If you were dealing with a hungry customer, would you send them a cat video?
Well, I recently learned that some people would!
Spoiler alert: I was the hungry customer. I had ordered food on a delivery app, because my employer gave vouchers to us participants of an online class, so we could fill our bellies and concentrate even better on the class. The class was, ironically, about customer experience.
Meal delivery has been a late bloomer over here: it only started properly during Covid, when people were forced into new habits. Before that, everyone used their own two legs to go get their lunch. Now, less than two years later, delivery men zigzag here and there, more often than not on electrical scooters while talking on their headphones and completely ignoring traffic.
I had pre-ordered my meal the day before. The order was confirmed by the restaurant and the app even sent me a notification just to say that “a human being has seen your order”. But my meal was a no-show. The app seemed frozen, too, and when only 10 min was left before class, I sent a chat message to ask what was going on.
The chat made me choose from a selection of topics, much like when you phone somewhere and a tape makes you answer endless questions. I chose “My food didn’t arrive” and then they asked which language. I decided to be tactical. Knowing that the restaurant business in my town has started using English more than the local language, I chose English, thinking there would be a larger choice of service reps who could answer. If I had to wait for the possibly only Finnish-speaker, it could take forever, and I was obviously fine with communicating in English. I just wanted it handled quickly.
The first irk moment happened when the rep answered in Finnish. They overrode my language choice, just like that! It was like they were thinking that someone with my name couldn’t possibly speak English well enough to order food. It’s funny to describe, but it was almost insulting. (Remember, you should never mess with a hungry person!) We were not off to a good start.
Once I’d chatted my problem to the rep, came the odd answers. The restaurant had canceled the food. The restaurant never even saw your order. I was digesting these when the buzzer rang.
A sliver of hope!
I waited for the delivery man to find my door (which took forever). Finally, he was there, handing me my food and explaining apologetically that my building had the wrong number, since the number on my address was actually located on another street. I didn’t bother arguing with his address logic. I just shrugged and accepted the delivery.
As he handed me my food, he said my name. But as soon as he’d left, I saw someone else’s name was written on the bag. Uh-oh, this isn’t looking good. I opened the door, but he had vanished. I was holding a Maria K.’s lunch bag.
The brown paper bag was a mystery. It offered no clue of which restaurant it came from or what Maria K.’s real address was. All I knew was that I had gotten someone else’s food and it wasn’t what I’d ordered. In fact, I couldn’t even tell what it was.
Somewhere out there, Maria K. was missing her lunch, too.
I re-entered the chat and typed that I had Maria K.’s meal, and that it was the wrong order. The rep responded quickly, but it sounded like a phrase she copy-pasted a bit too routinely: “Oh, that’s so sad! 😢” With the emotional depth of a computer, the rep then proceeded to tell me that they’d return my money and give me free delivery tokens. They added a blue heart.
And then they sent me a cat video!
“Have a nice day!”
The rep exited the chat, no doubt to respond to other urgent chats with hungry people who were done being patient. (What a business to be in! If you promise a hungry person food, you’d better deliver!)
Immediately after that, five emojis appeared on my screen, ranging from red-faced rage to LOL-happiness, and I was urged to express my feelings of the customer service event. While the rep had been quick (which was very much appreciated) and they had given me a refund plus two free deliveries for future use (also appreciated), I was left feeling annoyed.
I pressed the red-faced emoji, knowing that it would go on the rep’s file (assuming they really were a live human being to start with, which at some point I started doubting). It wasn’t personal, I was just hungry. I had been promised food but I was left empty-handed. And then there was that cat video!!!
It was just too soon for cats. Too soon! As the memes say, read the room! Had they given me an hour to get some other meal sorted, then I might have looked at the video and forgiven them. Maybe even laughed or awwed.
But while the crisis was still ongoing: uhhh, nope. It felt like the rep was missing some basic understanding of human emotions and of what response was appropriate. It was probably just company policy, but even that made me wonder if the company was run by androids.
I could just see them, youngsters in a meeting, doing whatever youngsters do when they meet. Maybe their business meeting involved stand-up paddling, or was held in an escape room, or maybe it was led from their couch like mine. But I can imagine the part of the conversation where they said,
“Hey, let’s make it company policy to send cat videos to people who are disappointed because they were left without the food they ordered! We’ll ask our staff to send a cat video whenever we get negative feedback! If the customer is super duper angry, we could add some emojis! Research shows, hungry people get angry. You know, like the hangry meme! And research also shows that cat videos reduce stress levels. So, who could possibly remain mad if we sent them a cat video?! Problem solved! Yay, high five!”
I’m not so stunned by the response in itself: I mean, on a scale of problems, this is a tiny one. Responding with a cat video makes sense, because it puts things in perspective and says, hey lighten up, it’s not the end of the world. In a way, it’s the right response.
But I guess what stunned me was mixing cats into business communication in the first place. It wasn’t long ago when we wore formal suits to job interviews and carried business cards, and now we are too lazy to write proper language and just add emojis and videos.
And more precisely, I noted the lack of work identity vs. private identity. When did it become ok to use emojis for professional correspondence with paying customers?
It made me feel like my generation is from another planet than the younger one just entering work life. And soon our version of things will be wrong, and theirs right. Ordering food made me feel old, all of a sudden.