“Super-luxury apartments, this is Meg,” is the polite, almost soothing way former property manager Meg Trast starts some of her wildly popular posts on the short-form-video social media platform TikTok. What follows next is usually a razor-sharp parody of client interaction that’s about to go horribly awry in cutting, and sometimes painful, ways.
Ms. Trast’s videos have amassed millions of views and she has collected more than 155,000 followers to her channel. She’s done it by bringing the everyday lunacy out of the condo rental office and onto a platform powered by millions of millennials and Generation Z users from all over the world. Her videos follow one of the burgeoning formulas that drive TikTok success: Tales of entitlement run wild repackaged for mockery by the young.
Customer-service videos are a huge hit on TikTok, and something as simple as describing boorish or bizarre interactions has amassed huge followings for hotel desk managers, Starbucks baristas, cable installers, bartenders and tow-truck drivers. Often times, the target of these videos are the kind of people who ask to “speak to the manager,” people referred to by “OK Boomer” or “Karen.” There are more than 700 million videos on TikTok that reference “Karen” (the app, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has 800 million active users and is said to be worth at least US$80-billion).
Some samples of Ms. Trast’s most popular videos include stories of clueless demands, such as the tenant who called and said “There’s a really weird smell coming from my shower, can you send maintenance over to look at it please?” Her videos often play out like a skit, where she acts out the dialogue for herself and the other parties (using a digital filter to distort the face or voice when she retells the “resident” portion of the interaction to reinforce the absurdity). To the shower-stinker, Ms. Trast had bad news: “They cleared your drain, but my tech said you’re probably going to have to clean your shower before the smell goes away.” “What do you mean clean it, he didn’t clean it?” “It’s pretty oily and sticky, probably from soap scum. You’ll just have to clean that.” “Oh that’s gross! I don’t want to clean it, can’t you have him do it?” “I do apologize, I can’t have maintenance staff clean your apartment.”
Another hit was the mansplainer who didn’t want to deal with women: “Isn’t there a man in a position of authority around here that I can talk to?” “Considering the fact that our CEO is a woman, and so is every single manager down the line including myself, no sir.”
Some are more serious, such as when a resident asked to have any new tenants of Indian descent moved to different buildings in the complex, or the prospective renters who want racial profiles of residents. In one video a creepy tenant demanded Ms. Trast try on the lingerie he had delivered for his girlfriend, another renter asked precisely where she lived.
For Robert Klopot, president and CEO of The Forest Hill Group – which has 630 employees working in property management, security and concierge services across several buildings in Toronto’s high-end Yorkville neighbourhood – these kind of stories are horrifying, but his horror is not directed at the residents.
“If we found out any staff member was communicating [about residents] through any medium, social media or e-mail, anything our company could find … that would be grounds for termination,” he said. His company takes privacy and confidentiality of resident interactions seriously, and in many buildings he doesn’t even allow staff to keep their personal cellphones on them while they work. Not that his clients don’t complain about the colour of the neighbours’ barcbecue, or about residents stacking up cardboard in the garbage room and other things that grind the gears of tower-living set.
“Servicing [the] highest end of the space, it takes a lot more to shock us,” he said. “We’ve seen almost every service request: Moving cars from winter homes to summer homes, booking private catering, delivering golf-clubs.” During the pandemic, he’s actually seen a decline in what you might call Karen behaviour. “We’re seeing less of those little things picked on … the trivial things fade fairly quickly in this environment. We’ve seen more acts of random kindness, like leaving cookies for the front desk.”
Cornell University associate professor Brooke Erin Duffy, author of (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work and an expert on digital culture and social media, said spilling workplace secrets should be seen through the lens of the changing nature of work.
“The structure of the workplace is staggeringly different; while the workplace was once a source of stability, it’s increasingly unstable, iternerant, and ‘gig-ified,’” she said. “It is against the backdrop of this precarious work economy that critiques that were long considered private are thrust into public. In other words, If the boss is no longer protecting us, why would we protect them–and their reputations.
“So many of us recognize the fundamental need to call out social institutions–above all consumer culture. We’re reckoning with the failure of these social institutions in profound ways, so I think we’re seeing more provocative forms of critique and even backlash.”
For Ms. Trast, her videos are unlikely to spark professional backlash: she worked in property management for rental complexes in Overland Park, Kan. (a suburb of Kansas City, just next to the Missouri state line) between 2012 and 2018. It’s been years since she was on the front line, but in early 2020 she began posting videos memorializing and dramatizing some of her war stories. But her messages resonate far beyond the Midwest, with commenters from all over North America chiming in with similar property management horror stories.
She has posted dozens of stories where people act foolishly, each one with tens of thousands of likes and views, and they contain a litany of plain rude comments: “What the hell is this?” “This is ridiculous” “This is unacceptable” “you don’t understand” “This is totally unreasonable” “I’ll take my business elsewhere” “Is this some kind of joke” “You’re not even going to work with me on that?” “How dare you talk to me like this.”
Ms. Trast has also attracted some intense criticism, but she often publishes videos responding to critics. For example, in a recent video she explained what motivates her to expose the sometimes petty complaints of her former tenants.
“Don’t misunderstand my intentions: I don’t like to be mean, I like to call out people who are being mean, and like to call them stupid. See, it’s different. I’m not just going after anybody,” she said.
Ms. Trast’s videos are an object lesson in the downside of not having empathy and patience in your interactions. It’s easy to forget that every time you get angry and blow up at someone for what seems like perfectly reasonable reasons to you, there’s another person on the other end of that interaction with their own thoughts, feelings, memories – and maybe a social media account.
“I only make teasing videos about people that customer service professionals find entirely unpalatable,” she said in a recent video responding to an angry comment. “If you find yourself feeling targeted by any of them, evaluate the way you treat people.”
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