Weaponized Empathy

Becoming Superhuman

Apr 21 2022 • 10 mins

As humans, we are, presumably, always in the process of improvement.

We seek to grow individually and collectively. We look for ways to enhance and optimize our material conditions in the home, in the corporation, in the state.

However, we cannot always agree on what represents an improvement.

In many cases, by improving in one area, we cause harm in another. We find ourselves routinely asking “do the ends justify the means?”

Today, I want to interrogate what it means to improve in business by looking at a single, frequently-employed tactic. My hope is that by looking at this symptom, we are able to reveal the more significant condition it represents, and possibly present some methods to remedy what ails us.

I'm willing to bet you can relate to this story.

*Ding*

The text message arrived to inform me that my bill had increased...by nearly 60%.

I was upset. I was confused. Maybe more than anything, I was annoyed that I'd need to take time out of my day to deal with this.

I wondered, should I call customer service or try to resolve this via live chat?

I opted for live chat.

"No Worries"

"It is nice to meet you here in chat."

"I'd be concerned too if I were in your shoes."

"The pleasure is mine"

"Thank you for sharing that with me. I appreciate it!"

"As a bill payer myself, I know how important to manage our finances."

All of this sounds great! I feel heard. I feel seen. I feel appreciated as a customer.

Or, did I?

The truth is, I sensed it immediately. The playbook has been upgraded. In addition to “nice” it now includes "empathy."

Not human empathy but, empathy the tactic.

At the end of my chat, the problem remained, I was given a number to call, and all I had to show for it was a morning derailed and wasted, and a representative, who was pleasant on the surface, but had no ability to help me.

"Your call is important to us"

So, how did I resolve it? I picked up the phone. I called the customer service line.

"We're experiencing longer than usual call volume. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line (for an unspecified amount of time), and we will answer your call in the order it was received."

How many times have you heard that? Can you hear the robotic male or female voice in your head as you read that? If you hear that message every time you call, wouldn't it stand to reason that the call volume should be expected at this point.

Some of these companies make billions in profit each year and pay little in taxes.

  • Could they hire more call reps? Perhaps.
  • Is our call really important to them? Who can really know? All we know is that they've said it.

I spent roughly two hours of my life across two phone calls, mostly on hold or being transferred. I want to believe the tone in the voice of the last woman I spoke with. She assured me that she would look into it, talk to her supervisor, and get back to me. Her voice sounded sincere, but regardless, after several rounds of escalation, she still had no ability to help me resolve the issue.

Research has shown...

So, if companies are going to waste our time in live chats, make us wait on hold with no end in sight, and don't plan to give anyone the authority to fix customer problems, then why include the facade of caring? Why bother with the veneer of empathy? Why not just leave the phone off the hook, and provide no resource at all...like Facebook does.

Because they know it works.

Since Edward Bernays published Propaganda, businesses have been at the forefront of an ongoing battle to control our wants, needs, and opinions. Once Milton Friedman outlined his theory of shareholder primacy, the final piece was set for this nightm

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