How Companies Should (NOT) Respond to Potential Customers III.

2013.02.04 How Companies Should (Not) Respond to Potential Customers III

The more I learn about the Applebee’s receipt fiasco, the more I’m reminded of a scene in Eyes Wide Shut when Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice (Nicole Kidman) talk about the difference between men’s and women’s sexual desire to which Alice tells Bill, “If you men only knew…”

I thought I knew the details about the Applebee’s story about a pastor who left a rude note on a receipt, how another server snapped a photo and posted it online, how the pastor found out and asked for the server to be fired. You know. A simple story. But the Internet keeps finding new ways to tell me, “If you only knew…”

Look at this article by R.L. Stollar entitled, “Applebee’s Overnight Social Media Meltdown: A Photo Essay.” It’s worth your time. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Click those pictures for larger, more readable versions.

Are you back? Perhaps you feel a little bit like Sam in Quantum Leap right now:

2013.02.04 How Companies Should (Not) Respond to Potential Customers III 02

“Oh, boy.”

In case you didn’t read the above link to R.L. Stollar’s excellent reporting (in Internet speak, that’s known as tl;dr or “too long, didn’t read”), here’s the scoop: Applebee’s social media PR people have not handled the backlash firing a server out of all of this very well. They’re posting responses which I can only describe as “defensive,” deleting the more nasty comments people are making, and a photo that ironically broke this rule of customer confidentiality has mysteriously vanished.

Last month, I was so excited by the way Minute Maid treated both me and others who asked for Ecto Cooler to be offered again. I also couldn’t help but smile at how the White House responded to a petition to build a Death Star with taxpayer dollars. Compared to these two examples, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Applebee’s could handle this one better.

I could go down the rabbit hole on this one and in many directions (the pastor’s series of choices, the server’s choice to post the receipt with the name on it, etc.) so I’ll briefly touch on one question:

How do we live together in a world in which everyone has a pulpit?

These days, most anyone can post a picture on behalf of a revolution, offer a blog post about their passion, make a podcast to offer a new perspective, or make comments on any of the thousands of media outlets available. One can even send a tweet directly to their favorite celebrity and hear back from them. It’s not just the big three networks anymore (not that it ever was). Nor is it the land of propaganda or even Big Brother. Pretty much anyone can say pretty much whatever they want. How they choose to say it, well, that’s the trick. Applebee’s is coming off as way too defensive. They’re doing what I’ve come to learn is called “jading.”1 People with valid anger and hurt about what happened in this episode run the gamut from reminding Applebee’s they need to rethink their actions to posting some nasty stuff. And that pastor? The more she talks about this episode, the more Sam says, “Oh, boy.”

What does it take to choose kindness? To choose civility? To choose compassion?

Emotions are valid.
Expressing them in unhealthy ways is not.

Corporate policy is a legitimate way of doing business.
Losing sight of dignity in the midst of that policy is not.

Feeling frustrated about the prices one pays, monetarily, is sometimes reasonable.
Dismissing someone in the name of God is not.

There is a serious lack of compassion going on here from all sorts of directions. What will it take for the players involved to ask everyone to please take a deep breath and relax a little bit so we can talk about this civilly, calmly, compassionately? What will it take for everyone to please listen? The answers are tougher than they used to be now that everyone has a pulpit. But maybe if enough pulpits call for civility, there can be a sea change. Maybe if the people who want to be heard are also the people who want to listen, there can be a sea change. Maybe if everyone who had a pulpit used it responsibly, kindly, there can be a sea change.

Because a pulpit is nothing without an audience.

-nm

P.S. If anyone has any better knowledge than I do about the ethics of media outlets re-posting the receipt in question and reporting the person’s name before she approached the media, I’m all ears.

1. JADE – Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain.

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