Empathy and dead aunts

A few days ago I had a look at a training video on LinkedIn. The course was about “Empathy for Customer Service Professionals” and while I was actually looking for something completely different I was hooked. (That’s what often happens on these platforms – the algorithms send you merrily through the inventory and at some point you’ve completely forgotten what you were originally looking for).

The course was relatively short and an American trainer explained clearly what empathy is all about. Some practical examples were role-played.

One example presented the following situation: A woman calls the helpdesk of a mobile phone provider to cancel her aunt’s contract because she has died. The helpdesk employee then says “I’m sorry about that. I will terminate your aunt’s contract straight away.” While the trainer praised the helpdesk worker’s empathetic behaviour, I was concerned about three things:

1. Are there really people working on a helpdesk who manage to respond to the above statement without uttering at least one compassionate sentence? Even if he or she had known the aunt, who was not at all pleasant and who had also bequeathed her fortune to the animal shelter instead of the niece calling, an “I’m sorry about that” would be the minimum level of empathy! Conclusion: if you’re looking for a training session that gives you that “Oh man, I’m so good! I’m already doing everything perfectly!” feeling, you’ve come to the right place.

2. A memory from the 90s, when Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) was a real hype and many of my colleagues took corresponding courses. A method called “Pacing and Leading” for building trust (in order to subsequently take the lead, of course – not just like that!) outraged me considerably back then (- and in order not to get on the wrong side of all you NLP fans, let me clearly state: in the special variant as it was practised by some people I knew back then). My respective counterpart imitated every one of my gestures and postures during the conversation, supposedly (and as explained in the training) to “establish rapport”, i.e. to build a positive and trusting relationship – which seemed praiseworthy in itself, but I was not comfortable with the prospect of the subsequent “leading”. Since frontal assault on my part (“If you don’t finally stop this manipulative shit…”) didn’t bear fruit, it became my strategy to challenge my counterpart with increasingly strange gestures, which unfortunately didn’t help either. No matter how much I contorted myself, it was “paced” – to the point of back injury. Conclusion: If that’s empathy too, then I’d rather take the helpdesk employee with their one sentence on the dead aunt!

3. The thought: “The niece should be glad her aunt doesn’t live in Germany!” A call from a woman claiming to be the customer’s niece would certainly not be enough to cancel a contract. Anyone could try that on! Curious, I checked with an American colleague. She confirmed that in the States, one phone call is sufficient to cancel “minor” contracts of deceased persons. She had done the same in the case of a relative, and with the mobile phone provider and the sports club, one phone call was enough.

Having become even more curious, I checked with the usual mobile phone providers in Germany. A copy of the death certificate is requested as standard, and now and then there is even talk of a document with which one has to identify oneself as “legitimised to act on behalf of the deceased person”. Conclusion: Even when cancelling a mobile phone contract, there are still multicultural differences!

Original text: BBR
English translation: BCO


Author: bbr

Hello, I am Beate Brinkman, the bbr.harlekin. I am editor and author for Harlekin.Blog e.V. and my “main job” is support coordinator in an international IT company. So far I have worked in German, Dutch, American and Indian companies and have acquired a great deal of experience of multicultural cooperation. I have been living in the Netherlands as a German for many years and have discovered that the cultural differences between Germans and Dutch alone could fill entire books. For professional and private reasons, I am particularly interested in multicultural (mis)understanding. Whether it’s about food, language, official conference calls or the organisation of funerals – when the cultures of several countries collide, things get lively. And that leads to sometimes unpleasant, often very funny, but always instructive situations.

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