A series of recent experiences on the customer side shed light on what I believe is a growing problem, possibly made worse by the public nature of communications – or possibly just poor grammar.
Cannot or Can’t is an expression of inability or incapacity – “I can’t take the garbage out”
Will not, or Won’t is also deliberate choice not to act – “I won’t take the garbage out”
For those of you with kids, those phrases are really quite different if they are used in response to “hey, would you please take out the garbage”. My reaction would be (has been?) very different in each case. Yes, I realize that some kids will use improper grammar and use one, and actually mean the other, so please look beyond that point.
When someone in customer service says “I cannot help you”, I believe that what they often mean is that they won’t help you. However, if those words are used, while they might be honest, they might incite a much stronger reaction. Think offering a hotel voucher due to a delayed flight, or a refund for a poor experience or some other scenario. Read between the lines of ‘ I could help, but I am choosing not to help, so I won’t’ – yeah, probably not going to fly.
The unfortunate use of “Can’t” is when a subordinate is acting as a face for a more senior person or larger organization. Is this an act of proper deflection, a way to defuse the situation? “My boss says I can’t” Which is a proxy for, my boss can, but won’t and I will get in trouble if I let you talk to him (this exact scenario happened to me last week).
This may simply be a game of semantics, but it is a bit more complicated when the social web becomes involved. I cannot think of many more examples, or maybe I simply won’t try 🙂
Setting the Stage
“Hi Mitch, I saw you were searching for sales organization and sales strategy information information on the web..…<insert 2 inane invented facts>… Are you available for a quick 5 minute chat today?” Yes, I received this in the body of an email. The email was from a person who works for one of the larger CRM vendors; I will leave it at that. Interestingly, the individual actually had my name and contact information from a recent conference and it had nothing to do with search.
A highly respected blogger and friend Brian Vellmure wrote an insightful post a few days ago titled “When our Neurons are Connected to the Net”. The full post is worth your time. Plan to read it twice, worth it each time. One point that struck me is the following:
“It is predicted that in just a few years, the processing power of IBM Watson will be contained in the size of a smartphone. We can and likely will have a super human intelligent friend with us.”
Brian does a great job circling some key points, touching on influence, friends, information and it is a bit a view towards the future. A key point here is that Brian accepts influence from friends and people he trusts. He has an expectation that his friends know him and are able to provide information in context, even add an emotional element, knowing Brian more than a machine could. If a computer made the some recommendation, would Brian listen?
Lessons from TV, Film and Video Games
The more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. However, there is a point where the likeness would be too strong and acceptance would drop shifting to a powerful negative reaction. These are the thoughts of a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori stated in 1970. When this happens the term created is “Uncanny valley” (which looks amazingly similar to the Gartner ‘trough of disillusionment’). The effect also goes beyond looks, but to extend to sounds as well. Therefore, it not much of a leap to suggest that the written word, or advice, influence given in the wrong way could easily cause discomfort as well.
My Own Perspective
I am a strong believer in proper context. I stated as much in a predictions post earlier this year, that 2013 is the year of context. If a person or company want to understand my needs at a particular point in time then relevance needs to considered. Amazon, please know that I just bought a 32inch monitor and stop sending the emails.
I am fickle and so are your customers. Present me with an accessory or add-on to my current online purchase and I might just go for it. However, if I think the suggestion is because of something I do not think you should know about it, I will leave without buying anything.
Make a person too robotic, and I will become annoyed, Make a robot too human and I will become annoyed. Is the line drawn in stone or in sand? Great question, it is not in stone, as it changes with the tide, sorry, I am just human. Where is that line for you?