Customer Disconnection?


arped male face Street Art in Northbridge

As a UX Consultant I see a great deal of disconnection between providers and customers all the time.

In large respected organisations I have often seen support people, call center staff, BAs, developers,  managers, directors, and the like laughing and making fun of an email from a customer.   With no regard for the customer, or their viewpoint, or the issue they are having.   The customer in their eyes is just an idiot, to be discarded.

This has to stop.   After all aren’t ‘customers’ still people just like you and me, even aren’t we customers.

It seems as if everyone in  service provision has been taking customer service lessons from Basil Faulty (from the TV program Faulty Towers).

Now in the area of User Experience there has to be a degree of real empathy and understanding of the customer.  This is critical culturally for improvement of the user experience from an overall service to product delivery.

The attitude against the customer is a typical very common defensive response,  we are wired you see to respond negatively against others that aren’t in our immediate group (like a customer) especially if they upset the status quo.

Be Honest, Do You Have a Disconnection

Too often there is a distinct denial that this behaviour exists at all, or the assurance that it’s only an isolated incidence.  More often than not I find that this behaviour has become sadly entrenched in the cultural of the provider.

Now we really need to be honest with ourselves,  what do you feel and what do your collegues do when you get correspondance from a customer.

Do you sit around and laugh at the comment, considering the person pointing out the issues as being a bit of a “dickhead”?

Ask yourself this:

  • When you get an email or phone call complaining or pointing out an issue – what is your first emotional response?   What is the response of the team?
  • When you get a comment or feedback from social media  – again what is your response?  And what is the team’s response?

Too often we have an initial negative feeling ranging from “Damn interruptions” to “Stupid users”.

This represents an undercurrent in the emotional detachment from the person you are responding to.

After all they aren’t really there, they  are somewhat displaced,  just a name on paper, just a email address, just a bodiless voice, or a mindless post or tweet.

The complete abstraction of the subject does tend to happen regularly within government and larger organisations.

There is hope, however, I have seen that it’s a little harder to build this degree of detachment when the interaction is face to face.  But it can still happen.

Why is this Occurring

There are a number of behaviours at play here.

All of which are centered around your self or group survival instinct.  Behaviours that we should keep in check in our modern peaceful society.

They’re not bad behaviours, just you need to be aware of them and when you reverting to use them.

Survival Mode

There is a tendency to want to reduce the more intense emotions in our lives such as anxiety, fear or disgust.

This comes from our internal responses in these emotions.  In the longer term, we need to help reduce the overall adrenaline feedback response and reduce stress.  To maintain a level field of homeostasis.  As we know a little stress is good a lot of stress is bad.

If customer feedback or contact is generally  spikes a degree of anxiety, be that from fear of failure,  of not having a solution, or having to enforce a policy you don’t like,  then we will naturally supplant this with a degree of disconnection.  It just makes things easier if you suppress the association with the other person; less stress.

Now put that in the pressure cooker environment of a support or call center, were a person will be bombarded day in day out with negative issues or even abuse, and you can understand why people become emotional detached.

Of course to promote this survival behaviour, your mind places itself in a feedback loop that feeds on the degree of disconnection, after all you can’t possibility be wrong, can you. Welcome to a little cognitive dissonance to help it all along too.

Tribalism and Dehumanisation

The survival of the individual works better when we are in groups, be that your team, the division, industry or social group, we like to be identified, for the most part, to belonging to something.  Even if it’s just behind closed doors.

Hence we tend to categorise people into labeled attribute groups such as user, customer, junior, IT, marketing, them, us, black, white, asian, bogan, hipster, geek and so on.  Yes the categorisation helps us deal with  people, sometimes by applying stereotypes.

Now if you consider a group response to a threat upon the general homeostasis of the group, then you are going to  want to make it easier for people to justify their actions against the people in the other group.

This behaviour starts out as phrases like – “they are just users,”  “it’s just a customer,” then it starts to shift to “another complaint email,” “oh, a complaint ticket”.  Notice that the terms over time become  dehumanised, less about the person, till the point they are just an object in the process.

You see its very easy to dismiss and not think about the consequences of object.   And all along the group tribal dehumanisation of the customer helps support it.

Always Guilty Until Solid Proof

Now if you layer the disconnection and avoidance of the emotion state with the dehumanisation and add a delusional tendency to consider a pessimistic view of a situation, then this completes the mix.

We are predisposed to tend to see people in a negative light with only just the hint of evidence.  Untruths like – “they mustn’t have  followed procedure”, “they’re trying to rip the company off”, or “they’re just plain stupid”; all can be  firmed up as reality and reenforced by the group culture.

Reality maybe completely different, but until we are willing (or force) ourselves to really listen or see solid evidence, our minds will enforce that the customer is basically at idiot.

Why Should You Care

First off you need to consider the customers time and effort. Unless the customer has a major issue they want fixed, then  any correspondance they have given you is a blessing.

They have in fact invested time and money in your organisational brand, in your service.  All this to tell you of a problem, from a tweet, to a feedback from submission – they are trying to help your organisation.

Also consider, for a moment, the low percentage of people that do report issues, then, frankly I wouldn’t be promoting any culture of  disconnection at all.

If you really are looking at providing a customer (user) focused environment then you need to  understand and empathise with the customers issues, and problems.  Sometimes a little understanding of the overall bigger problem can help reframe an issue.

Of course your behaviour responses can just as easily be flipped when you are on the receiving end of bad customer service a few times.   For the most part you need to remember these feeling of frustration, avoidance and false lip service.  This is the initial gateway to building real customer empathy.

So let’s be a little more honest, we all have these moments of disconnection.   The important thing is what are you going to do about it.  How are you going to approach gaining an empathetic understanding of your customers.


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