If there is any common experience where one feels the inhuman aspect of modern economy, it is the ubiquitous phone messaging systems. There is nothing more frustrating than having a concrete problem that need resolving only to have a mechanical voice list the options that do not correspond to your needs.
I had this happen recently when I ordered a book by mail which took a long time to arrive. When the package finally came in the mail, I opened it up with great expectation only to find that I had been sent the wrong book. I immediately got on the phone to complain to the small bookshop in South Carolina, not without some irritation. My displeasure only increased when an answering machine kicked in.
However, I suddenly realize that this machine had no mechanical voice. The lady who had recorded the message had one of the sweetest Southern accents I had ever heard and she had a very charming and original way of telling me my options. I was so enchanted by the recording that, when I finally did get to speak to a real person, my irritation was gone. Moreover, the real person on the line had a similar charm and accent. She profusely apologized and helped resolve my problem.
It was a small incident but one where you could sense that human element so often missing from modern economy. In the drive to maximize efficiency, those little things that give spice and warmth to life and economy are often overlooked. The cold mechanical aspect prevails since there is no nuance among the options that impose themselves upon us. If we are to return to order, this refreshing human element is a good place to start. A refreshing personal touch that no machine can match should be one of the options on the menu. We need to go beyond press one or press two.
This is, of course, something anyone can do. We can easily list eight things that you can do as a consumer or as an employee to restore this human element.
1. It can be as simple as showing genuine solicitude to those who you serve and showing gratitude to those who give you good service. A store clerk with the right attitude can go a long way toward conveying the idea of caring about the person and the reputation of the business.
2. We can be courteous to those who exercise repetitive tasks where the human element is little evident – a simple good morning to the parking attendant can brighten up his day.
3. We can display personality in the tasks of the day with a personal touch that shows warmth, courtesy or concern. A shuttle driver, for example, engaging in interesting conversation with passengers can make the ride more than just transportation.
4. We can make efforts to put something beautiful in a surrounding business environment – perhaps art or flowers that uplift.
5. We can insist upon principles and manners – nothing so degrades us than vulgarity and obscenity. Nothing facilitates better business relationships than common courtesy.
6. We can depart from the fads and fashions that often establish a low common denominator and do much to depress the atmosphere of the marketplace. This can be done, for example, by dressing and presenting ourselves with modesty and taste.
7. We might begin by preferring to talk to a real person rather than a machine when there is an option. We can also slow down and enter the store rather than use the drive-through/rush-through window.
8. When there is an option, we can avoid the ubiquitous self-service alternative and deal directly with someone who can help us. Let someone serve you.
All these things are simple ways to start restoring that essential human element in economy — and they are also good for business. This vision of economy is part of the model suggested in my book, Return to Order, From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here and Where We Need to Go. At this point, we need to put options like these on the table. We must go beyond pressing one or two from a standardized menu read by a cold mechanical voice.