Kicking Out Unwanted Customers

July 23rd, 2011 (10,688 views) by Pinny Cohen

Kicking Out CustomerJackie Huba, over at Church of the Customer, has started an interesting conversation about establishments kicking out customers. A movie theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse, posted a public service announcement that was actually a voicemail left by a customer who had been kicked out for texting during a movie.

The video contains a bit too much profanity for me to feel comfortable posting it here, but the video is shown publicly before previews in the theater chain.

The PSA was then picked up by CNN and held up as a shining example of this company being a “hero”, which undoubtedly created a lot of PR for the theater.

Jackie writes that,

standing up for your principles and your best customers, at the expense of bad ones, is a smart loyalty strategy.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a company standing up for its principles, and I do think it is a good idea for a company to protect the experience for its customers, but this particular case is a bit more disturbing to me.

While I totally get what the business is trying to do in this case from a marketing point of view, I can’t be in agreement with Alamo’s behavior.


They are essentially ignoring their customer’s right to privacy.  Just because a customer complains, does not give the company a moral right to embarrass the customer or share that information with others. A paying customer has a special bond with the company that takes his money.

Imagine, what if you were flying on a plane, felt nauseous, and threw up in the bathroom?

Sure, you technically broke a rule on the plane, but…do you really want the airline to add a video of that, or call you out during their safety procedure skit?

No, of course not – you would be mortified. A much more constructive resolution would be a flight attendant understanding your troubles, and trying to make you feel comfortable, and preventing you from being embarrassed at all costs.

Us vs. Them

Creating an “us vs. them” environment is great for branding because it makes your customers feel you are “authentic” and “the real deal”, but it often backfires over time and creates a tyranny of the majority.  People in the “us” group end up feeling so stressed about conformity (lest they be labeled one of the “them”), that it really creates a bad atmosphere with a lot of finger-pointing.

What if a customer we’ll call Joe, who just dislikes another customer we’ll call Jane, claims Jane texted when she didn’t in fact?  Will you throw her out? What evidence is necessary? It’s a slippery slope.

It’s a much better policy to treat ALL paying customers with courtesy, and if someone is ruining the experience for the remaining customers it is wise to go up to the customer and privately ask them to stop the offending behavior, so as not to embarrass them.

Most customers are not trying to cause a problem – they might just not be aware of your policy, or have an emergency reason for doing what they are doing.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but the overall purpose of an establishment is to serve the customer, and I can’t help but feel that this kind of behavior gets the establishment further from that goal.

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2 Responses to “Kicking Out Unwanted Customers”

  1. Jackie Huba Says:

    Hi Pinny,
    Thanks for continuing the conversation on this topic. In general, I agree with you that companies need to mind their customers’ privacy and treat them with respect. The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain states their no texting/talking policy clearly before each movie. If someone does talk/text, they are warned privately once. On the second occasion of the infraction, they are asked to leave with no refund.

    On the Us vs Them, I’m not sure I understand your argument. In Alamo’s case, they are standing up for the majority of customers who want to go to the movies and not be distracted by rude talking/texting. Because they actually have a rule and enforce it, it causes them to stand out from their competitors. Not only that, their customers are thrilled that someone is standing up for a great customer experience. They engender much loyalty amongst their customers who often claim that they will go no where else to watch a movie. Check out the comments on the theater’s blog post about the video:

    If you happen to be a rude (and perhaps drunk) patron who doesn’t like the rules, then you should not be surprised when you are kicked out of the theater. She was not identified in the video and her privacy is maintained.

    BTW, you can find a censored version of the video here:

  2. mplo Says:

    I have to disagree with the notion that a person who’s inconsiderate enough to text/use her cellphone in the movie theatre may have had an excuse or an emergency. She should’ve gone out into the lobby of the theatre to do so. Anybody in high school and above should not have to be told to be considerate of others in a public place. The offending patron at Alamo Draft House deserved to be kicked out, because she’d been warned, and persisted on violating the theatre’s rules despite that.

    As for being nauseous and throwing up in the bathroom of an airplane being of any relevance to texting in a movie theatre, I call BS on that. One has nothing whatsoever to do with the other. Thanks.

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