Recently, I was emailing with an online retailer about an item I wanted to return, and the message in their email footer struck me:
“Please be kind to our team — it’s important for us to have real humans on our support and not bots. I promise all we want is to make you as happy as possible.”
Sigh… It really bums me out that we’re living through a time when this type of plea is necessary.
At the same time, I get it. Our proverbial buckets are at capacity, and we’re collectively exhausted. So, it’s understandable that we all, from time to time, revert to quick distinctions and delineations between us and them: We are the human customer with needs and goals, and they (anyone not us) are the bots here to serve us.
And this has led me to the question: In the customer experience world, do we do this same thing? Do we actively draw lines between us and them? Of course we do. In order to manage our various workstreams, we create a strong and deliberate delineation between employees and customers — those serving and those being served. And we do it at scale.
While it’s a reasonable approach steeped in decades of management philosophy, I don’t believe it’s the most effective model for creating intentional experiences. More to the point, I believe that in order to achieve the outcomes we’re all working toward — happy and successful people and organizations — we need to reimagine what drives real human connection.
Right here, right now, we can each begin to bridge the divide between customers and employees. That starts with each of us seeing the human — not the bot — in each and every person.
While most think this means helping employees to empathize with their customers, I think it means learning to empathize with ourselves. Here’s a glimpse of what I mean by this:
Imagine that you’re on a call with a company about something that’s gone wrong. You feel yourself losing your cool, shifting into the us and them mindset, thinking “I. am. the. customer!” And then, imagine that you take a beat. You empathize with your at-capacity, exhausted self. And in that space, you see the human on the other end of the phone and consider that they’re likely at capacity and exhausted, too. You consciously decide to treat them like a human, not a bot.
Does this microchoice erase the lines between us and them? No, but it is a start. And it’s fundamental to driving real human connection — and, in turn, creating happier and more successful people and organizations.
So do me a favor. Some day this week, look for an opportunity to take that beat. And while you’re at it, pour yourself a big ‘ol cup of empathy.