Public Relations

We’re all human: Why customers need to be more forgiving

Michel Hogan /

Every week brings new stories of businesses and unhappy customers. And so this is for all the customers out there. In other words, all of us, because we’re all customers of something. And every day sees yet another story of someone wronged.

People are up in arms, wrath and recrimination spilling across news, social media and into our conversations. So how did we get here? After all, it is only a small minority of people and organisations who do the wrong thing and treat us terribly.

I believe the majority of the people who run and work for organisations have good intentions. They get up every day and plow through the unheroic work and everyday barrage of promises that come with the territory of what they do.

They’re not perfect, far from it. And they will make mistakes. Just like us.

When did we forget that people run organisations and those people are just like us and make mistakes?

In equal parts, I blame social media and the whole ‘you have to delight your customers every time’ meme that permeates experience discussions.

The first has given us an unfiltered platform to air any gripe we have. And the second has created a climate of entitlement that feeds the first in a toxic loop that can make it almost impossible to do business without incurring someone’s ire.

Now, before everyone starts screaming that social media has provided a needed platform to shine a light on the action of business behaving badly, I agree.

But there is a world of difference between a deliberate effort to defraud customers and systematically deny them their due and having an online order go missing.

Unfortunately, nuance is not part of the equation. And we, full of that sense of entitlement I mentioned, certainly don’t discriminate. Yes, customers are entitled to expect what is promised (whatever ‘what’ is). But if it doesn’t happen and we get an ‘I’m sorry, let me make it up to you’, we should show a bit of grace and accept it. We’re certainly not entitled to expect more than we were promised, and if we do and we don’t get it, then it’s on us not them.

Which brings my final point. As customers, we are part of the trade, and it’s past time we stepped up and accepted responsibility for our role. We accept terms and conditions (usually without reading them). We ignore how busy someone is. We think just because we have the money we’re more important, forgetting the effort and investment in getting whatever we’re buying into our hands.

A trade needs both sides to take equal responsibility and care, yet things feel seriously out of balance. For commerce to work there has to be trust that we’re each acting from a place of shared interest and once that breaks down the whole system gets wobbly.

I know I’ll be examining my role and responses as a customer more carefully. I acknowledge at times I’ve hurled flames of indignation and I can’t promise I won’t again.

Because I also believe organisations have a responsibility for the promises they make, to keep them and achieve a brand result people want to stick with. And when they break them or make lying promises, I’ll be first in line to point it out.

So next time you’re about to jump online and write a bad review or tweet about a perceived failure you feel is worth your wrath, please stop. Before you hit send, take a minute to wonder — just maybe whatever happened wasn’t about you at all. Maybe somewhere, someone just like you made a mistake.

See you next week.

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Michel Hogan

Michel is an independent brand counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter at @michelhogan.

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