Don’t eat the Flies – A Lesson in Customer Service

Customers can be rather nasty,’ we often hear people say. ‘They are demanding and downright rude, they demand for things to which they are not entitled, they raise their voice, shout at people and in some instances turn to verbal abuse.’ ‘How should I as a professional respond to this very bad behaviour?’

The answer is “Don’t eat the flies.”

However tempted you may be; responding in kind to a customer is a lose-lose situation to a service provider or their staff. Even if it appears you have won the battle, you will still carry the wounds of war afterwards.

Why flies? You may ask, and what has ‘eating flies’ got to do with customer service? I will explain.

If you have an open sore and you live in the hot and scorching sun of Nigeria, chances are that a couple of flies, if not dozens, will drop in on the uncovered sore to feast. The Yorubas of South West Nigeria literally refer to these flies as ‘eating’ the flesh of the person with the sore. Whilst the flies engage in this eating frenzy, no one will bat an eyelid as flies are expected to do this sort of thing. However, if the person with the open sore should attempt to pick one of the flies and ‘eat’, all hell will be let loose as people around will consider him insane.

In other words, people accept that flies can have a feast at the expense of the person with an open sore. Everyone expect flies to do so. ‘Eating’ the flesh of a person with an open sore is seen as a prerogative of flies. For the person with the open sore however, there is an acceptable level of behaviour that is expected of him and this does not include trying to teach flies a lesson by eating one of them.

The moral of this is that a professional is expected to behave under a higher moral code to that of clients, even under serious pressure. Customers can get away with certain behaviour. As a professional however, you are expected to know better. This rule can also be applied to colleagues or even family members. Whenever a spouse, colleagues or friends choose to provoke you, restrain yourself from the temptation of wanting to respond in kind. Don’t eat the flies!

We all benefit when we do things right.