Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are You a Human or a Robot?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
What really happens to humans when they walk into their offices or places of employment?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about emotionally unavailable customers. Hat tip to James Lawther for inspiring me to actually flip the tables here and think about emotionally-challenged employees, instead.

The question I posed in response to his comment on that post was: Why do we transform from humans into robots as soon as we walk into the office building? Unless people are emotionally unavailable and incapable of having relationships before they even walk into the office, why do we suddenly become something we're not? Why can we no longer think for ourselves once we're on the other side of that door?

At this point, I have more questions than answers about what happens at work. For managers, these questions apply as you think about both employees and customers.
  • Why can't you stick to your own morals and values and let them guide you throughout the work day?
  • Don't your values align with those of the organization?
  • Why do you make life difficult for yourself and for your customers? for your employees?
  • Why aren't you thinking of ways to make processes easier for everyone?
  • Why don't you push back if someone questions you trying to do that?
  • Is this how you run your life? your household? your own finances?
  • Is this how you treat your family? your friends?
  • Do you talk to your loved ones the same way?
  • Do you really lack the ability to express sympathy or empathy?
  • Are you emotionally unavailable?
  • Do you create rules and policies within your own life and relationships that make it difficult to get along with, or be friends with, others?
  • Do you hide your phone numbers and email addresses so friends and family can't find them?
  • Do you regularly ignore their phone calls, texts, and emails?
  • Do you set expectations, then fall short of them? 
  • Do you commit to something and then ignore the commitment?
  • Do you make promises, only to break them?
  • Do you try to earn trust but screw it up? Or don't try at all?
  • Do you fail to trust others? or believe they shouldn't be trusted?
  • Do you lie to your friends and family?
  • Do you forget their names?
  • Do you treat them like bank accounts rather than as humans?
  • Do you not care about them and simply think of them as a number, not as family?
  • Do you fail - or not care - to understand the needs of your significant other?
  • Do you forget your manners? please and thank you? being responsive?
The questions could go on and on. The point is, we are all generally good people. More importantly, we are all customers. Someone's customers. We know what it feels like to be a customer. We know how we want to be treated. So why do we do such an awful job of designing and delivering a great customer experience for others, for our customers?

Do you really have to be told that what you do, regardless of whether you're on the frontline or in the back office, impacts the customer experience?

Do you really have to be reminded that the company is in business to create and to nurture a customer? And that the customer pays your salary?

Why do we turn into robots as soon as we walk into the office building, incapable of doing anything but what we're programmed/told to do, without question?

Because of the culture. The leadership. It's toxic, and we do things we're expected to do, despite the fact that those things deviate from our own norms and values and what we believe is right.

Clearly, there are two things that can happen next, if you find yourself in this situation:
  1. Get out. There's no alignment with the values of the organization, and there's no culture fit for you.
  2. Stop yourself. Be different. Be the change you want to see within your organization. Model the behavior that you hope others will aspire to. Be a leader. If no one chooses to follow, revert to #1.
For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday, and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you. -Neil deGrasse Tyson


  1. "Do you treat them like bank accounts rather than as humans?" Thanks for this post. It is very timely as I recently came off an assignment where I just felt like a number, and was longing to be treated like a human. As a CX consultant with a set of ideals of how we should be treating customers and front-line staff, I found it off-putting, a wake-up call, a brutal reminder of the gap between "CX should be" and "CX reality". It reminded me of my days of Army Basic Training, and it was a dehumanizing experience. This topic is very pertinent, because we too often forget it's a person behind the wall, on the other side of the phone, angry text or social media rant. We focus too much on the problem, to fix it as quickly as possible, and forget about the person. Band-aids may help heal physical wounds, but not emotional ones. And while this may sound sappy to the corporate robot, purchasing decisions are emotional.

    1. Thanks for your insights, Aaron. Your comments are spot on. I'm sorry that it was such a bad experience.

  2. Love this post, Annette! Absolutely important to think about our company values and the way they treat their customers and make sure that aligns with our personal values.

  3. Annette, we have a phrase in the UK, maybe you use it in the US

    "Treat people like children and they will act like children"

    Maybe it is equally true to say

    "Treat people like robots and they will act like robots"

  4. Hi Annette,
    This sort of thing frustrates me and it refer to it as the 'Jekyll and Hyde' syndrome. I think it has a lot to do with organizational culture but also to do with education i.e. what people learn about what it means to work, lead, collaborate, cooperate etc etc.


    1. That's a great name for it, Adrian. Hadn't thought of it that way, but "Jekyll and Hyde" is exactly what it is. In the end, I fear that culture ends up winning out even over education. Culture fit is then key for both the company to consider - and the (potential) employee.