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            I’ll never fly American Airlines again.  In the past, I’ve had six-figure balances on my AAdvantage card, and American is the only carrier serving our small city.  But my wife and I drive an hour and a half to fly Delta or United instead.

                  Part of the problem is the obscene fines American charges for ticket changes.  But a bigger part is the customer service at their call center.  I’ve never felt so depersonalized.

                  My little consumer feud is multiplied thousands of times on the company side of every organization with a call center.  Since call center pay is low and stress is high, poor production and 40% turnover are serious problems.

                  Now an MIT-educated team has discovered some ways to improve call center service, and it involves communication that is as personal as possible.  Could American Airlines be listening?

                  Ben Waber heads the research team, and he’s published their findings in People Analytics.   Waber’s consulting company is called “Humanyze”, and one of their main messages to the businesses that hire them is about “the importance of face-to-face communication [among workers]—specifically, cohesive face-to-face communication, where the people you talk to spend a lot of time talking with each other” (p. 193).                  

                  He doesn’t mean using Skype or sophisticated teleconferencing meeting rooms and software.  Research shows they don’t produce the same results.  He means “breathing the same air.”

                  Part of Waber’s research was done at Bank of America call centers, where stress and working conditions lead some service people to hang up in the middle of a call just to keep their sanity—and their numbers high.  His group found both work-related and purely social informal conversations increased cohesion among these workers by 18% in a 90-day period, which helped turnover drop to ¼ of the industry average.   The performance increases they identified could also add $15 million to BofA’s bottom line.                    

                  Here is more evidence of both the humanizing and the hard-numbers value of the kind of communicating I explain in U&ME: Communicating in Moments that Matter.  As Waber puts it,

". . .these interactions don’t have to focus on work  In regards to trust and stress, in fact, it’s probably better if people in these networks talk about their private lives in addition to their work life.  This adds depth to the relationship, further enhancing trust and decreasing stress" (p. 65).

                  U&ME calls this “taking in” and “giving out” relevant parts of what makes each of us a person—our Choices, our Reflections (second thoughts, questions), our Emotions-Spirit-Personality, and our Mindfulness.  When people nonverbally and verbally get elements of these four on the table between, they create a situation where uniquenesses meet.  This means that part of what makes each person an individual emerges in their contact.  When this happens, it’s impossible to stereotype, disconfirm, or depersonalize the other person.  Their communicating is as personal as possible.  And, in a small way, the quality of both their lives is enhanced.

                  When you put Waber’s research together with U&ME, it’s clear that both the misery I experienced with American Airlines and the misery customer service people experience at call centers could be reduced by more face-to-face, person-to-person communicating.  Workers would be more satisfied with their jobs and I might still be flying American.

                  Tremendous amounts of brain power and startup capital continue to be invested in technologies to enhance productivity in every part of the economy—retail, health care, education, accounting, architecture, manufacturing, agriculture, and even law.  Other technology-focused initiatives are aimed at community-building, politics, and social justice.  Advances are happening.

                  And increasing numbers of smart leaders and managers are recognizing that there are clearly-defined, low-tech solutions to some of their most vexing problems, solutions that employees can take home to their families, recreational partners, and friends.  These solutions only require making simple, yet potentially profound improvements in the ways people listen and talk. 




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