Just think of John Roderick as a business and his daughter as a customer and it’s pretty easy to understand why ‘Bean Dad’ went viral on social media.
Over the weekend, Roderick — a podcaster and musician — posted a thread on Twitter about how he had asked his nine-year-old daughter to make a can of beans. He didn’t offer any support, other than to direct her to a can opener.
She struggled to get the can opener to work. For six hours.
Besides making her go hungry, Roderick documented her difficulties (“Eventually she collapsed into a frustrated heap,” “By now we were working on anger management, and perseverance too”). The story was clearly meant to show off his approach to parenting, but to say it backfired is putting it mildly.
Teachable For Whom?
Outraged users on Twitter hit “Bean Dad” with a barrage of criticism over his attitude and his lack of concern in making sure his daughter was fed. He subsequently deleted his Twitter account (where others later found racist and anti-semitic tweets), and formally apologized online later.
Roderick had seen his daughter’s request for support as a “teachable moment.” To many of his readers, however, it was the kind of moment that brands foisting self-service on their customers would do well to remember.
I often talk to vendors who espouse the benefits of getting customers to solve their own problems, and the rationale is always the same. It’s faster for customers to do it themselves, it’s more efficient and allows them to avoid the chore of seeking support from a vendor. Sometimes, not always, they admit it’s cheaper for the company, too.
Rarely, I suspect, do many companies actively solicit customers’ feedback on their plans to introduce self-service before it happens. They simply discover one day that the phone number for a contact centre has been replaced (or was simply buried deeper into the web site) by an online knowledge centre they're supposed to browse. Or a chat bot they'd never have chosen over a human agent suddenly pops up on the company's site.
Had Roderick let his daughter know earlier in the day that he would be challenging her to use a can opener for the first time, her expectations might at least have been set. Instead, she was at his mercy during a moment when she expected more of his involvement in assisting her.
Attitude Is All
Everything about his back-and-forth about the can opener’s workings, meanwhile, is dripping with sarcasm and a tone of “Oh, foolish daughter.” I have personally experienced a similar air of barely-concealed contempt in many interactions with service agents who can hardly believe customers don’t understand the basics of products they’ve learned by heart.
This the thing, though: we’ve all been that nine-year-old girl with the can opener at some point.
On some level, we all know it’s good for us to shake off our dependency on a third party, but neither children or grown-up customers should be treated by parents or brands as though they were birds being pushed out of the nest.
Self-service is a journey — or a journey within the customer journey, if you like. It goes more smoothly when you’re invited, guided and encouraged at every step. Bean Dad didn’t understand that, but what happened could be far more of a teachable moment for vendors than it ever was for his daughter.