THE BLOG

What I Learned This Week: Some People Just Want to Complain

06/23/2013 11:27 EDT | Updated 08/23/2013 05:12 EDT

I've spent way too much time trying to think of the best analogy, so let me just say that social media had done to traditional business what a Honyaki knife does to a halibut -- slit it right down the middle and expose the unsightly underbelly of its inner workings.

By now, this is old news, and just what you need is yet another blog post telling you about the power of the consumer, how one small tweet can topple a giant organization, and how the world of commerce is now a multi-voiced conversation.

That is not the intent of this week's learning.

What is, is the result of a conversation I had -- make that TRIED to have -- with one of my customers at Just For Laughs.

To start, last week I received a panicked forwarded email from someone in our TV department (why it got to them, I don't know). Said lengthy and, to be frank, almost rude email was from a customer stating that one couldn't search artists on our hahaha.com website, nor was there a calendar on it where one can search by date.

(A quick slightly cynical aside--there is probably nothing more controversial, polarizing or stressful one can do in a corporate environment than change a company's website. As much as everyone seemed to hate and complain about the old one, it will be looked upon with fond nostalgic memories once you launch the new one, which will only find its raving fans once it is replaced. But I digress...)

About six minutes after receiving the aforementioned email, someone from our TV department stood outside my office door, looking as if she had met the Grim Reaper on the elevator up.

Almost trembling, she asked: "What...what are you going to do?"

"Curl up and die," I laughed, before explaining I would simply answer the email, tell the person what she is saying is mistaken, and offer to show her how to search by artist ("Search For A Show or Performer" box atop page) and by calendar (icon and "Search Shows by Date" wording next to it).

And so I did, even going a step further by providing my personal phone number and offering to walk the customer personally through this--and through any other part of the site she wanted -- to improve her experience and prevent any further misconceptions.

The response?

Nothing. No return email. No tweets, Facebook posts or smoke signals. Not a peep.

So I reached out again, with an even politer follow-up email, and did so for two reasons:

  1. Perhaps by some haphazard, my first email didn't get through
  2. Sliced open by the Honyaki knife, I wanted to bring some closure to the incident

Still no response.

I wanted to believe that perhaps my initial answer was enough, and albeit the radio silence, case closed. But somehow, I don't think that's the case.

Here's what I believe is:

Some people (albeit a small minority) just want to complain.

They don't want the answer, they don't want things fixed, they don't want an end result. The catharsis and power of complaint is end result enough for them.

Buy righting their wrong, by solving their problem, you will actually defeat their purpose, not illuminate them.

Perhaps this viewpoint is harsh, but with close to four decades of workplace experience -- everything from being a paperboy, a journalist and a TV producer, to running a comedy festival and a tech company -- I've encountered my unfair share of these people, the "Anti-social Media" types, let's call them.

You can't win with them. And the more you try, the worse they will make you feel.

So this week's lesson?

It is imperative to embrace social media and "join the conversation."

But it's equally as imperative to recognize when the conversation is actually a monologue...and tune it out.

Trust me, your business, your team members, and your REAL customers will thank you for it.