Appearing to care


Excerpted from my Facebook page, July 18, 2017:

"Welcome home, old friend! I've missed you lo these 37 days since I put you on a plane to Israel and you disappeared. "It was bad enough to spend 11 days traveling without you and your contents. But the three weeks since I've been back, with no word--nor care or concern--from Air Canada regarding your whereabouts, was agony. It was only after a desperate, final email from me pleading with the good folks at the Lost & Found in the Tel Aviv airport to check again in closets and corridors for you, my missing bag, that you were found. "Now that you are back, all is right with the world!"

I was reminded of The Great Lost Luggage Incident of 2017 when I read a recent post by one of my favorite thought leaders, Seth Godin. In the brief post titled, "Appearing to care," Godin postulates the following:

We know that your customers will put up with imperfect, but one thing that they'd like in return is for you to care.

Marketers keep making big promises, and organizations struggle to keep those promises. Sooner or later, it leads to a situation where the broken promise arrives on the customer's lap.

In that moment, what the customer wants most is someone to care.

Almost as good: an organization that consistently acts like it cares.

It's a mistake to believe that you actually have to care the way the customer cares, and that anything less means you shouldn't even try. In fact, professionals do emotional labor all the time. They present the best version of their professional self they are capable of.

When Bette Midler shows up on stage in Hello Dolly, the audience would like to believe that she's as engaged and excited as she was on opening night. And she might be. Or not. What matters is that we can't tell.

If you care, that's great. If you don't, at least right now, well, it's your job. That's the hard part.

Acting as if, doing it with effort and consistency, is what your customers need from you.

This notion of at least acting like you care was made true for me in my experience with Air Canada and my lost luggage. While I am grateful and relieved to have my luggage back--and all my favorite clothes contained therein--it's as if I have PTSD when I reflect back on the incident. I'm filled with anxiety as I recall the 11 days in Israel and the 26 days back in the States when I had no idea where my bag was or if it would ever be returned.

OK, maybe I'm over-reacting a touch. But, still, these were ALL my favorite clothes. Gone.

The worst part about the experience was the impotence, the utter helplessness I experienced. It was clear to me that nary a person at Air Canada had any concern. Every person I talked to--when I was able to talk to anybody at all, mind you--every person conveyed the attitude that they could not care less about my problem. They didn't seem to care that I'd lost my luggage. They had no empathy about what that meant to me as a traveler in a foreign land. And they expressed no particular care one way or the other whether my bag was ever to be found.

This wasn't one or two individuals--outliers. No, this was the dozen or so different people I interacted with over 37 days. They each consistently underwhelmed me with their ability to accomplish anything meaningful to help me solve my problem and overwhelmed me with frustration about how terrible they were. Air Canada is the worst!

I perceived that mine was just one of a thousand complaints they'd fielded that day. The same as yesterday. The same as tomorrow. Through their lack of empathy, it was as if these Air Canada representatives were saying to me, "Why should I care about you? What difference does it make? Nobody cares about me. Nobody cares about this endless pile of complaints that I can never hope to solve."

While these poor Air Canada reps were the object of my fury and venom, I don't blame them for this predicament. I put the blame squarely at the feet of Air Canada's CEO, Calin Rovinescu, COO, Klaus Goersch, and every VP, director and manager on down the line.

Air Canada's leadership is weak. Their employees feel no connection to the company. And they have no empathy for the needs of travelers. Wait, what? A company in the business of travel has employees who have no empathy for travelers...?

Seth Godin argues that employees should, at the very least, pretend to care. I believe the only way employees can do that is if they are able to. If they are encouraged to. If they feel part of the company. If they feel a connection to the mission and the core values of the company. Employees can only care if their managers communicate with them regularly, and make them feel respected and valued. Make them feel as if their work is important--even the most mundane of tasks. Make them feel as if they, the managers, have the backs of the employees who report to them. Employees will only care about how well they do their jobs (and treat their customers) if they trust their managers and believe their managers will help them achieve success.

If managers only punish employees for not achieving goals--and, at the same time, do nothing to help employees achieve those goals--the employees won't even pretend to care. Why should they? Again, what difference does it make? "Oh, what? You're going to fire me from this shitty job? Fine. Put me out of my misery."

The only way Air Canada can turn this dreadful customer service department around is if the employees truly understand that their actions and the company's reputation are interrelated -- and they (both Air Canada and its employees) care enough to make a difference.


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