Credit: peasap (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: peasap (CC BY 2.0)

I was watching TV recently when I saw a commercial from Nationwide. The commercial, embedded below, revolves around a handful of little kids who are on the receiving end of some unsatisfactory customer service.

There is a boy on the phone, and he’s told by an automated greeting that his call is important, but his wait time is 55 minutes. This is followed by a girl attempting to get the attention of a server at a restaurant – the server walks right by her. You get the idea.

In the final example, a girl is frustrated and looking at her damaged car. Then a Nationwide representative appears and tells her that they’ll take care of the problem. Instantly, she turns into an adult woman. In other words, Nationwide is treating her as an adult, not a child.

This is just a cute commercial, and Nationwide isn’t saying that kids should be treated like garbage. They might be implying that kids aren’t treated as a priority, but I wouldn’t take it too seriously. However, it did remind me that, as a kid, I was keenly aware when an adult decided I wasn’t worth the time of day. I can remember two distinct examples of this.

Newbury Comics

When I was around 10 (I’m guessing, but it was around there), I called a Newbury Comics store in Nashua, New Hampshire, where I lived. I was asking about a particular CD; if they had it, what the price was, etc. I’m not sure if I was calling for me or on behalf of my parents.

But when the man answered the phone, I could tell that he didn’t want to talk to me. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he was rude and didn’t answer my questions. Now, he could have just been a terrible employee and rude to everyone. But I remembered how he treated me. I haven’t spent a penny inside of a Newbury Comics store since. I have placed a few orders online, when they had an exclusive I wanted, but it wasn’t until 12-14 years after that occurred.

Perhaps more importantly, after I told the story to my Dad, I don’t know if my parents ever made another purchase at Newbury Comics. After all, plenty of stores have CDs. Why go to Newbury Comics?

This might sound silly, like some form of grudge holding. “So what, one bottom of the ladder retail employee was rude to you once. Maybe he was having a bad day!” And that’s fine. I mean, it’s not like I went on a warpath and rooted against Newbury Comics. I just took my money elsewhere, and they appear to have done fine without it.

But again, plenty of stores had CDs. So if I could choose between going to Newbury Comics, or going to a store where an employee hadn’t been rude to me, of course I would opt for the other one. That’s pretty common and it’s why your front line employees are so powerful.

Who’s the Influencer?

The other story relates to the industry my Dad works in. Every year, there is a huge trade show for his industry. The vast majority of the vendors there (of which there were around 1,000 in the most recent year) make the trip so that people like my Dad will sell their products at their places of business.

I have been going to this trade show since before I could walk, when my Mom pushed me in a stroller. I have been there more years than I haven’t been. As a kid, it was fun to walk around the halls, look at stuff and collect freebies. But over the years, I could always tell when a booth attendant felt I was wasting their time. I’m just a kid, I’m not giving them any money. Right? So they would scowl at me or speak to me curtly, in hopes I would move along. Of course, I did.

But when that happened – and it only happened a few times – one of the first things I would do is tell my Dad. Like most parents, my Dad isn’t a fan of people who are rude to his children.

Most of the vendors at this show aren’t offering something you can’t find elsewhere. Their product may or may not be better, but it usually is just a different flavor of the same thing. All things being equal, if you are picking a vendor to do business with, would you choose one whose representative was rude to your son – or would you choose someone else? Again, this is pretty simple. You’d choose someone else.

I see this as the influencer trap. Too many people – and this extends to community efforts sometimes, sadly – are too intently focused on the influencers they can readily identify. They lose sight of the fact that everyone can be an influencer. You don’t know who they know. While it can make sense to prioritize resources, you have to treat everyone with a basic level of goodness. If you fail to do that, you lose people – including some of your so-called influencers.