Comedian Louis CK had the bad luck to book a New York comedy show on the same night that a hurricane is bearing down on the east coast.
I like this guy a lot – his gutsy, $5 DRM-free download of his show at Beacon Theatre was a textbook example of how to build and grow a long-term relationship with a 21st-century fanbase while still getting paid. So I’m not surprised by how he’s handling this situation (all bold emphasis mine).
Dear New York ticket holding folks….
Okay. I thought about this very carefully and I really started to worry about making 4300 people come into midtown manhattan on Sunday night, which is just when the stormatron 5000 is supposed to crush our empire. new york state has ordered the sutdown of all mass transit (subways, buses and commuter trains) as of 7pm Sunday night.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of his announcement, CK takes a moment to get everyone on the same page. There’s an important reason he’s asking for your attention. There’s a reason he’s about to give you some bad news. Good communication makes no assumptions about the audience’s facts.
Deliver the Bad News
I know that a lot of people are excited to come and they are fine with taking the chance but I really don’t want a pole to smash your face in because you saw some comedy.
So i asked the City Center (where the shows are supposed to happen) if we could find another date for Sunday’s shows and they gave me March 2nd. The City Center, being really cool, has agreed to let us do the shows on that night and your tickets that you now hold will be honored on that night. the same seat, same everything. If you can’t come on that night, we will either do another show soon after that, or find another show for you in the area in the future. Or you still have the option to get a full refund for your ticket. If you already asked for a refund, we can reinstate your ticket if you want to go to one of those shows.
Accept Responsibility, Acknowledge Frustration
Listen. I know that probably it’s going to be a starry clear night and the trains are going to be just gliding up and down the traks and a baby zebra is going to whinny as he trots by the City Center on a night that is going to break records for being placid and perfect for a night of comedy. And I’m going to feel like an asshole. And I know that some people had their plans set and are going to be pissed off at me. I know. but I also know that some of you are struggling with whether to come in or miss the show and this is the closest I can get to a solution. You don’t have to take a chance and you don’t have to miss the show. Just come see me in a few months.
CK spends this paragraph acknowledging all the frustration his fans might feel as a result of his decision. He also owns that it’s his call to err on the side of caution. His starry clear night imagery leaves him naked here – he hasn’t chosen to pretend that his hand has been forced by terrible circumstances beyond his control. If he’s wrong, he knows he’s the asshole – no one else.
With this openness, it’s very easy to continue trusting and liking the guy. It sucks you can’t have the night you were planning on, but it’s hard to begrudge Louis for trying his best to do the right thing.
Invite Further Discussion
If it’s any consolation, I’m eating a pretty staggering fee for cancelling the show. But I can take it. What I can’t take is the thought that there’s a CHANCE 4300 people will be in danger trying to get home from my stupid show.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you want to do, and ask any question you have.
So that’s that. Cancelled. Rescheduled. Please forgive me. Please be safe.
Your dumb friend
Louis acknowledges the personal hardship that this situation creates for him but crucially does not seek pity for it. He “can take it.” Mentioning the cancel fee isn’t whining or group therapy – it’s Louis pointing out that this isn’t fun for him, either. Knowing his inconvenience is even greater than your own further builds trust, but only because it isn’t a pity party.
One of the most frustrating customer service situations is feeling like your voice isn’t being heard. Too many corporate bureaucracies congeal their worlds in “policy,” ignoring customers with unique cases. Louis CK wants you to feel comfortable talking back. The invitation to ask any questions seals this as a great moment in customer service. The sincerity and humility of his letter would ring hollow if he was indifferent to pushback from the fans affected by the decision.
It’s interesting to live in a world where a comedian is schooling other businesses on how to deliver great customer service. People with better understandings of the psychology of Louis’s profession can probably explain what mental muscles he’s built that make this style of authentic communication come so naturally. But whatever the source, Louis CK believes – rightly – that his success is tied to how much his fans like, trust and respect him. Even though it’s expensive in the short-term, he knows that the cancellation fee for the show is a tiny pittance for the long-term health of his fan relationships.
I’ve long been sitting on my strategy for escaping traffic tickets but recent conversations on Hacker News about beating the system have compelled me to share. Cliff’s Notes: Don’t be an asshole. Have some empathy. You’ll save some money on traffic tickets and find yourself better able to interact with everyone, not just cops.
If you need more detail, here’s the deal.
Once, when I was 17, I picked up a girl and took her out on what I hoped was a date (in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t). About ten minutes into the evening, as we drove down the highway, a police officer pulled us over.
