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When Internet Shaming Is the Only Way to Get Things Done

Photograph by Getty Images

We live in an era of internet shaming. A world where parents turn to the web to shame their kids, shame the schools their kids attend and shame the places of business that don’t treat them or their kids as well as they should.

Sometimes, these bouts of online shaming can seem necessary—important, even. They are opportunities to bring larger issues to public light and to start conversations about how our society as a whole should function, or to warn people away from businesses that probably don’t deserve a dime from any of us.

But other times … other times, all this shaming can seem a bit exhausting and over-the-top. This kind of shaming is more bent on revenge or instant internet fame than an issue that truly warranted being brought to the masses.

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And in a world where literally anyone with an e-mail address can write a Yelp review—and where companies have very little recourse, even when those reviews bend the truth—it can start to seem as though maybe the internet puts just a little too much power in people’s hands. And it's power plenty of people struggle to use appropriately.

I’ve never considered myself one of those people. I’m not an internet shamer. Sure, as a writer, I do occasionally air some of my personal laundry online, but I’ve never used my platform to go after a company I felt sure had done me wrong.

Until recently, that is.

I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that this customer service agent wasn’t even trying to make things right—that she had no remorse at all.

For my daughter’s adoption day celebration this year, I put together a book telling her adoption story. I spent months working on this thing, writing all the content myself, and then formatting hundreds of pictures to help her better understand the origins of our family. Finally, about 10 days before her adoption day, I was ready to hit “order” on what would be a $100 book (after discounts) through Shutterfly. I paid extra for expedited shipping so that it would be here in plenty of time.

I’ve always loved Shutterfly. I order an annual book through them every year as well, and have even frequently bragged about the quality of their books online on multiple occasions.

Just so we’re clear I am someone who is far more likely to sing praises online than to rip a company apart. But when the book arrived the following Tuesday (just four days before my daughter’s adoption day celebration), my heart dropped when I opened the cover.

Pages were missing. Some were printed out of order. Some were printed upside down. And some were printed on only half the page—the other half consisting of blank nothingness. I couldn't even fathom how this book had ever left their warehouse looking like it did.

Photograph by Leah Campbell

Still, having never had a bad experience with Shutterfly before, I immediately picked up the phone, believing that of course there would be a way to fix this in time.

Unfortunately, the woman I spoke to seemed less than enthusiastic about that possibility. She said she would do her best to get me a replacement in time for that Saturday’s celebrations but explained she could make no promises.

When I got off the phone with her, I immediately sent an e-mail to Shutterfly’s customer service team. I outlined everything that was wrong with the book, and explained why there was an urgency to get this project to me by a certain date.

I never heard anything back.

The next day, I decided to call again—hoping against hope that maybe someone different could help.

Instead, I spoke to a customer service agent who could not have cared less, and who explained I wouldn’t be receiving the book until the following Tuesday—days after when I had intended to give it to my daughter. When I asked if she could please get a manager for me to talk to, she put me on hold for a few minutes before coming back and saying, “Sorry, ma’am. There’s nothing more we can do for you.”

At this point, I was mostly just baffled. I worked in customer service for years and I know there is almost always something that can be done—especially when the issue at hand is so clearly the company’s fault. So I took a deep breath and then said, “Seriously? There’s nothing you can do? You’re not even going to offer to refund the expedited shipping I paid for very intentionally to ensure it would be here by Saturday, when it clearly won’t be now?”

It wasn’t about the money. I didn’t care about the money. All I really wanted was the book here on time. But I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that this customer service agent wasn’t even trying to make things right—that she had no remorse at all.

“We’re upgrading the shipping on the remake, ma’am.” Was all she said in response. “That should be enough.”

So is it true that we’ve just gotten to a place as a society where the only way to get what you deserve is to shame people and companies online?

When I hung up the phone with her, I immediately sent another e-mail to the company. Because surely, surely, there was something someone could do.

Hours later, when there was still no response, I was finally angry enough to understand why so many people take their grievances with companies online. And so, that was exactly what I did.

