One of the best blogs is Guy Kawasaki’s ‘How to Change the World’. Although Guy is a VC, his blog is full of interesting takes on sometimes unusual issues. A recent post on The Banality of Heroism led me to a website about the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was set up by the Stanford Psychology Department to look at the behaviour of intelligent people arbitrarily split into prisoners and guards in a make-believe prison.
The behaviours exhibited by the prisoners and their guards was truly a catalogue of human behaviour at its most degraded and its most degrading. Prisoners became completely swept-up in the experiment and played their roles with uncanny similarities to real prisoners. Guards did the same and treated the prisoners with dehumanising cruelty. Observers who knew what life in prison was really like acknowledged that the conditions were remarkably similar to those in real prisons. The two week experiment was wound-up after only five days before it got out-of-hand and inflicted lasting psychological damage on the people playing the roles of prisoner and the guard.
The experiment shows how ordinary people who should know better and who are better, easily get swept-up into playing ‘games’. This is sometimes no different in the cooped-up conditions of call-centres. Only here the prisoners are customers and the guards are call-centre agents. This mutually exclusive, them or us behaviour makes it much more difficult to handle customers appropriately. And of course leads to retaliatory behaviour from customers. Customers armed with the Internet and these days, with YouTube. Which in turn leads to defensive behaviour by agents. Outsourcing can make this much worse. A cycle of destructive mistrust.
What do you think? Are your customers doing time with no chance of parole? Or is your customer service thoroughly human?
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