Are You Treating Customer Service People Like NPCs?
Living in the cold heart of the 21st century, here are 5 things we can do to spread compassion and kindness.
Compassion. The world needs more of it.
Too often, we treat each other like Non-Player Characters from a video game, only here to enhance our own experience. ESPECIALLY when we’re dealing with people in customer service roles.
They are not here only to enhance the customer experience. Everyone we encounter is on their own adventure. They have their own journey, their own work to do, and that doesn’t get suspended just because they’re on the clock.
“Customer mistreatment of employees affects employees’ well-being by increasing demands, depression, and anxiety.”
As busy, preoccupied humans, we’ll never be perfectly kind to everyone we meet. But we can be better.
In the spirit of going first, here are 5 ways I treat people like NonPlayer Characters… and how I could do better. Until recently, I owned and often worked behind the counter at a coffee shop. I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the counter, and these are still mistakes I make all the time. Would love to hear your customer service confessions in the comments below.
1. Avoiding Eye Contact
Nothing makes us feel seen like eye contact. I’d certainly rather people look at my eyes than any other part of my giant, lumbering body.
And sometimes customer service people don’t have the energy to make eye contact. That’s ok. But if we want to spread kindness and compassion along with our commerce, we’ve got to give people the opportunity to make eye contact.
Smiling is the most basic thing we can do to humanize each other. Our eyes really are the window to our souls.
Sometimes I don’t make eye contact with people I buy things from, but the interaction is always better when I give them the opportunity, even for a brief second, to go soul to soul.
If your eye contact is kind and accepting, they’ll carry it on to their next interaction, and you will too.
2. Skipping the Cut Scenes
When you encounter an NPC in a video game, you can often hit a button to get them to skip their dialogue and get straight to the point.
I’m an American, and when I’m in a hurry, I jump straight to the commerce.
But “I’d like a 12-ounce Americano with a tiny bit of cream” should never be the first thing I say.
The people I’m interacting with seem to feel a lot better if I follow this simple formula:
- Create an opportunity to make eye contact (by simply looking at their eyes).
- Initiate a perfunctory “How are you” chat, or respond to the one they started.
- When people ask me “How are you,” respond with something more than just “good”, and then immediately ask them, “how are you?” in return. Sometimes I get the sense that it doesn’t happen a lot.
- ADVANCED: Start a conversation about the transaction. Make a comment about something I’m buying, or compliment them or their establishment n a choice they’ve made.
(Obviously, when people are slammed it’s okay to just tell them what you need, but being cognizant of other’s situations is another great way to not treat people like NPCs)
Many times in my life I’ve just walked up to someone and started in with the commerce. But truth is, I’m much happier when we add a little humanity, and most of the people I interact with seem to appreciate it too.
3. Engaging in Distracted Commerce
I used to do this, and it embarrasses me. I’d talk on the phone while someone was checking me out at the coffee shop or the grocery store or even the bank.
Don’t be like me. If you need to conduct commerce with someone, which you are doing every time you buy something, the person on the other end deserves your full attention. Tell the person on the other end that you’ll call them right back or ask them to hold for a minute.
Don’t text either. Give the person in front of you your attention for the duration of your quick interaction. They get treated like NPCs all day, and it’s hard. Even a few seconds of kindness goes a long way.
“The compassion of strangers was unexpected and had a lasting impact on the participants. It broadened their perspectives about strangers, helped build feelings of gratitude, and positively altered their sense of self.”
- Jennifer M. Selman, Lasting Impact: The Compassion of Strangers
4. Spreading blah
When I’m interacting with an NPC in a game, I feel mostly at liberty to treat them however I want. After all, they’re just there to serve me.
But people acting in customer service roles have their own story and their own reality that’s just as big and important as our own.
In my work as a hypnotist, I have two rules for client interaction that I don’t always follow when conducting commerce.
Rule 1 is to always show up with a little more energy than the person I’m interacting with. If I show up with a lot more energy, I’ll freak people out. If I show up with less energy than they’ve got, I’ll bring them down.
More energy just means a slightly brighter smile. A slightly more playful approach. Or a willingness to say something just slightly outside the norm. Try to make people laugh. Be playful, but in a gentle way.
Interacting with a bunch of demanding people every day has a psychological and physiological impact. We have to decide if we want to try and make that a positive impact, or passively let it be a negative one. (Or go full Karen and try to get them fired.)
5. Being a Time Monster
In America, it’s common for people to believe that the customer is always right. This is of course not true, as the last year of anti-mask floobery has shown.
I think this belief enters our subconscious, and slip-shifts into us feeling entitled to take up people’s time.
I certainly have made customer service reps spend far more time with me than they wanted to. We have to realize that just because they’re helping us at the moment, doesn’t mean people in customer service owe us anything.
Know what your questions are. Speak quickly. Don’t include irrelevant information, and watch for signs that they’ve got somewhere else to be. Then, above all, thank people when they help you get something you want.
Because there’s a lot going on behind the customer service smile.
The world needs more kindness, and the only way we’re going to get it is by building tiny habits that spread it.
I run a small apparel company where every item is designed to make it a little easier to interact with strangers. Check out our Player Character shirt here.
Thanks for reading,