“The Customer is Always Right” goes the age-old retail mantra, usually muttered through gritted teeth. It’s a farce, of course. Plenty of customers are wrong. Case in point is this voicemail received by my department at Grand Rapids Community College:
“Hi _____, your number was listed on ______ that I received in the mail and I find it quite offensive in that, in uh, we don’t even print our magazines in English anymore. If the Mexicans, would like…I meant – I know there’s a lot of Mexican people here but if they don’t want to speak English then they should go back to their country. The Germans, the Italians – when they came over they spoke English – we didn’t write things in German and Italian for them and turn our whole country into that. Um, I find it very offensive and, uh, it’s gonna be one of the downfalls of the United States because we’re gonna be one big Mexico! Thank you.”
The best part is, this publication was printed in Spanish on one side and in English on the other – so this woman must not have thought to flip it over. GRCC would not do well to cater to this customer’s whims; in addition to the fact that what she’s saying is demonstrably false, GRCC is one of the primary providers of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in West Michigan – so if we stop out outreach efforts to the Spanish-speaking community, fewer people end up speaking English.
That said, this interaction didn’t have to happen – it’s a consequence of the traditional media. In order to do direct mail campaigns economically, the unfortunate reality is that some messages reach audiences they aren’t intended for (and who didn’t solicit them). In this situation, it wasn’t merely ineffective – it also produced a contentious response.
With social media, one opts in so the dynamics are different. It’s much easier to send this individual a message that won’t make them angry. Everyone sees a billboard, whereas you determine precisely who sees a Facebook ad. That’s the paradox of the web; it’s easy to ensconce oneself in the information one wants to see – however that makes it a challenge to broaden one’s horizons with contrasting views.