Willing and Able to be Human

What if your work computer had a major meltdown?
Could you keep your customer happy, and handle their every need?

Could you hold onto your own sanity, and remain stress-free in the process?

Way back when, in our time of the dinosaur when automated voice mail started putting telephone operators out of work (believe it or not, only the late 1970s), a lot of us wondered if voicemail would prove to be a good or bad harbinger of the future. How else would technology, marvel that it is, put a stop to the work we all did?

Smooth Operator by Eqqman on Flickr

A mere thirty years or so later, turns out technology has changed an awful lot, way more than we could have imagined it would.

Sadly, technology has also thrown a whole lot of common sense out the window too. One way Alaka‘i managers can make a notable difference is to reel it back in.

In some ways, as with automated voicemail, we customers have lowered our expectations universally. It’s a very pleasant surprise when you call a mid to larger size company and a real person answers the phone.

However no matter how slick and how fast computers become, and how much we love them, there are several things we customers will never understand. They all fall into the category of things human beings are still expected to know how to do when computers fail, or when the power goes out, or just because you need a common sense default or back-up plan. Computers can’t work for everything. Sometimes only a human will do.

And what’s wrong with wanting a human instead? Can’t we give each other that option? That one shift alone, being willing to be human instead of automated, no matter how cutting-edge slick the technology, could revitalize the customer service standard of your company. Make the shift, and I’d bet you’d have more customers than you could handle —a good thing!

Short story…

I was in the bank the other day when I overheard a gentleman say in frustration to a teller, “Please ma’am, I don’t want a computer to do this for me, I want you to do it for me.”

Instead of handling his request for him, she’d been trying to give him an online banking tutorial, telling him that he could handle it very quickly on his own the next time he logged in. My goodness, why not do it for him right there and then?

She didn’t even bother asking him if he already did online banking, but it gets worse: When he said he doesn’t use computers for his banking by choice and wasn’t about to start using them, she said, “Well I’m sorry, but that’s the only answer I can give you. We just don’t do those things manually anymore as tellers, and I don’t have access to that part of the computer system. Maybe my bank manager can help you; if you wait a moment I’ll go get him.”

The computer preferences and technical literacy of your customers should be irrelevant to the delivery of your customer service — even if they’ve come to you to buy one! (Having a bit of a flashback here, to an Apple ‘genius’ asking me, “You’re a mac virgin, aren’t you.”)

Beyond the willingness to do everything for your customer though, is the foundational ability to do so, and fact is that many “customer service representatives” no longer know how to do much of the work computers now do for them. They lack the skill set, and because the skill set is no longer required of them, the common sense decision-making which once accompanied it has disappeared from their service as well.

As far as most customers are concerned, and I daresay that the most computer savvy among us would agree, computer systems are simply electronic calculators: They process information that some human had to input into them either as raw data or some programming snippet of code. Therefore, it stands to reason that human ability still exists, and can be taught to another human being in a form that doesn’t require a computer at all. At minimum that ability exists as a back-up plan. Far, far better if it exists, no, thrives as an “enhanced service plan” that will dazzle and delight your customers.

The techies of the world cannot insist that customers get with the program, for that’s simply not what customer service is all about. Computers will always be cold transactional machines. People will always provide warmer interaction, and when it comes to customer service warmth trumps cold every day of the week.

We who are Alaka‘i managers must be the ones who are ever on the look-out for these situations of customer frustration. Asking yourself, “What can our computers do, that my people cannot?” is a good place to start. Throw that switch on your breaker box and see what happens — I dare you.

If you want to dazzle your customer, give them an unexpected and delightful human interaction which has “Can do!” all over it. Train, coach, and mentor your people so they are both willing and able. They shouldn’t have to “get my manager” for anything.

Archive Aloha along this train of thought:

  1. The Transforming Power of Ho‘okipa in Business
  2. Are we seeking Hospitalitarians?
  3. We buy, and work, with our hearts
  4. What if your business got sick?
  5. The Tech Life of a Manager, 2010 and Beyond

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sayalakai_rosasayMy mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Thursday I write a management posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at Hawai‘i’s newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser. If this is the first you have caught sight of my Say “Alaka‘i” tagline, you can learn more on this Talking Story page: About Say “Alaka‘i”. There are some differences in this Talking Story version, most notably that all links will keep you here on this blog.

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  1. says

    You sure hit the nail on the head…this mindlessness is maddening. I would love to find a list of companies that have figured it out and have a human being answer the phone every single time. Just think how many people we could back to work if we just reinstituted the good ole’ receptionist?

    • Rosa Say says

      Aloha Gretchen, LOVE that thought of getting people back to work as receptionist and Mea Ho‘okipa!

      And the telephone is just the beginning of how we could “go back for keeping future good.” I’m thinking about Road Runner… it’s now the name of an internet provider here in Hawai‘i, but at one time it was the name of a courier service, and I remember how they’d give college students work opportunity. When I worked for Hyatt way back when, our delivery guy was such a charmer (besides being a greatly responsive courier for us) and he loved getting introduced to so many different companies by serving them. We eventually hired him as a management trainee when he graduated with his BA. While a courier, he only had the Waikiki beat meaning he could use a bicycle instead of a car: He got documents from one end of Waikiki to the other faster than any car could because he never got stuck in traffic or worried about parking.

      That company eventually went out of business as a victim of the fax machine, and then FedEx and UPS…

  2. Connie Haskell says

    Form follows function…and the primary “function” of any company, organization, ohana, etc. should be relational…after all it IS all about people.

    • Rosa Say says

      Form and function is a concept we talk a great deal about with MWA Key6, our ‘Ohana in Business modeling Connie, for it is so helpful in keeping us focused on that hand-in-hand relationship; thank you for the reminder. You are absolutely right, it should be all about people.


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