Denialism and Customer Service

Drawn In with No Outlet

There are times when it is helpful to understand why facts are not a function of one’s place on the political spectrum.  Helpful enough that I feel it counts as customer service.

There are two very dangerous forms of denialism that are gaining strength over the facts because of the absolute power of sound-bite propaganda to destroy the work of fact-based science communication.  I have been doing a bad thing in just trying to tell people where to go for information, I guess, when all they want to hear is affirmation that leaked e-mails and a severe cold spell disprove the facts of anthropogenic global warming.  I have been doing a bad thing by just trying to tell people where to go for real information on vaccinations.  They respond by telling me, as one woman did yesterday, “I guess we are just on the opposite sides of the political spectrum.”

I do need to be careful on how I approach the issue because when I am talking to a customer I am “Big Corporate” with an operator number and a first name.  All that the customer knows about me is that I have a friendly voice and that I can help them resolve a business-related issue. They don’t know my background in studying experimental design or how I know that there are ways to detect bullshit in bad science that nearly anyone can learn.  They don’t know I also understand that the economic cost of global warming denialism is as high as the environmental cost, and that the delays in trying to resolve it will further weaken our economy.

I deal with small business customers.  Our customer service protocol involves building “rapport” or making a connection with the customer so that they associate my employer with friendly customer service to build loyalty to a company whose fees are in some cases higher than those of our competitors.  (Don’t get me started on those sorts of complaints from people with high-end accounts yelling at me for a $3 photocopy fee.)  We need them to add on to their relationship with us by adding services, and one way to do that is to get them to feel comfortable that they are working with nice people.

We ask them how their business is doing, and I cringe to ask some people because I can see it is not doing well.  When I ask them, I do so in a sympathetic voice and prepare for an onslaught of sob story.  I truly sympathize with their plight, but I am dismayed at the level of “blaming” they toss at me.  The government is to blame for everything for some people.  Taxes and Regulations Are Destroying the Small Business Economy in America.  For far too many, there is conservative self-victimization going on, and I hear the name Obama used as a pejorative explanation for why business sucks.

It bugs me.  I had a chiropractor tell me business is really good, but he will probably go out of business if the socialists in Congress get their health bill passed.1  I had an oil drill maintenance company owner tell me business is good, but if the government doesn’t start letting businesses drill he will be out of work.  I had a naturopath tell me business is good, but the FDA will ruin it for her if they start regulating her remedies.  I had a small church tell me business was dropping off because people are leaving for MegaChurches.  Oh, wait, they aren’t the government.

I have construction people telling me they can’t get work bidding on schools because they have to bid too low to get a job, and they can’t afford to take the work because of it.  I have real estate agents who are stuck because the market is making it hard to resell anything because their customers can’t afford to sell for the market price.  It’s the economy that the Democrats ruined, is what it is.

There’s a lot of blaming, and not much taking responsibility and adapting.  That’s what people need to do, rather than wait for Sarah Palin to come along and destroy the damage that Barack Obama is doing.  The world is changing, and livery stable owners need to start looking at making a go at the auto dealership business.

But no.  They don’t think they should need to adapt to a changing economy.  They want things the way they were when they were successful in the old days, when things were booming and the work and money fell at their door.

I try to make rapport with them and continue to provide a soothing voice and help them with their business-related problem, but occasionally I slip up and try to help them understand further what the consequences of denialism will be.  The problem is that they just don’t expect it from a customer service representative and are pretty sure they are just going to have a sympathetic ear for whatever they say.  When I try to gently correct them, they dismiss me or engage me with the propagandistic bullshit that is winning over explanation.

I talked to a woman yesterday, who told me how cold it is in Austin, Texas.  “Good thing we got global warming!”  So I started to explain that the “global” in “global warming” means “not local” and reflects larger trends which seem small, but considered as a measure of additional energy in the atmosphere, cause very large effects. She cut me off and said that she believes that the Earth’s temperature always goes in cycles and that this is just another cycle.  I tried to explain to her that there are resources she can use if she wants to get more information, but again she cut me off and said, “Well, I guess we are just on opposite ends of the political spectrum.”

I dropped that particular subject and went on to the business matter at hand. I was frustrated to be dealing with yet another person who confuses science with political persuasion.  The science of global warming is settled, and the increasing level of concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is a major contributing factor.  That’s a fact, but denial of that fact has become a tenet of conservative thought.  In my experience, small business owners tend to be politically conservative and where they once saw innovation opportunities, now continue to cling to their ways even while they see their business tanking.

