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The last few weeks have been pretty exciting, haven't they? Next-gen pricing details, release dates, and pre-orders all tumbled forth from Sony and Microsoft in a jumbled heap - almost as if this is information we should have gotten from the publishers months in advance, not weeks.
Next-gen didn't really feel real to me until earlier today, when I realised that you can now actually go and order a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S ahead of their November releases. Or at least that's the theory, anyway. As I'm sure you're probably aware if you're reading this, both Sony and Microsoft kind of guffed up their respective initial pre-orders in various ways.
Working with select retailers, customers were submitted to long queues, website crashes, and confusion over what time which stores were even taking pre-orders. As someone who managed to get a PlayStation 5 off Amazon after some difficulty, I took to Twitter... and my heart sank as I saw the predictable begin to happen: abuse being hurled at retailers.
I used to work at CeX when I was at university, and for around a year after graduation I worked in a call center that took bookings for various live events. What I'm trying to say is that I'm no stranger to being treated like crap by a customer when something hasn't gone their way.
I kind of get it - to an extent. If you're trying to book tickets, or get a refund on a certain game, or pre-order a next-gen console that seems to be going out of stock quickly, your initial instinct may be to head to social media, or pick up the phone, or go in store and let some member of staff have it. After all, they're the face of the brand, right? It's obviously at least partly their fault that you didn't get The Thing You Wanted, isn't it?
As cathartic as it might be for us to think that way, it's worth considering the human on the other end of a phone call or social media account that's dealing with your problem. In person it's a lot harder to treat people like they're less than human just because they're serving though, although I've seen plenty of people overcome that particular barrier and discard what little basic human empathy they might have had.
Over the phone you'll find a lot more people are willing to be extra mean to you - perhaps because they feel more comfortable doing so when they can't see how much their entitlement might be affecting you. I've had to refuse scratched second-hand copies of FIFA 12 over the counter to people who were trying to sell it on for a few quid, and I've had to sell tickets to various expensive London shows - can you guess which experience yielded the nastiest customers?
Which brings us to social media, where the so-called wronged parties feel they have the ultimate justification to say things that I can't imagine in a million years they'd actually say over the phone or in person. I write about video games for a fairly popular website so I'm no stranger to people asking me to quit, or kill myself, or anything else equally lovely... but I've never had to endure the sheer horror of having to represent a company on social media.
The Twitter accounts for places like GAME, Argos, Smyths, Amazon, and more have taken a real beating over the last few days thanks to this whole pre-order mess. I don't know if people forget that there's an actual person on the other end of these accounts or if they just don't care, but it's absolutely heartbreaking to see some of the hate that gets thrown their way - especially when so much of it is completely beyond their control.
I don't know who needs to hear this, but the person in charge of running a company social media is not the CEO of that company. They're not a higher-up that makes all the big decisions, and they certainly have nothing to do with arranging the pre-orders or ensuring the websites run smoothly during times of high traffic. They're just a person who has to sit there and act as a receptacle for all the hate a company gets in a day - and usually for really naff pay.
I'm not saying you shouldn't complain if you don't feel a retailer has handled pre-orders brilliantly. These accounts exist for people to lodge complaints and ask for help, after all - just remember that the person you're asking for help is just as tired and stressed as you, and having a really crappy day. They're not a cackling fat cat laughing at your failure to secure a PS5 or Xbox Series X from atop their massive pile of money.
Most - not all, but most - of us manage to remember this when we're in person or dealing with something over the phone. If we could start attempting to extend that empathy to the retail staff who manage social media accounts too, the internet might just start to feel like a slightly less toxic place.
Besides, anyone who really wants a next-gen console is going to get one eventually. So relax... and be kind.
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