Social media as “shop talk”

overworkedI went to my local Verizon store New Year’s Eve to check out the Motorola Droid Pro, which I plan to purchase. It was also time to investigate my family account for discounts and and upgrades. We were the only customers present, something that’s very unusual, so I had the attention of all three clerks. They were temporarily out of Droid Pros, but said they could get one and that I could come back today, New Year’s Day.

“You’re open?” I asked.

“Yeah,” a nice young man replied.

“What hours do you have to work?” I probed.

“Well, they’ve sort of messed with us,” he continued, “because we were supposed to be open from 10–6. They just notified us that we’re working until 8 o’clock.”

Eyes rolled, and I lamented the extra two hours with them, but in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help think that, sooner or later, this kind of corporate behavior is going to have to end. It cannot exist in a hyperconnected universe, because word travels fast. We’ll go through a season of people getting fired, because they complained about this or that on Facebook, but in the end, who will want to work for a company with such practices? It certainly won’t be the best and brightest. Our ability to talk to each other — to complain to each other and find solutions — is what’s really new about today. I suspect we’ll need to strengthen “shop talk” labor laws to include social media in order to eventually protect people from sharing complaints that normally would have been kept at home.

This points to what people like Umair Haque and John Hagel preach: that best business practices for the 21st Century are very different than those of the Industrial Age. When profit is the fundamental raison d’être, then anything goes in the name of profit. Too bad, employee. You want a job, you’ll do anything and everything I tell you to do, and you won’t complain. But pure profit can no longer be the essential driver of business in a hyperconnected universe. It has to be about creating and maintaining value. If you stand any chance of a quality labor force, you simply must treat people differently, and not just your customers. The smart business person of today is beginning to see that. It’s not all about salary; it’s very much about working conditions. There are big corporations whose CEOs are quite adept at gutting working conditions in the name of profit. They are rewarded for so doing, because that’s how they’re graded by investors. They don’t give a crap about brain drain, because that’s not a part of their compensation, so who cares if employees must endure ungodly hours or manage their own benefits? A manager who practices this for long will soon find herself staring at an empty room where a factory used to be.

This will be their undoing, because what used to be called “shop talk” is now being spread far and wide. It’s only going to get worse for those who worship the bottom line at the expense of human beings.

I love Verizon and have been a faithful customer of theirs for a very long time, but this event has given me pause. What kind of business do you think they’ll do in those extra two hours…on New Year’s Day? What will they have accomplished except piss off their labor force?


  1. it’s strange but when i get good service somewhere i tend to call someone at the company and let them know about it.

    i generally start the conversation with (in a low voice) “are you the person who handles complaints?”

    what happens next is a silence generally reserved for funerals as the person on the other end of the phone prepares for yet another ripping.

    they’ll usually then say “what seems to be the issue, sir”.

    i’ll again ask “are you the person…?” just to make sure i’m getting through to the correct party.

    once affirmed, i’ll then explain that if they are the one who takes complaints that they should also be the one to hear when a customer has had (and appreciated) a good/great experience with their company.

    what follows is a true 180 from the moment of silence; there’s usually a long laugh by the other party, and a sigh of relief before they go on to say that calls of recognition are very few and far between.

    i suggest everyone try it some time. not only do employees deserve the respect of their bosses, but it doesn’t hurt when it comes from their customers either.

    it’ll put you in a good postion to bytch when things don’t go well, too!

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