I was speeding. 10 MPH over the limit.
It cost me $134.
Being 17, the lesson I learned wasn’t “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t speed.” Instead, I decided “I need to figure out how to get away with it next time.”
And I did. Reading many sources, talking to a cop who worked with me at Best Buy, and trying things out later, I figured out what to do. In the eight years since my first ticket, no one has given me another one. It helps I don’t drive like an idiot anymore. But even the best drivers can lose track of the speed limit.
The following guide assumes that you’ve been pulled over by the police and the maximum extent of your crime is a traffic infraction. Maybe your stop could have been more complete, maybe you lost track of your speed. This may not help you if you’ve done anything worse than that. Driving drunk? Got some pot in your car? Illegal weapons? Involved in anything else that the police won’t be impressed with? If any of those is a yes, this probably isn’t the guide for you.
Let’s also be clear: I am not a lawyer and the following is not legal advice.
Still with me? Okay, you’re otherwise law-abiding but you did something naughty in traffic and the police noticed:
Take a Deep Breath
You’re about to enter a situation with a distinct asymmetry of power. If you’re not used to that, you might be nervous or intimidated. Don’t be. In the grand scheme of things, you’ve done very little wrong. Take a very deep breath, relax and gather yourself.
Regardless of how lopsided this interaction is going to be, remember one thing: the police officer is a human being, just like you. Your cop might be mean, might be nice, might be a mom, might be nuts about astronomy, might be going through a divorce. Each is their own person, so discard your preconceptions and do your best to understand the challenges they’re facing.
Pick a Safe Place to Pull Over
The police want to talk to you. They’re going to need a few minutes to do it. Make sure you give them a good spot to work with. If you put them in a place where they’re on edge because of unsafe traffic conditions, you’re already on their shitlist.
Being a cop is hard, scary shit. They don’t know if you’re speeding because you’re oblivious or because you’re on the run. As an officer emerges from their car, they have to prepare themselves for trouble. You could be a desperate criminal, ready to kill or maim them to secure your own freedom. Imagine it from their perspective: this is not a fun moment for you but it’s worse for them because they have a lot more uncertainty to grapple with. At least you know what’s about to happen.
Roll down every automatic window in your car. Especially if you have tinted windows, this lets the police see exactly what’s going on inside the vehicle. A backpack, an In-N-Out cup, a water bottle, say. Okay. No big deal. Not scary. Much better than a dufflebag full of drugs, a weapon, or worst of all, an unexpected group of armed bad guys.
You have nothing to hide, so show instead of tell.
As the police approach, make sure you and your passengers rest their hands on the rim of the car’s windows, in plain view of the police. If they can see your hands from several feet away, you’ve spared them several seconds of adrenal windup. They’re more likely to be relaxed, which means they’re more likely to be friendly.
Turn off your car. For bonus points, place your keys on the dash. A car can be a dreadful weapon all on its own.
The goal during the approach is to make sure your cop knows that there is absolutely no reason to be tense or concerned about what’s about to happen. You’re harmless.
Now it’s time to talk.
Don’t Be an Asshole
Remember you’re about to talk to someone who has one of the hardest, most thankless jobs in the world. You enter the conversation worried about points on your license and paying a ticket. They’re worried about never seeing their families again.
Keep your hands on your window ledge and greet the officer as they approach. A cheerful “Good evening, officer” is all you need. Do not be terse, do not be curt, do not be rude. Just say hi.
Follow the officer’s lead. If they want to talk to you about why they pulled you over, they will. You’ll get nowhere by being demandy about the reason. Many times, they’ll just start by asking you for your papers – “license and registration.” Sometimes they want to see insurance instead of registration. I don’t know what influences this. Wherever the conversation goes, be polite and courteous. Show, through your behavior, you’re just a normal person who missed a road sign.
If asked why you’re behaving this way, tell the truth: “You have a hard job, officer. I do, too, so I’m just doing my best to make this easy on you.” Cops deal with a lot of inconsiderate people, so you don’t have to do much to stand out.
It’s very likely that you’re going to have to reach into your pocket or the glove box to comply with an officer’s requests. Announce your intention to do this before moving your hand. “If it’s all right with you, I’m going to move my right hand to the glovebox. My registration is in there.”
While one hand digs around, keep the other firmly planted on the steering wheel, in clear view. After you’ve retrieved whatever you were asked for, hand it over slowly and make sure your hands return to the dashboard or the window ledge. If you forget, your cop will remind you.