What I want to tell them is to take this opportunity to get into the nascent renewable energy fields.  What I want to tell them is to shake their ideas that Al Gore invented global warming so that he cold be more powerful and better-liked by the country that gave him an electoral majority in 2000.  What I want to tell them is that if painting contractors are not getting bids that can support them, it is time to learn how to apply materials that capture sunlight.  What I want to tell them is that there is money to be made.  Chiropractors I want to tell to find an honest line of work, and churches I want to tell to start looking at the possibility of converting their buildings to museums.

I can’t tell my customers this, of course, because I like my job.  My frustration builds because we are in a social setting that prevents me from having a conversation about an important issue.  I avoid the Big Three topics (religion, sex and politics) at work as much as possible.  I understand the reason that this is necessary and avoid it for the purposes of keeping the level of customer service professional. There are times, however, when I just want to yell at these people for avoiding the future and contributing to the dissemination of invalid information.  I want to yell at the naturopath who tells me that vaccination is dangerous and that she is selling cures that help people avoid sickness.  I want to tell them to stop it, to wake up and prepare for a new economy rather than allow themselves to lose out by hanging on to an old economy.

Denialism and customer service are two difficult bedfellows, but this is where I lay.

  1. These are representative but not necessarily actual scenarios I’ve dealt with–as an additional service to my customers. []

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10 Responses to “Denialism and Customer Service”

  1. December 12th, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Allison says:

    This is a little off topic, but bear with me.

    I just came back from a conference in Thailand, which is in the region that is home to 89 percent of all people worldwide who experience natural disasters. It’s no wonder that there is no global warming skepticism voiced there. Millions of people’s lives are at stake.

    As I listened to the discussion, it was clear to me that only we in the rich world have the luxury of “doubting” global warming. We have the resources to mitigate disasters and to fund subsequent recovery. We are least like to be harmed by it. So we have the luxury of polluting to our heart’s content. Our fellow human beings in developing contexts contribute little or nothing to the problem, will bear the majority of the effects and will be helpless to rebuild lives in the aftermath.

    We in the rich world — oil drill technicians, naturopaths and churches included — are fiddling while the match that will burn Rome is being lit …

  2. December 12th, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Does this mean you are back in the States or are you still in Palestine?

    Good points, Allison, I had been listening to a debate in the Senate two years ago and the Republican Larry Craig was so insistent that the United States not make any moves on mitigating the effects of carbon until India and China do something.

    It’s a failure of leadership.

  3. December 12th, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    khan says:

    A note of libertarianism/randism runs through what you experience.
    “I would be successful and rich if the gummit wasn’t holding me back.”

  4. December 12th, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Deen says:

    @Allison: Even in the Netherlands we seem to have fewer AGW deniers than the US seems to have. Oh, we have our share of them, alright (and wouldn’t you know it, it’s really only the right-wing politicians who voice their “skepticism”). But for the most part, when you live in a country where many of our major cities are already below sea level, most people want the people who build our dikes and dams to rather be safe than sorry.

    @Mike: I hope the rant helped some 🙂 Must be truly frustrating at times to always have to stay polite.

  5. December 12th, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    It does, Deen, it does help. I am glad I started blogging where I don’t always have to be polite.

  6. December 12th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    If we succeed in melting all the polar ice, sea levels rise 250 feet. That drowns a whole lot of rich folks. Unfortunately, many of them could get away to keep on polluting, while a whole lot of island nations disappear. Makes Katrina look like a hiccup. But the same socio-economic pattern holds.

    Has anybody thought about how rising CO2 levels are contributing to global stupidity?

  7. December 12th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    NewEnglandBob says:

    The Republicans controlled congress from 1994 until 2006 and dismantled economic controls, instituted voodoo supply side economics, cut taxes causing huge deficits and coupled with a Republican lunatic president from 2001 – 2008 who started two wars, alienated the rest of the world and dismantled environmental controls and ignored science but the right wing nuts blame Obama and the Democrats for the failed Republican policies that the Democrats are trying to fix for the last year with no help from “just say No” Republicans. I would think that these right wing nuts are hilarious except they actually believe their dementia and delusional paranoia.

  8. December 12th, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    llewelly says:

    I dropped that particular subject and went on to the business matter at hand. I was frustrated to be dealing with yet another person who confuses science with political persuasion.

    Confused? Not really. Most of the Republican party has decided to reject scientific findings and persecute scientists who make them. If you accept evidence that doesn’t seem to fit their political goals, you are, by their definition, politically opposed to them. Like it or not, they have deliberately made science a political persuasion.

  9. December 12th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Perhaps the word I was looking for was “conflates” rather than confuses.

  10. December 23rd, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I talked to another loser today who said we are going to have a good year in business because the country is going to vote all the Democrats out of office. Let’s see the Republicans do “Retro Magic” in 2011!

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