Why Are We So Scared of Our Customers?

Photo by CaptureQueen via FlickrMany companies and even agencies are reluctant to engage in social media because they are afraid that some sort of consumer backlash will occur, doing damage to the brand.

Certainly, there are a few noteworthy examples of social media missteps from brands like Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola et al. But in most cases, those shortcomings were due to overreaching “let’s make something like Facebook, but all about Coke” and no lasting brand damage has occurred.

What I see is that most companies know they have some sort of operational or customer satisfaction skeletons in the closet, and fear a customer that has had a genuinely inadequate experience pointing out those shortcomings to an audience that is far larger than one.

But isn’t it possible that those same customers will shine the light on truly excellent facets of the company? Now that they have their social media program rolling, does Comcast fear feedback from it’s customers? No, because that feedback is an opportunity to improve.

Don’t Assume The Worst, Here’s Why

In the spirit of not assuming the worst case scenario, I’m sharing the story below which is both seasonal and a shining example of how fear can seem so reasonable, but be so wrong. I hope you enjoy it.

My wife woke me late at night in mid-October. “Did you hear that noise?” “What noise?” I answered groggily. But then I heard it too. Perhaps best described as a mild ruckus, it sounded like muffled conversation mixed with opening and closing of cabinets.

I listened attentively, now very much awake and with the building sense of unease and dread that makes our fingertips tingle. I scanned the room for a weapon. Seeing none other than a clock radio, I quietly opened our bedroom door and crept out onto the second floor landing. The noises were definitely coming from below, on the first floor living area.

Not really sure what to do next, I shouted out “Hey, who is that? What’s going on?” in a tone that attempted to be menacing but came out warbly and meek. The noise stopped. Uh oh.

I darted back inside the bedroom, and grabbed the phone. “I’m calling 911,” I said to my wife. “We’re being robbed.” A flash of panic across her face as she ran quietly down the hall to the kids’ bedrooms, scooping them up and returning to our room, trying to keep them quiet and unpanicked.

I explained to the 911 operator that we had a home intruder. She said that the police were on the way, and asked if I could see the street. From the landing, I could see out of a high second floor window and watched as the police vehicles approached. My heart was beating so hard it felt like my sternum was breaking, but I’d never been happier to live in the house on the corner – right by the main road.

I lost sight of the police when they turned into our development, and the phone was unsettlingly quiet for a long time when the operator said “please stay on the line and I’ll relay instructions to you from the officers outside.”

A minute went by. Then five. What was going on? Was there a driveway altercation? A foot chase? My mind was filled with Tasered bad guys lying sobbing and unremorseful in my plants.

Then finally, the operator spoke. “Sir, the officers are unable to come to the front door.” “Oh my God. Why not?” I said, reaching a crescendo of paranoia. “Your house is surrounded by a pack of javelinas,” she said.

(Note: Javelinas are wild pigs with tusks that live in the desert southwest. Also known as peccaries, they run in packs and can be quite unpleasant. However, they are not typically thieves)

Five or six moments of confusion later, the whole family was gathered at the front door, looking outside as the police engaged in a vehicular roundup of approximately 15 javelinas who had ventured down from the mountains near our house to absolutely annihilate our pumpkins that we had preciously placed near the front door. It looked like grenades had been detonated inside the pumpkins, as our entire yard was covered with fleshy, orange debris.

Evidently, it had been quite a party for the javelinas, who had snorted and moaned and bumped against our front doors, sounding like a band of smash and grab burglars looting and pillaging.

After hanging up with the operator and resuming a mostly normal pulse, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and the police officer said “We’re happy to look around inside, but we’re pretty sure it was those pigs.”

Smart ass.

That night actually began a reign of javelina terror, as they visited our neighborhood many times in the next few weeks. A dead one was found by the neighbors. Plants were eaten. Roses destroyed. Meetings conducted. Eventually, they moved on. Many local residents were visited by the javelinas, although I was the only one that called the cops.

Do you have a story of expecting the worst? Please share it in the comments

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