctly stated by China Gorman, former COO of SHRM, “As business leaders and HR professionals, we all know about the close relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.”  In the past week or so, China , Trish McFarlane, Mike VanDervort, and Deidre Honner – exceptional HR bloggers all –  have posted about customer service.

I recently returned from a vacation with a desire to write about the same issue, but from a slightly different perspective.  I want to tell you about genuinely helpful and friendly employees who bent over backwards to service my needs, and I am going to theorize why this type of service is so rare that one is surprised and delighted when it occurs.  Especially because it does not involve Zappos. 😉

I went on a cruise.

For 10 days and nights I was aboard a floating hotel city, where my need for food, drink, sleep, recreation, and entertainment was in the hands of one company and their employees.  For those 10 days, I was surrounded by cruise employees with friendly faces and cheerful greetings.  It did not take the wait staff long to learn that I like iced tea a lot, so when I sat down at a table 3 or 4 glasses of iced tea would instantly appear.  My room steward had the sweetest smile and happiest voice ever.  Her “good morning!” always cheered me, even on the day I had a bad eye infection and was running a fever.  It amazes me that she could display such a consistently positive, upbeat demeanor after cleaning my toilet and shower.  I could bore you to death with other examples.

I have been on well over 20 cruises, so I am not a gushing newbie.  I have found that most cruise line employees try very hard to ensure the customer’s satisfaction, although Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) (my recent host), did a truly exceptional job in this area.

So why does the cruise industry, and RSSC in particular, excel in the customer service area when so many other companies fail?  The sad answer, in my opinion, is entitlement.  Many US workers feel that they are entitled to jobs, and many US companies feel they are entitled to customers.  That attitude of entitlement causes both employees and companies to forget that they exist to serve their customers, and leads to the online gripes and complaints that they earned.  Remember Dave Carroll and his broken guitar?

Most cruise ship workers come from economically depressed countries where earnings don’t come close to matching the US and other Western countries.  The workers on my recent cruise -and who I interviewed specifically for this blog – came from Romania, Indonesia, Phillipines, Serbia, and India.  They work for cruise ships because they can earn a lot more money than they can in their countries of origin.  They don’t feel the slightest bit entitled to any job.

Cruise companies aren’t entitled to passengers, either.  Only  20% of Americans have ever been on a cruise, and competition for passengers is fierce.  These companies can’t afford to let lousy customer service make them lose a competitive advantage.

I’m not going to talk about other issues with cruise workers – and yes, I know there are many – in this blog.    Whatever the other issues, I am grateful for the RSSC workers who tried so hard to give me a pleasant vacation experience, and wish more companies and their employees would follow that lead.

Weigh in!  Does an attitude of entitlement foster poor customer service?

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SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference 2010 – Rants and Raves


The Legal Environment for Business Professionals – this “pre-conference” was my first stop on the first day.  The presenter, Richard Coffinberger, JD, is an Associate Professor at George Mason University.    He teaches a similar course to undergraduate students, and he asked the class if they knew what television show “Shirley Jones was famous for”.  Most of the people in the class knew about The Partridge Family because none of us were 18 years old.  He has obviously never heard about tailoring his presentation to his target audience.  Also, the case he was referring to (Calder v Jones, 465 US 783) was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1983, regarding a National Enquirer article that was published in 1979. It’s OLD, and it’s about in personam jurisdiction.  Why does an HR professional even CARE about in personam jurisdiction?  The man was personable and engaging, but suffered from a serious case of  “needs to update his notes and presentation.”  He also misspoke about the law on one occasion and was promptly chastised by one of the attendees (he called on her before me so I didn’t have the pleasure).

I’m also going to rant a little about SHRM and this same presentation.  It cost an extra $310, and attendees were promised a Certificate of Completion and extra HRCI credits.  There were no Certificates, and they furnished no program number for HRCI.  I submitted for credit without either, but if  HRCI denies my credit I am going to be seriously pissed off.

How to Lobby Your Member of Congress This program was presented by Lisa Horn,  who is from SHRM and works on health care, to explain the “ins and outs” of the scheduled Capitol Hill meetings with members of Congress.  I was fence sitting about going to these meetings, and went to this session to make a decision.  At one point an audience member asked about discussing something other than health care reform or Section 127 of the tax code (regarding extension of employer provided educational assistance), which were the two official topics of these meetings.  Ms. Horn made it very clear that SHRM arranged the Hill visits and attendees were there to promote the SHRM agenda.

Funny me.  I thought SHRM existed in some part to provide benefits and value to their members in exchange for dues and the fees from the conference. I didn’t realize that my conference fee was paying  them to promote their agenda. I got off the fence and didn’t go, because I am not a shill for SHRM.

Cocktails & Conversation – Networking Happy Hour – I always thought that networking meant that people came together and actually spoke to each other. That’s pretty hard to do when SHRM has people speaking from a podium.  In fact, Mary Ellen Slater, Mike VanDervort, Paul Smith and I were getting many dirty looks from others because we were actually talking during this billed-as-a-networking event.  We finally went outside.

