Dear Customer, how are you? (Even though I frankly don’t care)

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Dear Customer, how are you? (Even though I frankly don’t care)

I hate that I’m all out of compassion, but I am

Columnist



“Maybe we need some time alone, so we can just breathe. Let it breathe,” sang Blu Cantrell all those years ago. When I am not listening to Apple Music’s Urban Throwback playlist, which features that iconic song, I’m thinking about her words in that song. It’s about a toxic romantic relationship.
When I played it recently I realised, bizarrely, that I have a toxic relationship with social media – but specifically, community management, which forms part of my daily duties at work.
For the uninitiated, community management is very much like being a receptionist or part of the cabin crew on an air trip. Smile, listen, nod, respond professionally by saying all the right things, and always stay calm in the face of vitriol and stupidity.
It’s about using social media as a tool to build solid relationships and brand loyalty with consumers, and of course advocating your brand, so that it all contributes to a positive perception, brand equity and sales. It’s all customer service, really, and demands that you’re “Always On”, willing to do whatever it takes to resolve issues – it’s not only about creating fun, engaging and memorable digital content.
But lately, I cannot be moved. Maybe I need some time offline, so I can just breathe, let it breathe.
But I have also learnt that maybe I have never been the most patient of people, and that is a critical trait when doing this job. “How can I be of assistance?” is always the first response, even when I’d love to say how I feel: “What more do you want from me? I’ve provided you with every single detail and instruction you might need.”
It’s clichéd, but the worst day of the week is Monday, when customers have had free time to send essay-length queries, and they want to know how it hasn’t been attended to within a millisecond.
Saying: “We’re sorry, but in case you didn’t know, AI is very expensive, and so responding to your query requires human intervention – and this human is tired as hell,” is unfortunately disallowed. Apparently, it is sufficient grounds for dismissal.
Perhaps it helps when you have a bigger team to work with or for you, and of course an enjoyable environment contributes to greater productivity and inclination to give more of yourself to your responsibilities.
That allows your team to share the burden of empathy, and gives each individual space to refill their well of compassion, so that they avoid the demands of work and school and personal relationships all draining their reserves at once. When that happens, I’d suggest you become a bit like me – hasty and generally indifferent to people’s dilemmas.
Interestingly, over the past couple of weeks I’ve come across various op-ed pieces from writers around the world, and each revolved around one topic (which made me ponder if it meant I wasn’t as bad as a person I’m beginning to feel I am): compassion fatigue.
In The Guardian, Elisa Gabbert writes: “The news is still horrifying, at home and around the world; I know this intellectually, but the physical feeling of horror is gone … After a year of news addiction that left me with insomnia and heart palpitations, I’m starting to detach. Is there any way around it? What happens when the world wants more empathy than we can give?”
The idea is that, because we’re perpetually bombarded with horrific news of famine and disease and corruption and various forms of abuses, we’re switching off to protect ourselves. It is the same with marketing – audiences are peppered with a million messages on a daily basis by marketers trying to break through the clutter, so they can earn our limited time and eyeballs.
I want to care. I work in an industry that looks after the rights of certain music creators. It is widely accepted that a lot of creators (of all disciplines) have it hard the world over, but those who inhabit spaces within the South African borders seem to have it quite tough. Those who have tasted success have also lost it all to the life of excess.
While we all want to see them succeed, it is those with the least access to information that should worry us the most – the ones who have no idea what the implications of the Copyright Amendment Bill are, let alone the importance of saving and investing appropriately. It, therefore, falls to us – and I suppose counts as one of my responsibilities – to help make them aware of these critical messages and statutes that govern this particular sector.
They deserve better; customers demand and deserve excellence at all times. And those using digital platforms have become just as important as any other brand contact point or channel that we employ.
Maybe it is the worry of what else I will encounter on social media, while I am there, but I simply do not have it in me to be empathetic at the moment. I just wish I had the luxury to say it.

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