Victims on road, ‘It’s not my job’, ‘Going beyond the call of duty’, and Emotional buy-in

On Saturday (Jan 5, 2013) various news papers reported the callousness with which victims of Delhi rape were treated. As they lay injured on road exposed to the chill of December, badly brutalized, mentally wrecked, police personnel squabbled on jurisdiction instead of rushing to help them.

There are hundreds of fabled instances in service marketing that demonstrate how good organizations train people to  go beyond the call of duty to satisfy customers. These include how a FedEx employee climbed a barbed wire fence risking his own life to deliver a package containing blood to a patient and a UPS manager hired an entire plane and diverted two others to make a delivery. Disney cast members are trained to anticipate customer needs and respond to them immediately. A nine year old burn patient needed a cream. Since it was not available  nearby, a call was made to the supplier company. The customer service representative made it available knowing that it involved working on a holiday and breaking the rule of not entertaining an order of less than fifty cases.

Services involve intersection between customer (citizen) and provider (police).  These points of intersections tend to be human unlike a computerized robot welding a part on an assembly line. Automated manufacturing systems rely upon SOPs to preempt deviations (quality failures).  Rules and SOPs have made a way into service systems in a big way. For instance McDonald’s service  consists of a number of activity based SOPs like order taking and assembling a burger. SOPs are developed to achieve standardization but an over reliance upon them can have a dehumanizing effect. Consider how disgusting it is to deal with frontline people like human robots such as air- stewards and call center employees. The quest for efficiency pulls organizations into standardization mode but it may not be the most desirable way of dealing with situations that involve human interactions.

Service encounters involve an interplay between customer expectations and delivery by service personnel. Therefore the first starting point for developing quality systems  (SOPs) is to fully and accurately understand customer expectations. This involves a complex exercise into knowing and delivering. But in the given case (brutalized bleeding victims on the road) does it really need rocket science to discover and deliver what is expected? It is likely to make your heart pound and the impulse to help can’t be controlled. But the squabble over jurisdiction signifies how emotions are mediated by mind- when you need to feel you think. Some emotions are universal like happiness, sorrow, surprise, anger and disgust. We are surprised at the mechanical response of police and why they did not feel anger and sadness to go beyond the call of their duty to help the victim.

Exceptional situations call for extraordinary response.  Mostly crime creates exceptional situation for the victim but  for police or doctors it may just be an ordinary situation (‘we see this every day’) which gives rise to the concept of the job (the work you have to perform). This gives rise to important questions: does the repetition of dealing with crime (victims) make people insensitive (used to)? How does a rape or murder degenerate into a statistic and hence our attitude to dealing with the victim? How do emotions get mediated by reason?

Policing is a serious business that involves lives of people. Many service organizations look for ‘emotional buy in’ in selecting people for the job involving customers beyond qualifications (indicators of IQ). That is, how emotionally satisfying a job is for a person in term of its ‘meaningfulness’.  When a person opts for a job for ‘existence’ reasons (need based, salary, power, and progression) the work becomes an ‘imposition’ from the organization. The performance in such situations is unlikely to transcend the requirement barrier to avoid penalty. On the other hand if job offers meaning beyond the ‘existence’ considerations (I want to help people in need/ contribution beyond self) the performance is likely to transcend the minimum performance standards. This explains why lowly activities like sweeping floors or cleaning shoes become highly valuable and meaningful (higher order contribution) in a Gurudwara or a temple.

In certain jobs it is very important that ‘right’ kind of people are attracted. Policing is one of them. Policing is transformational, it provides opportunity to people to ‘make a difference’ in society. This discourse on ‘higher order’ contribution and ‘meaningfulness’ is unlikely to ring bell with all therefore it is important to revisit our recruitment system and ensure that people with right kind of mental makeup join the service.

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