There’s always a person on the other side of those pixels …

9 Jul 2010 by Randall Helms, No Comments »

Note: This is an expanded version of a comment that I left on Jason Falls’ post Six Steps for Dealing with Detractors on Social Media Explorer

Anyone who has ever read the comments section of a blog or a YouTube video will know that one of the defining features of online communications is the degree to which so many people feel so comfortable being intensely, vitriolically rude. There is something about the internet experience that allows people to slough off their inhibitions and speak to others in a way that they never would in real life. Sure, some people are incredibly rude in day to day life, but in general, this kind of behaviour is far worse online.

Why is this? I think that there are two main reasons why people are much ruder online than they are in real life. The first is simply the fact that it can be quite easy to forget that there is a person on the other side of those disembodied pixels, whilst the second reason is the fact that there are generally no consequences to being rude to someone online, making trolling an essentially risk-free endeavour. You can be as abusive as you like, with no possibility of blowback. Easy!

Of these two reasons, the first is the one that poses the most risk to businesses doing online customer services. Since the web is such a dissasociative experience, it can be quite easy to get the tone wrong when dealing with customers through social media, especially detractors (or even outright trolls). Anyone who has ever done any customer service work will know that there is a subsection of the population that is willfully difficult, prone to pointless complaints, and needlessly hostile. They still needed to be treated with politeness and respect, even if feigned, whilst they are gently ushered away; online, the temptation to treat customers differently depending on their behaviour must always be resisted.

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