The bullying consumer: Is there a little bit of Britt McHenry in most of us?

ESPN sideline reporter Britt McHenry is paying a price for contemptuously berating an attendant at a towing company, an act that was caught on the company’s security camera and has now gone viral:

If you haven’t clicked to the one-minute video, here are some of the “highlights” of McHenry’s verbal beatdown of the attendant, as reported by Clinton Yates for the Washington Post:

  • “That’s why I have a degree and you don’t.”
  • “That’s all you care about is just taking people’s money. With no education, no skill-set. Just wanted to clarify that.”
  • “Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing?”
  • “Maybe if I was missing some teeth, they would hire me here, huh?”
  • “Lose some weight, baby girl.”

McHenry has apologized for her actions, and ESPN has suspended her for a week. It’s hard to say whether the story will last beyond a news cycle or two, but for today it’s making the rounds.

A lesson for all of us?

Yup, Britt McHenry appears to be the classic Mean Girl: Beautiful until she starts talking off-camera, the quintessential hot horror show.

But before we make her out to be the blonde Charles Manson, let’s dig a little deeper into the story. As the Post‘s Clinton Yates further reports, the towing company in question, Advanced Towing, has a less than wonderful reputation for numerous incidents of allegedly inappropriate towing. And generally speaking, it’s unlikely that any of us would be in the best of moods after chasing down a towed car and having to pay to get it back.

Nevertheless, there’s a big difference between being an unhappy or even angry consumer and verbally abusing a receptionist, attendant, or customer service rep for policies and practices that likely trace up to senior management. A few of McHenry’s comments might be excused as venting over a frustrating experience, but the remarks about the attendant’s education, appearance, and employment were plain mean and nasty.

In the couple of news stories I’ve read about this incident that also have included information about the towing company’s reputation, I’ve found the reader comments remarkably evenhanded. Many seem to understand that even when dealing with a not-so-great company or organization, there’s a difference between showing displeasure over the service and savagely personalizing the criticism toward the lower-level employee who is just following instructions.

For me, it’s an important reminder for the next time I have to call my cable TV company: Don’t be a jerk. While I’ve never treated any employee the way Britt McHenry treated that attendant, I’ve lost my temper a couple of times over the years trying to deal with the cable company, to the point where I’ve apologized to the customer service rep for being so agitated.

Now when I pick up the phone to call the company, I coach myself ahead of time to not take out any frustrations on the person at the other end. I tell myself, they’re not the ones who created such lousy customer service. Even the folks who are reading off of a script are doing so because they were trained that way.

Plus, if you’ve ever worked in the retail service industry, then you may know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an angry customer’s tirade. Especially if that behavior crosses the line, it’s no fun, and it can feel very diminishing.

Workplace bullies can wear many hats, including that of consumer. Let’s try not to be one of those.

2 responses

  1. I could not agree with you more! I have had to deal with some super nasty people who have taken apart many individuals and spit them out. I worked for many years in an emergency room and there were some charge nurses and nurses who boasted about what they felt was a victory. One charge nurse nicknamed herself Nurse Ratchet with pride. She is still there and the nurses who left because of the toxic work environment were dedicated and yes they were the best at caring for their patients! If it hadn’t been for them I most likely would never have become active politically. This is the beginning another new session of legislature and once again my Senator has re-introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill in Vermont which is about bullying. These are the years that this bill has been tacked to a wall not because it is a bad bill but because a hand full of Senators and Representatives do not like it. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and now 2015. The bill # is S.143, and again Senator Mullin is refusing to call me back on this bill after I have left several messages. Vermont is a great State of live in and to raise a family in, I have spoken with individuals in all fourteen counties from every walk of life. Yes the majority of the people who have been impacted by bulling has been my administration and human resource which included peers supported by management. I believe some not all bosses or CEOs are bullies, are into stripping ones self-esteem and confidence. But individuals like this reporter I believe has bigger issues of anger than her vehicle being towed.

    • I believe that their are circumstances that we have experienced previously that can trigger rage that can lead to verbal berating of a stranger. The perfect scenario would be she will apologize in person to this individual. Hopefully this reporter will be able to keep her temper from hurting others..

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