When companies first established Customer Service call-in numbers, it was with the intention of making the customer feel that they cared for their business, and that the customer was the first priority. This was at a time when interpersonal interaction meant to get together for dinner, or go out to a movie, the Opera or the Theater. The Other, whether a friend or a client, was very real. We talked on the phone, we shared updates on our lives, we joked, all in real time.
But the concept of interpersonal interaction has changed. Today, communicating can be by email, texting, Facebook, Linkedin, or some other social media. While the Internet allows for a faster way to get information about us out there for others to know, the real-time interaction becomes a rare commodity in many cases. Friendships and social interaction are being profoundly redefined. It would be tempting to believe that it has been the social media that changed the way we communicate, but I believe that is only partially true. Even before the Internet became available to the masses, our communications were becoming shorter and more distant as a consequence of the faster pace of our lives; Social Media and the Internet inly exacerbated the trend.
So what happens when contact and relations become mediated by time-delayed interaction, or in some cases just unilateral and even sometimes blind sharing? The Other, the “Thou” of Buber, changes its reality and becomes not only more distant but even more removed. While we still communicate in person with family and our most intimate circle of friends, we are increasingly using more time-delayed and technology-mediated communications. So those outside our immediate circle become foggier, somehow more anonymous.
And here comes Customer Service. Following a parallel trend to the one described about communications, the focus of the service changed. Training for calling centers is done today from scripts as opposed to training people on how to listen. Today, a customer service representative appears more concerned about reciting the script than listening to the requests. Of course this is not Universal, but the trend is spreading ominously.
As the focus moved away from the Customer to the script, the evaluation of the service shifted from how it built customer loyalty to how much it costed. Hence, moving calling centers overseas to cut costs came to make sense. If you add to the sometimes thik accents (and I have my own accent) defective microphones, the whole process of communicating your needs and understanding the answers becomes a tragedy of miscommunication leading to a (not very funny) comedy of errors.
But this is not the worst. The same process that transformed customer service affected other areas of life, be it personal or institutional. In many organizations, Members are no longer the focus of institutional efforts. And it happens in politics...it is no longer about the constituent; it is about the party, about the office.
As much as I appreciate and enjoy social media and the Internet (I'm very far from a Luddite), I believe we need to reevaluate our perspective as a society on what is the role of social media, and we need to find a way to return the customer, the member, the individual to its place at the center of what we do.
It was Einstein, of course, who once said: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves”; or in other words (more seriously) that “without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people”
If we try so hard to get someplace that we forget who we are traveling with...what's the purpose of the trip? Doesn't the kiss deserve more attention?