“I couldn’t even get the bitch to give me a refill!”
"The manager comped our bill, but we need more than that."
"Could use more ice in my drink right goddamn now!"
"Seated next to a screaming kid. Your mgmt did NOTHING!"
"Really upset with your server's sarcasm when we didn't leave a tip."
"No one sang me happy birthday!!! SO F'N PISSED!"
"Waitress is shit with an attitude. WTF is her problem?"
These were just some of the tweets I fielded this morning.
For the past three months, I’ve been acting as a freelance community manager for a national restaurant chain. This means I respond to tweets and Facebook posts from happy customers giving this restaurant an enthusiastic shout-out for great drinks or a public thumbs up for a fun night out. These responses take about five percent of my time.
The other 95 percent of my time is spent fielding complaints to the customer service team: cold food, bad food, missing food, poor service, long waits, sullen servers, snarky hostesses, indifferent managers, bugs, hair, insults, loud kids, loud music, sticky tables, weak drinks, public cocaine use, sexual advances, stink eyes, TV stations, expiration stickers, tasteless t-shirts, water spills, collapsed takeout boxes, burnt leftovers, burnt tongues, crude jokes, chihuahuas on the bar, you name it.
My sentiment after three months?
I've never been so disappointed in humanity.
It’s no secret that social media has made increasing demands on businesses to be prompt and accommodating in their online customer service. In fact, 42 percent of consumers expect a response to their online complaint within 60 minutes. That puts a business in hot water, right? The water gets even hotter: 24 percent expect a response within 30 minutes.
Either response time is a tall order for many businesses, especially those that keep normal office hours. But I’m not just talking about the sky-high expectations of online availability, here. I’m talking about the devolving nature of online complaining.
Because of social media, consumers are now granted the anonymous, consequence-free use of a digital megaphone. And it’s a megaphone that’s used liberally and loudly: the ubiquity of online real-time oversharing (I am at work! I am tired! I am eating a sandwich!) has led to real-time over-complaining (where is my food? where is my server? where is my refill?). No matter how boorish, petty, or indulgent the remarks, each tweet, comment, and post is spilled into the ether, leaving the recipient to begin the clean-up process. I'm just gonna say it:
Free speech is becoming a nuisance.
Paired with this digital megaphone is our increasing demand for perfection. The online representation of brands, experiences, and life in general is more polished and curated than ever before. Inconvenience has become a reason for outrage, reality is seen as disappointing, and our shrinking attention span is directly affecting our capacity for empathy and patience. The results? Little tolerance for human error, rapidly waning humility, and a bloated, deformed sense of personal entitlement.
And the problem doesn’t end with the consumer. Terrified of bad press, public shaming, or a social media shit storm, companies are quick to pacify the complaining consumer with bend-over-backward concessions, usually in the form of a gift card or vouchers for free food. Those companies that follow the outdated notion of “the customer’s always right” will only continue to perpetuate this trend.
Even more disappointing is an unfortunate offshoot of the gift card free-for-all: gift card fishing. Bogus complainers craft exaggerated or fake complaints and score free food as a result. A small percentage of anti-trolls — Entitlement Is Still a Disease is one of my favorites — attempts to expose and shame these micro-thieves by calling them out publicly and sarcastically. Does it work? Not much of the time, but it still merits a go-get-'em chuckle, nonetheless.
The sour, spoiled toxicity of entitlement that's poured across Facebook pages and Twitter feeds gives humanity a bad name, and our magnified sense of self-importance is rising to dangerous levels. But let me pause here to note that the irony isn’t lost on me: I realize I’m bitching about bitching. So instead of griping publicly and leaving these words to rot in the archives, I urge you help stop this runaway train by taking positive action. Next time you’re in a restaurant, at the grocery store, at the pharmacy, in traffic, anywhere in public:
Be kind. Be helpful. Be human.
Look up. Smile. Acknowledge. Say thank you. Recognize that we’re all just doing our fucking best to make it, each and every day. And if you have a real, legit, bone-picking problem, try to work it out in real time, face to face. Positive, tolerant, human-to-human interaction is becoming increasingly rare as we stoop to look at our phones, avoid conversation, or google something instead of asking. And these moments of interaction may surprise you; when we're not hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, some of us can be pleasantly...human.