The problem with crisis communications is that when people feel wronged, we yearn for sympathy. It is our human nature to wish both for someone to assure us that we are justified in that negative emotion and reassure us that someone will take the blame for whatever misdeed occurred.
When businesses or their employees wrong us, we have a greater emotional reaction because somewhere along the line, the adage of the customer always being right became a brand mantra for many, sadomasochistic as it might be. Unfortunately, the customer is not always right. Because we’ve been led to believe this, they certainly don’t often react appropriately when they are upset, either.
Dial back 20 years and the only recourse an abused customer had was to write a letter to the company, or – god forbid – a letter to the editor. They might also tell a few friends how badly their toast was burned or how rude the teller was. But we don’t live in the 1990s anymore. Social media is here. And the problem is much worse.
With the democratization of publishing and media, now you can skip writing a letter to the company and post something vicious on its Facebook wall. You can blog, vlog, vine and Instagram your angst and get instant sympathy or empathy from dozens, if not hundreds of people.
And that reassurance becomes a drug. Now, it’s not, “They burned my toast,” but rather, “This is the WORST f*cking restaurant I have ever had the misfortune of trying to eat in. That cook and his goddamn burnt toast can kiss my mother f*cking *ss. I’ll be damned if I ever set foot within 100 yards of this s#ithole ever again.”
Consumers have become addicted to their own misery. And their misery has become an unrealistic caricature of reality.
This is why crisis communications is different today than it was just a decade ago. It’s not that there are more people to hear the complaints. It’s that the complaints have become delusional.
Look at your Facebook or Twitter feed to find someone complaining about something. Chances are you won’t have to look long – which is also indicative of the problem. When you find it, the post is likely to contain words like “worst” and “never.”
Nothing says you’re pissed off like misplaced superlatives.
Then look at what they’re actually complaining about. Sure, we’re a generation that created the #firstworldproblems hashtag, but really take a long, hard look. Chiobani — a natural food product that requires refrigeration and careful handling to be fit to eat — recalled some yogurt? The clerk was texting, delaying your check out a whole 15 seconds? Your flight was delayed because of a “mechanical problem?”
Would you please just get on an ill-equipped aircraft so we don’t have to listen to you whine anymore?
We recently covered that social media has brought on a range of unintended consequences that indicate the Idiocracy may be upon us. This is another one.
The only relief we have is knowing that the bitching is happening online and not, for the most part, in person. If it were, the solution would be to move a lot faster on gun control.
As for the solution to this? Unless or until we as a people – not as marketers – start calling out our own for overreacting, lessen our knee-jerk responses to our own instances of being shat upon and to offering quick sympathy for that happening to others, there is no answer.
Human nature is a bitch. And social media has given her a hang nail.