Chris Young didn’t feel cared about. The food was good, the service was better than usual but it wasn’t enough — he wanted more from his waitress:
I didn’t feel like she really cared. Sure, she was attentive, but I didn’t feel cared about. And I didn’t feel like she was being authentic. I felt like it was an act. I think she cared about me until she got the check. Once she did, she didn’t refill anything. We never saw her again.
Chris is the founder and ‘difference maker’ of The Rainmaker Group, a North Dakota employee relations company. At Rainmaker they’re dying to "Breathe new life into your Customer Experience." They really are, they’d love to do it. They’ll show you how to put together a workforce that’s sincere, authentic and genuinely committed to making a difference in the lives of your customers.
From an employee’s perspective there’s something a little unnerving about a boss who wants to sell your feelings. Customers like Chris aren’t just buying a service — they’re buying you. It’s not enough to be polite and attentive, you actually have to care about the customer — even when the customer obviously doesn’t care about you. In her book The Managed Heart, Arlie Russell Hochschild calls this ‘emotional labour‘. Rather than pretending to care, many workers develop techniques of ‘deep acting‘ where they learn how to control their own feelings by changing the way they think.
Hochschild describes how Delta flight attendants were trained to think of the passenger as if he were a guest in their own living room. As she explains in the book:
The analogy between home and cabin also joins the worker to her company; just as she naturally protects members of her own family, she will naturally defend the company. Impersonal relations are to be seen as if they were personal. Relations based on getting and giving money are to be seen as if they were relations free of money. The company brilliantly extends and uses its workers’ basic human empathy, all the while maintaining that it is not interfering in their "personal" lives (p 106).
Marketers have realised that restaurant patrons and airline passengers want more than food or transport. As a result, it’s no longer clear where the product begins and ends. Many businesses are now selling the customer a relationship rather than just a service. They see customers as touchy social animals that want to be cared for and respected — emotional creatures that don’t like to be pestered, laughed at or made to feel stupid. As comedian turned corporate consultant. Ross Shafer, tells his clients, "Your Customers Want to Be Loved…so they can stop ‘dating’ other companies."
Companies want their customers to be faithful. Many believe that customers have a deep need to be part of something larger than themselves. Douglas Atkins, author of The Culting of Brands, tells readers: "You are a priest, not a brand manager. You are in the business of building committed congregations. You must help create a sense of community around a unifying set of values and worldview."
But in Beyond Right and Left, David McKnight argues that capitalism is driving out non-market relationships based on caring and belonging. As ‘services’ once provided in the home are outsourced to the market, he worries that human relationships will begin to break down. According to McKnight it is impossible to be "ruthlessly self-interested in the market and sweetly caring in the family, greedy at work and selfless at home" (p 72). But for employers in customer service industries the real problem is how to keep greed and ruthless self-interest from intruding on the marketplace. Customers like Chris Young aren’t impressed if they think that their waitress only loves them for their Platinum Amex.
If you work in customer service, your boss probably wants you to bring your warm, caring home persona into the workplace — even if you have to fake it. Greed and selfishness should be carefully hidden from customers who demand genuine human concern — especially when they’re complaining. According to psychologist Sandi Mann, "There is no way you can feel sympathetic all the time, but customers need and want that sympathy." The solution? "To enable everyone to be happy, give staff acting lessons."
So after a hard day feigning interest in the complaints of customers and junior staff members, mum comes home to cook dinner, bathe the kids, and listen to her husband’s work problems. "That’s terrible," she says, "you deserve to be treated better than that."