Feeling better by design
11 October 2019 | 0
The IT industry is big on delivery. In large part, it has been built on the continual process of delivering technology X to address issue Y. So you get used to technology vendors delivering something or other, but I have to admit to being stopped in my tracks by something I read in an IDC press release concerning the customer experience (CX) market.
Reporting that the market would be worth a staggering $128bn by 2022, senior research analyst for IDC Customer Insight & Analysis in Europe, Andrea Minnone described customer experience as “the top business priority for European companies in 2019”.
You’re probably wondering what’s so controversial about that. The answer is nothing much. But Minnone went on to state: “Businesses are moving from traditional ways of reaching out to customers and are embracing more digitised and personalised approaches to delivering empathy (my italics) where the focus is on constantly learning from customers.”
Look at that sentence again. At that phrase, ‘delivering empathy’. Doesn’t it strike you as disturbing? I’m not saying that Minnone intends it to be so but the notion that you can deliver empathy as freely as you can ‘deliver’ a solution to a customer makes me feel slightly queasy.
It’s not an isolated incident. IDC Europe research director and European CX Practice co-lead, Andrea Sangalli published a blog post in April headlined: What are the 3Cs of Customer Experience? Consent, Conversations and Customer Journeys for delivering Empathy at Scale.
In the post he lists three key aspects for ‘delivering empathy at scale’ – customer consent, customer conversations and customer journeys – which he believes “will deliver customer delight and empathy at scale, which is the ultimate goal of every marketing and sales professional”.
It’s an unfortunate choice of phrase, I think, because it suggests we can apply an artificial process to something that most of us believe is a human quality or ability, that is to be able to experience the feelings of another person. It’s hard not to see that businesses using systems to deliver empathy are trying to engage customers with something that is false and insincere.
Most people would probably feel uncomfortable at the suggestion that companies are being urged to use technology to empathise with them, although it’s the kind of thing you can imagine some of the leaders of today’s technology companies viewing as a good idea. It doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to picture them taking an online delivering empathy course with separate modules devoted to ‘how to personalise your interactions with users, politicians and journalists’.
A number of them would definitely benefit from it judging by their awkward engagement with the public. Whether it would work is another thing. While it would be great if they could be taught how to empathise, it would be frightening if they were merely trained to mimic empathy and employ it as an ‘innovative’ feature that makes their proposition more marketable to people.
The reality is that customer experience systems that deliver empathy are merely replicating it artificially. It’s not real. But if they can succeed in fooling customers into believing that their ersatz empathy is real, why would organisations ever need to show genuine empathy for anything? And if the facsimile is enough to satisfy us, what does that say about us?