Which is best; Being Kind or Being Clever? – McDonaldisation and Cattle Prods

Buzzing customer service and spiritual reverie……

I read of a young man whose Grandmother was ill in hospital. She wanted a special kind of soup (“Chicken Soup for the Soul follows!), since she found the hospital food inedible. The shop that made the soup she wanted did not make it over the weekend, but the young man spoke to the owner, who not only made a special batch, but also sent a box of specially made biscuits for the hospital staff.

No expectation of ‘payment in kind’ or ‘fair profit’, the store owner simply did what happens many millions of times a day (significantly UN and under reported, in my view), she expressed a human emotion when one heart reaches out to others. As she went about her daily business, the touched young man posted news of her kindness on to social media. Result? The shop received 50,000 ‘Like’ hits. No begging emails or prompts from that gal!

The social media gurus would have you focusing on the power of the technology. I ask you to look at the power of the act.

When the customer service operator says “Can I help you with anything else today?” or “Have a nice day.” We can’t be sure that is coming from a sense of kindness and helpfulness or because the technology is ‘listening in’ or the caller will be invited to rate the call (note to self why do I spend my time answering their controlling marketing research stuff?)

What is the power of that act? It feels like and I can imagine the day when the technology will act as a ‘cattle prod’, when the operator fails to use the right word, tonality, inflexion or pause, the great ‘eye that is listening’ can prod the contestant, I mean operator, with a ‘nudge’. They will call it coaching of course. Just maybe we will all sit in the restaurants and push buttons to prod our waiters to serve faster and with more panache.

But we as consumers will never know if the emotion is real are we being lied to? We will complain about the lack of congruence which “did not push my buttons”. The service staff will be under stress, having no room for their own heart to heart emotions and will just go home complaining about how “their buttons have been pushed”. I am sure there are psychological studies that demonstrate that living with a sense of such incongruence and tight management (which my clients complain of) results in some kind of long term illness; mind, body and/or soul.

But the prodding power will gloat cleverly, point to the numbers and say “look the facts speak for themselves, bigger, faster, cheaper and more measurable!” If I have understood the scientific world properly, we will soon have feeling, sentient reflective robots to replace the mechanical humans we are training up, coaching through and making efficient. Perhaps the robots will also be trained to enjoy those wonderful, spiritual times of reverie I often call “Wow moments!” If the eye will aye them, of course.

Founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos, writes of the time where as a young boy he used the power of his calculating and economic mind to point out to his chain smoking grandmother how much her smoking cost and how many years he had knocked off of her life. Grandma burst into tears, uncontrollably and Granddad had to pull over the car they were travelling in to speak to the young Bozo (sic).

“Jeff” said the old man gently “One day you will understand that it is harder to be kind than clever”.


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