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You've Been Served! The Faux Customer Service Rep: The October Illuminator


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The Solstice Advertising Illuminator

The Faux Customer Service Rep

A new type of internet star appeared on the social media scene this year – fake customer service reps responding to real customer comments and complaints on very real corporate social media pages. The deception seems to work by using a simple formula: create a name that sounds customer-service like and use a profile pic with a logo or an image of a customer service rep with a headset (because online customer service responders obviously need a phone headset to operate a keyboard). Next, troll customer complaints on Facebook pages of major retailers, restaurants and any other company with a social media presence, sit back and watch hilarity ensue as the commenters believe they’re interacting with an official company representative.

On Target, In Full Color

One of the more recent practitioners is a gentleman named Mike Melgaard. He first gained fame by responding to commenters who had issues with Target’s move toward gender-neutral labeling. Melgaard’s most recent spree of note was hitting the Doritos page comments in response to the snack maker’s limited-edition Rainbows chips. A compilation of his comments can be found on a fan page and on his personal page, which has over 36,000 followers.

Melgaard is a full-time student pursuing a double major (physics and electrical engineering) and manages a bar, all on top of his online antics. His entry into this type of snark came naturally, as he is a self-described pot stirrer who enjoys taking jabs at controversial topics, with a humorous bent. He first got the idea when he noticed in his Facebook feed that Target was moving away from gender-based labels in both the toy and children's bedding sections. “Immediately, I knew there would be your typical outraged American spouting emotional reactions on their Facebook page. After taking a look, I was literally laughing out loud at my computer. A few more minutes in and it struck me how hilarious it would be to portray myself as a parody customer service rep. So, I did just that, and the rest was history. Honestly, it was like striking comedy gold. Every one of these people gave me the ammunition I needed for a great response.”

 

We Hope That Helps!

Customer Service (aka We Hope That Helps, We Hope This Helps) has been operating since 2014, but seemed to spike on the internet radar this past year. They’re everywhere, and no one seems safe. Just in recent months, their forays have included retailers (Walmart, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, Publix, Kohl’s, Rite Aid, Office Depot, Target), restaurants (Taco Bell, Denny’s, Hardee’s, Chick-fil-A, Whataburger, IHOP), airlines (United, Delta) and a sampling of Corporate America (Coca-Cola, Jaguar, Ocean Spray, DIRECTV, FedEx). They’re currently at 145,000-plus followers on Facebook. With their Customer Service moniker and the photo of a customer service rep, commenters are lulled into believing they’re interacting with someone from the company’s page. Screen captures are then shared on Customer Service’s Facebook page.

Ben Palmer, one of two partners in this venture along with Nick Price, originally used his own name, going by “Freelance Customer Service Representative Ben Palmer.” Eventually, the group adopted the more official Customer Service name along with the headset photo, and things took off.

Unauthorized Authorization

One might wonder how the companies themselves feel about the fake customer service commenters. According to Melgaard, there has been no official endorsement of his activity, but Target did post this troll pic on their Facebook page, having some fun with the situation. “I did receive many messages from people who do in fact work for Target (both the stores and even corporate workers) who loved what I had done.”

According to Palmer, Customer Service has been blocked from a great deal of corporate pages, “Too many to count,” but he and his partners seem to find a way around it. Even when they haven’t been blocked by the company pages, “They've definitely responded to make sure that their customers know that they weren't the ones who just made that rude ass comment to them,” Palmer noted.

A Real Future for the Fakers

When asked if there’s a bigger goal to all of this, Melgaard says that he hopes the newfound fame will be a springboard to the entertainment field, possibly even television. “At the moment, I feel like I am just beginning with my ideas. I think of goofy stuff to do on a consistent basis.” For the time being, school and work keep him busy, but he has no plans to abandon his imposter role. “During my next break, I think I should be able to deliver something a little more entertaining!”

As for Customer Service/Hope That Helps, Palmer says their goal is “to revolutionize customer service and social media. To not only be a brand, but be a thought in someone's head before they react in an outraged manner and embarrass everyone and themselves. To make the world a better place.” Now that’s customer service.


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