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Business & Work ● July 2014

The face on the other side

To date, I’ve probably read several thousand blog posts on software and technology. Most seem to blur together in a mishmash of similar ideas. However, every now and then, a blog post sticks with me. I keep it in my mental rolodex and find myself going back to it over and over again.

Derek Sivers owns several of these memorable posts. The one I’ve gone back to re-read the most is entitled “A real person, a lot like you.” If you haven’t read it yet, you ought to. Like most of Derek’s posts, it’s short and poignant. I hope it will leave an impression on you as it has for me.

Technology has given us the wonderful capabilities of servicing people we will likely never meet in person. We’ve interacted with lots of DoneDone customers over time, but only through the veil of an internet connection. Such is the world of a web-based service.

For whatever reason, the feeling of serving someone well or not-so-well feels so much more amplified when communicating over the internet. When someone points out a bug—even a minor one—there is an emotional urgency to make it right, right away. Without the transparency of seeing a distressed face, we can only rely on our actions to show people we care. And that translates. Periodically, we get a customer support ticket just to say “thanks” for helping someone make their lives easier. Those have us glowing for the rest of the day.

The words from our customers have an enormous impact on our team’s day-to-day emotions. A great day ends with every customer getting what they wanted and humming along with DoneDone.

In my younger days, as a customer, I wouldn’t think twice about sending a snarky message to the support team of a service that was causing me frustration. I remember one time sending an egregiously rude message for something that wasn’t that big of a deal. One day, that service representative responded—not with some standard customer service tactic—but in simple, unadulterated words. He wanted to help, but I could tell that I had gone over a reasonable line.

The first time I read Derek’s post, I thought back to the moment I received that very human reply back to my ineloquent and unthoughtful comment and immediately feeling bad—not as a customer of some product—but as a human being. No firewall or network or physical distance could dull the sense of regret I had.

Every now and then, we receive a customer support ticket that feels like that “me” from a long time ago—the one who isn’t willing to cooperate when we need a little more help to solve the issue. The one who takes “the customer is always right” mantra to a new level. The one who doesn’t seem to know or care that there are real people trying to be helpful over here.

It doesn’t feel good to get those emails. But, I feel much worse for the people that send them. I can’t help but find out a little more about them—like what these same people are saying about other services. In the incredibly tiny sample-size of people who we’ve dealt with that fit this mold, there seems to be a common thread: We’re not the exceptional case. For instance, their public tweets are often full of unnecessarily negative and sardonic remarks about many other software services. Surely, some are warranted, but the complete one-sidedness suggests to me that they’ve adopted this kind of behavior as their default.

A real person, a lot like you.—it’s worth the read.

Originally published Jul 22, 2014 at DoneDone. Go to the next essay in Business & Work, “A remote-first approach to the workplace”.