Being Present Part 1 – The Human Connection

Would drivers still cut each other off or act towards each other as they sometimes do if they weren’t enclosed in 2000 pounds of metal? Or is there something about being wrapped in automotive technology that detaches us from each other as people?

Computers and telephones aren’t any different, are they? Do we treat people on the other end of a support call differently than we would if we were face-to-face? Certainly we don’t treat them better.

In the mid-1990s one of my early tech jobs was providing phone support at a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) at a time when the web was just emerging and everyone knew they needed to be online, but not exactly why. Since neither Macs nor Windows had built-in systems, we had to support a seemingly endless array of possible operating systems and network applications.

During my second week on the job I took a call from a woman whose account had been hacked. Again. She was using her son’s name as her password and this was the third time she’d been hacked. Since we kept changing the password back to the original after each incident, the hackers kept getting into her account. I had been given specific instructions not to reset the password to her son’s name again. We went around in circles on the phone trying to find an alternative fix to her problem. Her frustration was rising as was her voice and a baby could be heard crying in the background. I began to lose my cool and finally asked her, “Ma’am, what do you want from me?”

She screamed, “I want your [expletive] corpse roasting on a spit!”

I was stunned. For a few seconds my mind was blank. I finally answered, “please hold.”

She wasn’t the only customer during that time that yelled at me, but it was certainly the one that sticks with me.

During my two-year stint as a “Genius” at my local Apple store I thought a lot about that story. Not one of the thousands of customers I helped during that time had that level of hostility – though I wouldn’t have blamed a couple of them who lost all their kid’s pictures or their post-graduate research when their hard drive crashed.

Why the difference? It’s because it’s easier to get angry or lose your temper with a faceless entity on the other end of a phone. It’s harder to dehumanize a person who is actually looking into your eyes.

So as Ground Control team members, why do we lean so heavily on remote desktop systems, phone calls, and chat sessions? Sometimes it’s because getting face-to-face with our Astronauts would require a car ride or even a plane ride. Sometimes we think it will save time. And for some of us the thought of being around another person, particularly one we don’t know well, is uncomfortable.

So here’s my challenge to you: if it will take less than five minutes to get to your Astronaut, then do it.

The entire process will go much smoother and, therefore, quicker if you can actually see their face when they tell you what’s happening. You’ll hear and see things you can’t perceive on the other end of a bunch of wire.

You will be working together to solve the problem.

As human beings.

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