“Hi, my name is Mike, how are you today?”
I had called customer service to cancel a service I had just purchased and to purchase one that I had realized better fit my needs.
I responded, “I am well. How are you?”
He cautiously replied, “Well … not great actually. I am a Seahawks fan.”
“Ohhhh,” I said, “I’m sorry. That was a tough ending. A heartbreaker.”
“Yes, I am having a hard time getting over it,” he said, sounding like he wasn’t anywhere near wanting to move on.
I did want to get to the reason I called, but I was also amused that a customer service rep was being so authentic. I hadn’t expected that. Maybe “being real” is a new tactic to “connect” with the customer. Or, maybe the final moments of the Superbowl had set him adrift like disappointment and loss can do.
His response had just surprised me. Talking to customer service doesn’t always feel like a human to human connection.
What’s funny about this is that I’m not a football fan. I usually end up watching only a few games a year (with family during the holidays or at a parties with friends). I had not watched Superbowl XLIX. Fortunately, I had read enough about the game to know about its dramatic ending.
I wondered how I, not being able to relate as a fan, could empathize with the customer rep’s loss. (I’ll admit that I’ve been re-reading a lot of Brené Brown recently and empathy was on my mind.)
I said, “It is not easy when you’ve put your whole heart on the line and lost.”
He replied with a knowing sigh.
In Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, the authors lift up Martin Buber’s thought-provoking description of the difference between an “I-it” relationship and an “I-thou relationship. Often we treat other living beings as its or things. Whether we are online or on the freeway, we retreat to “I-it” because it is easier. It’s less messy. We don’t have to think about anything other than our own needs. Essentially, it doesn’t require us to draw on much other than our basic instincts. In those rare moments when we allow ourselves to experience “I and thou,” we feel a true connection (even without a mutual love for football).
By the way, after our brief exchange, Mike completed my transaction quickly and wished me luck with my project. I ended the call as a satisfied customer. But more importantly, I ended the call as a human being.