There’s an old saw about employees quitting bad bosses more than they do bad jobs or bad companies. The grinding difficulty of a bad supervisory relationship can cause more damage than a distasteful job itself (let’s face it, lots of people have plucked chickens all day for over 20 years) or a company that’s falling down all around you and/or behaving badly (think Enron).

But is there a parallel truism about customers leaving a place of service because of bad management practice? Could customer loyalty be more about the person who actually provides the service than it is about the nature of the service or the pros or cons of the service establishment itself? Here’s the situation that got me wondering:

I’ve gone to the same tiny nail salon for a number of years. My visits are somewhat erratic, depending on my work and travel schedule, but no matter how many weeks apart, I always go on a Monday morning to be able to see the same person. There’s a sort of comfort in knowing how things will go.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if I should change to a more modern place, a larger place, maybe even a more sanitary place, but it’s been easier to stick with the one I know. The work is good enough, the owner has been pleasant, and it’s only three blocks from my office. Convenience is a powerful benefit. And the concern about not hurting anyone’s livelihood is a powerful deterrent.

Hard as Nails

But when I went in last Monday, “my person” wasn’t there anymore. The owner took care of me herself, and from what she told me, her relationship with “my person” had been deteriorating. My take is that each woman felt she was doing more than her share of keeping it up.

Unfortunately, at some point, the employee had complained about the employer to a customer. Not only is this a huge no-no, but customers will almost always tell. A customer with any business sense knows that a cardinal rule has been violated if she hears bad things from an employee about the owner of an establishment that she frequents. The result is often a divided loyalty: part to the employee and part to the employer and the place itself.

It’s understandable that the owner fired the employee once she got wind of this transgression. It’s also understandable that she would want to keep me happy, as a loyal customer who buys higher-priced services and tips well.

What would have made sense? The owner could have reassured me that she would take good care of me personally. She could have offered me a special extra as enticement to remain a customer. Or she could have thanked me for my years of patronage and asked if I had any feedback for her so she could continue to improve her business.

Last Nail in the Coffin

Instead, while she gave me a perfectly credible pedicure, she complained about the employee that I had sat across from and chatted with for a number of years. She assumed that I agreed that she had been treating that employee more than fairly.

I don’t have any way of knowing the truth about their relationship. But as things have settled out, my partial loyalty to the owner was not enough. I have to get used to a new person anyway, so it looks like it’s time for me to change to a more modern, more obviously cleaned nail salon after all; luckily, there are several options within walking distance of my office.

I feel sorry for the employee, who was very nice, even if she wasn’t loyal enough herself, and sorry for the owner, who probably came on too strong with the employee as she did with me. But mostly, as the customer, I want the best possible service for what I’m willing to pay. And that includes seeing someone I feel comfortable with, not hearing that person bad-mouthed by her employer.

Cold-hearted? Maybe a little. But not unreasonable.

What do you think?