(Written in September of 2017)
Starbucks credited my online account with $10.00. Not randomly, mind you, but because I’d written an online review of my disappointing breakfast. I drink cold brew and eat petite vanilla scones as often as I can. I used to laugh and mock Bucks patrons; but the tables have turned and I’m a Bucks fan! Most of the time. This morning, my scones came sans their signature sweet vanilla bean icing. It made me sad. And for some reason there was a big ole smear of something chocolatey. I was disappointed, that’s not a lie. But was a complaint necessary?
I ate the scones, chocolate schmear and all. No love lost. But I felt compelled to complain, to tell them what they’d done wrong and why I was upset (upset? not really). I quickly received the auto “we will respond with real words from a live person as soon as we filter through the 1,479 other complaints that came through at the exact same cyber moment”. And shortly thereafter, I received the real words from the breathing person saying “blah blah here’s your money back”. They always add “I credited you, even though I know this wasn’t your reason for writing”.
You know as well as I do that complaints/advice/feedback are rampant. “Feedback” rules the internet. You can go anywhere and rate anything. Thumbs up, likes, ❤s, ⭐️s, 7,392 different individual emojis to choose from… the works. From over sharing your opinion about a scone to promoting your business or boasting about your kid’s accomplishments. We’ve been made to think our opinion matters. And that it matters a lot.
Why do we complain so much? Why couldn’t I have just chalked it up to humanness, human error, man-made pastries, a harried barista, a lazy pastry chef..? or any other of the list of reasons that a scone would be missing its frosting (they’re delicate). Yeah yeah, I know “constructive criticism” and “if I don’t tell them then how will they know”. But still I ask: what is the motivation behind our obsessive need to rank, rate, and comment on something/someone/some product? What really happens other than the soothing reverberating sounds of our own narcissism? Did the Bucks corporate complaint-taker really forward my words to the “store manager”? Would the lack of frosting be brought up in a meeting with the supplier? Or the barista? Or with anyone other than me and the girl who responded to me?
I ordered an adapter for my iPhone 7+ that allows me to listen while also charging the phone because as I am sure you are aware the latest iPhone skipped the standard been-on-every-phone-since-they-stopped-flipping-open-phone 3mm headphone jack in hopes to create a better water resistance model and promote their AirPods (for a solid $159). Why did I know that months before I got the phone? Because someone complained. They didn’t point it out or make it known, they COMPLAINED. They whined. They threw a tantrum and blared it out to the cyber-world (which is infinitely more expansive, complicated, and messier than the real world). Either way, I chose to get the phone anyway, and once I got it I remembered everything I’d read about the missing 3mm jack. It didn’t bother me until I tried to listen and charge. Then I was furious.
After a brief perusal of Amazon, I found an adapter I thought would be worthy. One of the factors required for me to purchase any online item is the QUANTITY of reviews, and the overall rating. But why? Why do I care if people review it? Because I want to know ahead of time if there are any problems. Sadly, I didn’t read anything about size of the plug and phone covers. The adapter I purchased does exactly what I need it to do: it allows me to listen and charge simultaneously. Except. Except I cannot use the adapter without taking my protective cover off. I KNOW, RIGHT!?! Why would I want to leave my brand new phone exposed? Because I want to charge the phone while listening. Why didn’t I just return it once I realized this issue? Because does anyone really return as much as they purchase?
There was a time when we as the consumer purchased things and if they didn’t fit, didn’t work as expected, or were faulty for any other reason, they were returned. Sometimes with the receipt, sometimes without (for the dreaded store credit). But now, who wants to return anything? I don’t even want to return toner cartridges that have a return postage sticker in the packaging. Why? I’m happy to sit down and write 150 words about a scone, or 75 about a phone charger adapter, but playing product Tetris and trying to shove items back into their original packaging and all that comes with is just a hassle. Why are we so happy to buy so much, but so lackadaisical about returning something that doesn’t meet our expectations? Shouldn’t the efforts of both be equal?
I believe that we don’t care to return it, because whether we wanted it or needed it wasn’t the reason we bought it. We bought it, ordered it, requested it, asked for it… we acquired it because we are consumers. Our chief concern is to simply obtain and horde. I think that’s how the idea of a “gift room” came about. Someone somewhere just bought too much and in hindsight said “oh, hey, I could give that away”. But honestly, it’s just an excuse to buy more things that are not needed or don’t fit, or aren’t the right color so we can “gift” them.
Excellent insights! Good questions, too. I respond to most post-purchase surveys because I truly feel my voice is being heard. And that doesn’t happen much today.
As always, BSB, I love your words!