So, amid the tools available for manipulating behavior, whether that of an individual, company, sector, country or global initiative, how effective is “naming and shaming”?
At least one customer-service poll indicates, at least at the corporate level, it isn’t terribly effective. In an age when companies known for superior customer service can be few and far between, some companies are better known for their poor customer service than for their products or services. It should be no surprise, then, which companies made this year’s “Customer Service Hall of Shame” in a recent poll by 24/7 Wall St., which was dominated by representation in the cable/satellite and banking sectors. Several of the companies on this list are repeat offenders; some for seven years running.
The fact they don’t improve customer service despite suffering from such a bad reputation begs the question: Does shaming EVER work?
The authors of “Shame and the Motivation to Change the Self” (Emotion, December 2014) would argue it does. They maintain the human experience of shame is associated with a motivation to change, and that it can be a positive factor of personal growth.
For instance, peer pressure can make us more charitable. A study published in The Economic Journal revealed that when asked to give to a charity, donors would investigate others’ past donations to help them determine how much to give. Their contributions had more to do with “keeping up with the Joneses” than how they felt about the charity’s mission. The study concluded large donations served to put pressure on other donors, who were then driven to display their own wealth via similar donated amounts.
Certainly, when it comes to traditional, interpersonal shame (the kind that existed even in the nostalgic days pre-Internet), it continues to be a powerful tool of society. In small villages in a Himalayan valley where people rely on each other to share, cutting off your neighbor’s access to water and power can result in being cast out. Perpetrators are not just cut off from access to the resources they denied their neighbor. The other villagers stop speaking to the offenders altogether. The very power of this shaming tactic is what keeps inhabitants alive and thriving in these hardship areas.