Why Do People Take Pleasure in Customer Service Horror Stories?

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It seems like every few weeks some new customer service horror story virally makes the rounds on the Internet. In the last few weeks, we have been treated to the horrendous Comcast customer retention call (and the follow up Comcast viral refund call), as well as to the story about the Union Street Guest House hotel that was supposedly charging its event guests $500 per every negative Yelp review left by a member of the event party.

As these items spread like wildfire through the synapses of the Internet, I couldn’t help but think that there seems to be a deep-seated pleasure in sharing these stories. The amount of commenting and sharing these stories receive, the basic underlying actions that create their virality, are testament to the enjoyment people get from it.

People share things because it makes them feel good, and people seem to find joy in exposing terrible customer service.* It led me to wonder, what in particular is driving it?

  • Is it morally driven? Do feel like they are helping to right a wrong in the world, like when they share a story of a tragedy or an article on the state of the world?
  • Is it revenge? Perhaps this could be a motive, if the company is one that the person has dealt with personally.
  • Is it schadenfreude? Perhaps in the case of a giant corporation like Comcast people will delight in seeing the mighty taken down a notch, but how many people really get pleasure out of taking down a small business like the Union Street Guest House?
  • Is it mob mentality? Are they simply following the herd?
  • Is it an antidote to powerlessness? I certainly believe that part of the reaction is steeped in the feelings of powerlessness that consumers have nowadays. Being Powerless is one of our Seven Service Triggers here at CTS Service Solutions, and it is a very real feeling among consumers.

Of course, the reason so many people share customer service horror stories probably incorporates all of the explanations above, and more. Also, inherent in all viral Internet phenomena are publishers who try to ride the wave of trending stories by publishing their own takes on the story and who only intensify the virality of the story in doing so. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, if the publication adds value to the discussion, but it is certainly a dynamic at play in almost all viral stories.

But what causes the viral spark to begin with? What makes everyday consumers want to share these customer service horror shows? In my wholly unscientific opinion, I think perhaps the most important dynamic driving people’s seeming pleasure at sharing is a cry for belonging and empathy. Read More

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