The police may ask you if you know why you were pulled over. Many people will tell you that it’s in your interest to play dumb here. I don’t work that way.
See, I don’t like to lie. It’s a pain in the ass. When, for example, two Texas Highway Patrolmen pulled me over a few summers ago, I knew why I was speeding. When asked, I told them.
“I’ll be honest with you, gentlemen. There was a feedlot back there. Thousands of cows! It smelled terrible, honestly. So yeah, I hit the gas because it was making me ill and I needed to get out of there.”
So yes, I waived my fifth amendment right not to incriminate myself. I also made myself a human being. By being direct and honest about what’s going on, I’m hopefully sticking out as different from the sort of person they would usually ticket.
After a conversation, they sent me on my way with a warning. Let’s be clear: I’m hispanic. I didn’t look even remotely like the guys who pulled me over. I was about as thoroughly other as you can get while still speaking english. But I was considerate of the the patrolmen, I talked to them like human beings and they returned the favor by not screwing me with a ticket. I even pitched one of them on the company I was working for at the time.
A little empathy can go a long way. This has application in many other interactions unrelated to traffic violations or law enforcement, but I learned it here first thanks to the financial incentives involved.
You need to stop being a jackass. And I mean yesterday.
No one is going to let you get away with it anymore.
Today, whether you’re an individual or a large business, you need to treat people exactly the way you want to be treated. Better than that, even. A force has emerged that encourages the golden rule and punishes transgressions against it better than any social or religious system previously devised.
As usual, I’m talking about the internet.
Let’s step back in time to January of this year. Mass Effect, one of the best and most successful gaming titles of 2007, trickled back out into the awareness of ignorant people who don’t actually play video games. This, of course, means that Fox News had to get a piece of this action.
To discuss Mass Effect, they invited pop psychologist Cooper Lawrence to appear on-air. She villified the game, indicating that its overt sexuality would train boys to view women as sexual objects.
The only problem is that Mass Effect doesn’t contain any overt sexual themes or even nudity. The game includes an optional side-plot that culminates in a less-than-racy sexual encounter. That didn’t stop Cooper from running her mouth. Speaking after the appearance, Cooper said,
Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said itâ€™s like pornography. But itâ€™s not like pornography. Iâ€™ve seen episodes of â€˜Lostâ€™ that are more sexually explicit.
But it was too late. I’ve written before about how passionate constituencies carry powerful messages online. There is perhaps no more passionate a group than those who play video games. Long misunderstood and unfairly stereotyped for their interests, gamers have built vast communities for themselves on the internet. Trumpeting the call to battle against Cooper Lawrence, the gamer response was swift, vicious and very public.
Hundreds of negative reviews poured into the Amazon page for her latest book. Discussion forums, news aggregators like Digg, and every tech-savvy blog under the sun buzzed with indignation. This was, gamers felt, an unjustified attack on a supremely talented game developer who had provided tens of millions of hours of enjoyment to so many.
Cooper recanted and expressed regret for her remarks. Shitstorm over.
Yet there are longer lasting effects. Nearly half a year later, scars still cover Cooper’s online presence.
Although hundreds of obviously abusive 1-star reviews were purged by Amazon, 68 still remain on her book’s page. Amazon is as much a product research tool as it is a sales channel. Cooper has lost countless opportunities to sell her book thanks to this gaffe.
The more telling after effects come when searching “cooper lawrence” on Google. Her third search result is the above Game Politics article that dryly reports that Cooper Lawrence is someone who is not too particular about speaking without first knowing her facts. She says so herself. Below that is a charmingly-titled YouTube video, Cooper Lawrence is a Bitch. Counting her Amazon book, her first page of search results contains seven negative entries. That first search engine impression is 70% negative.
Think about that.
Now, being a firebrand and stirring up controversy thanks to genuine, well-considered opinions can be good for one’s career. There’s plenty of negative response that can come from that online. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This is someone being very publicly and brazenly ignorant, pretending to be an authority and then getting caught without a fact to stand on. That hurts your credibility, which hurts your ability to sell yourself.
Mass Effect is a good game and a proud achievement. Over a hundred people worked very long hours for a very long time to ship it. Millions more people bought it and loved it and felt a debt of gratitude to the developers whose toil had so enriched their lives. Then Cooper Lawrence showed up and very publicly slurred it.
And she’ll never do it again.
If you do things that are unkind to others and you do them publicly, just remember that the internet is watching.
It never forgets.