people we vs i feature

'We' did not turn the story around. I did!

Written by on April 5, 2013

The default support reply has always started with something that exudes “teamwork”.  A word that has always been the killer of ego, and the self. WE.  The idea, of course, is that ‘we’ are a team and are working together to ensure the greatest support experience possible. In fact, just saying “We” often enough celebrates teamwork to the most noble of ideals, and elevates it to the level of gospel. Teamwork is so important, this train of thought says, that even if a bear starts chasing you on an ill-advised camping trail, you should hold hands and run as a team. Even if you went on a solo camping trip!

You must have figured out by now that this post is not about WE. It is about “I”, and being personally responsible for each support email sent, each call taken and each issue addressed. And I’ll tell you why “I” make(s) a much bigger difference than “We”:

‘We’ takes away accountability

The company may draft a million support statements composed of eloquent emotional sentences, conduct ‘teamwork’ classes asking employees to run up and down the forbidden forest, and train employees by ordering them to elicit a response from a mannequin, but when a support agent answers the phone, he only says his name, not the whole team’s. If he advises an old lady to step into a bathtub filled with water when troubleshooting a faulty hairdryer, the whole team is not to blame. Using ‘we’ takes away the responsibility and implies that the whole team is in on it, which you certainly don’t want to happen.

Here’s what that would sound like – “We are sorry to hear about that. Why don’t you step into your bathtub and switch your hairdryer on again. Oh, there’s water in it? That’s ok, its just water. We’ll take complete responsibility if something happens.”

Something invariably will happen, & ‘we’ won’t cut it then.

What you say
Oh we are sorry to hear that.

What the customer hears you say
We want to pretend we care, but we are just mindless robots.

We’ takes away competition

When ‘we’ is the norm in support, no agent is going to want to do better than the other. Why should he? He’s in a team, and the team will figure out all that important stuff. Yes, you’ve heard this before. The concept was championed by a fine fellow in Russia until the country that ran itself on this principle collapsed. It was good to hear and nice to think about, except it didn’t work. ‘We’ called it communism. Actually, we still do, and we all more or less agree it won’t take us anywhere, except perhaps chaos.

Only when an agent knows how much he is working when compared to the bearded fellow in the next cubicle, will he want to sink his teeth into first call resolutions and satisfaction scores.

And obviously, there’s no ‘we’ in that.

What you say
We got that done yesterday, but I’ll check again.

What the customer hears you say
We are the curtain that covers pointless things like individual responsibility.

We takes away the geniuses

Imagine if Mark Twain had decided that writing with a team of Missourians would be the best way to write a classic like Tom Sawyer. With his reputation of gambling and drinking, it is safe to assume he never would have managed it, and that we would have lost a literary classic, and also would never have known how to make other people paint fences while we lazed around eating ill-gotten apples.

Some things are better off being done alone, including work, and of course talking to yourself. Support is much the same. Some tickets and calls need to be handled by someone who is good at what he does. A baker cannot be expected to hang-glide, by which I mean that someone who has the ability to pacify a mad customer should be given the credit and the opportunity to do so.

What you say
Oh the fix worked brilliantly, eh? We are overjoyed that you liked it.

What the customer hears you say
We are all the same. The best, the worst, everyone.

There are certain places where ‘we’ can be used, like when you can put a name or face to the group you are talking about. For example, the following sentence – “John from our Dev team and I are working on your issue right now. We will give you a resolution by the the end of the day.”
Where you absolutely cannot use ‘we’ is when you are apologizing. Never ever ever ever ever apologize with a ‘we’. It makes you look faceless, spineless and absolutely lacking sincerity.

Just don’t use ‘we’. If you are going to leave your signature at the bottom, might as well put your name on the top.

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  • Vladimir Dyuzhev

    Author has demonstrated a notable ignorance in socio-economical aspects of history. For one thing, the political order of Soviet Union was called socialism (not communism), and one of the main ideas of such was “from each by their capabilities, to each by their work”. Quite “I”-centred, eh? Not “We” as the author imagine or read in _newspapers_. It also worth to remind Stalin’s words “Each problem has a (human) name”, meaning for every problem there is a personally responsible person. Stalin seems to support the author ideas of “We vs I” but that doesn’t excuse the whole heck of a mess author’s education is.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Vladimir. I over-simplified the idea for comic effect, and your comment is appreciated.

  • Very agreed.the whole idea of ownership is lost too..cos then in a we scenario, tasks are taken for granted and lots of ideas compromised…
    The people doing really good are not given enough credit and the folks taking it easy are given, more than deserved.
    Then we* (pun intended),all know how it would end..