Monday, January 26, 2015

Eye-to-eye in the Optometrist's office

Seems like this is the script for every customer service phone call ever:

“Hi, this is Lisa.  Can you tell me your name, please?

"What is your address?"

"Mother’s maiden name?"

"And what is your problem?"

"Hold, please, I'll connect you to that department."

"Hi, this is Gene.  Can you tell me your name, please?"

Two weeks ago I went into a store, and was surprised to have the woman look up from the computer and say, “Hello, Mr. Lawton, how did you like that bow tie you bought?”

Er.  Um.  In a rare moment for me, I was shocked into silence.

See, we are no longer expected to hold a personal relationship with the people with whom we do business. The business transaction has been taken completely out of the realm of personal interaction and linked inextricably to a financial domain. We don’t expect our greengrocer to remember us, or even for the people we talk to on the phone for tech support to have any clue who we are. The idea of the shop-owner knowing you, knowing your family, being part of the same community..... it seems so quaint, somehow.

A week ago, my wife called up a local optometrist to ask about whether the contacts she ordered had come in. There was an awkward silence on the other end.

“Are you one of our customers?”

This is what we expect.  This is what we know.  But what if it doesn't have to be that way?

My computer stores information more effectively than my brain does.  If I can create a way of accessing those data about my customer, and use it to develop a relationship, is that fake? What if my phone conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hello?"

(Sam the Salesman, looking at computer screen that has tied a phone number to a database:) "Hi, Mr. Lawton.  How was that Perique tobacco we shipped you last month?  Isn't that a good smoke?"

Tell me this: how likely am I to buy from Sam?

Now granted, there are some of my purchases for which I prefer anonymity. (Most involve the purchase of an item wrapped in plain brown paper).  But for most interactions, I'd rather be dealing with a friend rather than a machine. Eye contact. Warmth.

So what happens if you take the strictly-business relationship, and begin to personalize it?  What happens if you start to treat the transaction as an element of a relationship, rather than as a one-off contract? What happens if we start interacting with customers?

Or, (if you look at it the other way), what happens when we, as customers, interact with the cashier? If we view them as a person, rather than as a substitute for the self-service line? Is there a down side to finding the humanity in each other?  Is there real negativity to be found in humanizing?  

Is it possible that just maybe, we can start seeing each other in a different lights?  That we can treat the grocery line at Whole Foods as a point of connection, rather than as a place to do battle (and believe me, I understand the impulse).

And, maybe most importantly, what will it do to our view of the world, when we drop the adversarial attitude? 

Probably, we do not start singing kum-ba-yah together as a result.  But maybe we can regain a little bit of community. Maybe we can see eye-to-eye.

Even at the optometrist's office.

1 comment:

aunt Patty said...

I am in. Great idea.