The response from my readers was swift and enraged on my behalf. Several shared the post directly to Shutterfly. And twice, once on Facebook and once on Twitter, Shutterfly responded saying, “Please e-mail us directly and we’ll try to help.” I responded both times with, “I’ve e-mailed your company twice already in the last 24 hours—no one has responded.” They didn’t bother replying to that.

The next day, there was still no response to my e-mails, no contact from the company, and Shutterfly had deleted the shares of my post to their page.

So now I was really angry. Not even because of the mistake that had been made (I get that mistakes happen), but because of the crappy customer service I was experiencing after the fact—because of how eager Shutterfly seemed to be to pretend they had done nothing wrong at all, rather than directly addressing the problem and trying to resolve the issue.

This time, I decided to take my frustration directly to the Shutterfly page. I shared the whole story there once more, ending it with, “Your company is in the business of helping people to make and share memories—is this really the best you can do?”

That post (which has also since been deleted by Shutterfly) got a massive response. And finally, Shutterfly seemed interested in helping. I wound up speaking to someone in their corporate office who was incredibly apologetic. She explained the book was already on a truck for shipping, but she attempted to get her hands on it to ship to me overnight—proof that something could have been done to get me the book on time, had the customer service agents I spoke to in the previous days been willing to escalate the issue up. Unfortunately, it was already sealed in a truck with hundreds of other books by the time she attempted to find it. There really was nothing she could do at that point.

She apologized profusely, gave me a full refund on the book, and a $50 credit to my account. I told her none of that was necessary, that I wasn’t trying to get anything free—I had just desperately wanted the book on time.

She responded with, “Please know that not one time did I think you were trying to get something from us. I completely understand your frustration with the whole situation. You had a right to feel the way you did. We definitely made mistakes, and I am owning up to them.”

So, you know … exactly the kind of customer service response someone would hope for with something like this.

Except I was still bitter—bitter the book wouldn’t be here on time and bitter that I had needed to go to such lengths to get any kind of appropriate response from this company I had otherwise bragged about so much in the past.

I never did get any response from either of the e-mails I sent to their customer service team. And honestly, after everything was said and done, I was left wondering if I would have gotten any response at all if I wasn’t someone with a pretty large social media following. Did Shutterfly only decide to respond appropriately because of my reach? If I had been just any other mom, without the audience I have—and if I hadn't taken my grievance online—would anyone from their company attempted to make things right?

As it was, I had to send two e-mails, make two phone calls, and post online twice to reach someone who actually seemed to care. So is it true that we’ve just gotten to a place as a society where the only way to get what you deserve is to shame people and companies online?

A few weeks ago, mom.me shared the story of Alisha Quinney and Joshua Marbury, the parents of a little boy, Jacob, who was abused one night by his babysitter. Quinney and Marbury were quick in reporting the babysitter and documenting the abuse, but then they had to sit back and watch as nothing seemed to happen at all.

The abuser continued to go free, and the justice system seemed unable to help.

That was when Marbury took their story to the internet, sharing the photos taken the day after their son’s abuse and making an impassioned plea for #JusticeforJacob.

Just days after mom.me shared the story, Markell Deon Hilaire, the man accused of hurting Jacob, was placed behind bars. Many believe the social pressure was part of what encouraged local law enforcement to finally act.

I think most of us want to believe that in a world of right and wrongs, such extreme measures aren’t necessary. Surely right will always prevail, even without the social media shaming … right?

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Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and more and more parents are coming to learn that if you want to get things done—sometimes you have to get the power of the internet behind you.

I did wind up getting the book I ordered, three days after my daughter’s adoption day celebration. And it was beautiful. And the eventual customer service response was above and beyond.

But even still, I’m not sure I’ll ever use Shutterfly again. Not because they made a mistake in the original printing of my book, but because if I hadn’t vented online, I’m not sure they ever would have responded appropriately to the situation at all.

And that sucks.

As moms, we shouldn’t have to rant online to get things done.

But what if, sometimes, that’s the only recourse we’ve got?

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