Other rants? (1) The lack of diversity of opinion, particularly about social media.  See a great post about this from Mike VanDervort. I was there and he’s not exaggerating; (2) My inability to get breakfast at the Thursday morning session because I was 8 minutes late; (3) A total aversion to networking and conversation from the majority of the attendees. I’ve written about this before, and this conference was no different.  In fact, one presenter had no business cards, and offered no address or phone number of any kind; and (4) A program called To Tweet or Not To Tweet?  Is That the Right Question? given by a presenter who admitted to me that she doesn’t use Twitter.  When I told her that I would like to Tweet the program, she said, “You mean you are going to tell people what I SAY?”


Washington, DC in mid-March – The weather was stunningly beautiful, mild and sunny.  I had the opportunity to see many of the monuments and buildings lit during the evening- a beautiful sight.  As I asked a companion as we were walking toward the Library of Congress, “How can anyone come to DC and not be emotionally moved?”

VIP Reception and Tweet-Up – This event, sponsored by the employment law firm of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, was nothing less than stunning.  Held in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, it offered food, drink, photographers and an awesome view.  OK, there WERE speakers (again!), but the venue was so large that it was easy to ignore them and keep on talking and socializing networking. This was what a “networking event” should be.

Immigration Reform and the Employer – This was one of two different programs on immigration law compliance (a personal favorite topic), and it was easily the most superior (I attended both).  In fact, it was the best of all of the substantive sessions that I attended.  It was led by Stuart Brock, a lawyer out of Charlotte, NC who manages a consulting firm called HR Innovators.  Stuart used facts, not emotion, to make the audience understand the huge shift in immigration law enforcement prompted by the Obama administration.  He made it clear that some opinions could differ, and that some of his recommendations were based on the interests of his clients.  He gave us information and many resources, in an engaging and friendly manner, treating us like thinking adults and not children in need of discipline. At this conference, taught mostly by employment lawyers, that was in very short supply.

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Stand With Haiti

The rules are simple:

  1. Select a charity that is soliciting donations for aid in Haiti.
  2. Apply your HR and social media skills by doing a “back­ground check” on that orga­ni­za­tion.
  3. Write up your find­ings, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, and post them on your blog no later than Jan­u­ary 26th.

So asked Mike VanDervort, friend and fellow HR blogger, in his blog The Human Racehorses.

Sometimes, though, it is okay to color outside of the lines.  So I changed the rules.  I changed them because I didn’t want to pick a charity and research it.  I wanted needed to find a charity that I could be comfortable sending more than a $10 text message to – and I wanted the best.  The new rules?

  1. Pretend you are creating a new job position called Haitian charity.
  2. Undertake a needs assessment; determine the knowledge, skills, and abilities the charity must have to be successful and worthy of “hiring”.
  3. Research charities until you determine the perfect candidate.
  4. Hire the candidate charity by writing your findings in a blog and sending them the most sizable donation you can muster.


Experience is the usually the best teacher, so I looked back at the Indian Ocean tsunamis of 2004.  I studied white papers, blogs, and news articles to see what I could learn about the effectiveness of charitable organizations in dealing with that disaster, and what types of problems all charitable organizations faced (examples here and here ).

After that research, it became clear to me that those non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that already had operations running in the affected area were the most efficient and effective performers. These NGOs already have committed people on the ground, have overcome language and culture barriers,  have established contacts and connections with local vendors, and will remain engaged with the country on a long term basis. This became my main requirement for my charity: Long term commitment to Haiti that preceded the January 12 earthquake, evidenced by established operations.

The next skill is pretty basic: how much money goes to actual operational support, as opposed to administrative and fund-raising expenses? Research showed me that an organization that spends 80% of the donations it receives on charitable programs is considered efficient, while 90% is considered highly efficient.  I always want the best I can get, so my additional requirement became: Program spending of 90% or greater.


One of the most important tools I used to research and find the ideal charity candidate was Charity Navigator.  Itself an independent, non-profit that helps evaluate and promote charitable giving, they were so helpful that I found myself donating to them after finishing my research.  There were many four-star rated charities with long-term Haitian ground operations, including Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres (the international parent of  Doctors without Borders).  In the end, I decided  on Partners In Health/Stand With Haiti.

Partners In Health(PIH) has been working on the ground in Haiti since 1985.  Their Zanmi Lasante (“partners in health”) project in Cange, Haiti is a community based health project that has grown to include 8 facilities in central Haiti.  They are devoted to providing medical services to Haitian poor.  PIH believes that health care is a right that should be available to everyone. Their vision is “whatever it takes”:

The PIH Vision: Whatever it takes
At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.

Almost 95% of their funds go to program expenses.  If you go to Charity Navigator and look at the salaries of their top executives, you will understand why they are able to devote so much funding to their programs.

I wanted the best, and I think I found it.