A Thought On Humanity

There was a day, a couple of years ago now, where I was let down by a process.

I had forgotten the story until yesterday. And, when I shared it with my wife, her first respnonse was “yeah, we were really sad about how that worked out”.

Even marking the timing of the story speaks to how we relate the world around us. I remember what my wife and I were doing that night. Actually, she wasn’t yet my wife.

It was a Saturday night, and we were off to dinner. A “date” if you will (though we had been dating for a long time). I know it was a date night because I had left my phone behind.

We live in Tribeca, downtown Manhattan. You see all sorts of people in Manhattan. Walking to dinner, we came across a lady that stuck in our minds. An older Chinese lady that didn’t look all there. Hey, on many days you’d walk by me and say that I’m not all there – so that’s not as unusual as it sounds.

We didn’t think about her again until we got home two hours later. You see, I’ve signed up for NYC nofications. Honestly, not really because I care about what’s happening, mostly I’ve signed up because I’m curious how it works. I’m sure it’s changed since, but when I signed up I selected a neighborhood and the types of alerts I want to receive. (Note to self, update my profile to include school alerts. We now have a baby!)

While out, I had received a Silver Alert text message, photo attached.

It was the Chinese lady we saw on the way to dinner two hours earlier.

It was 1AM on Saturday evening (Sunday morning).

I called the number on the text message. They had no idea what I was talking about. Silver alert? Text message? Notify NYC?

“Why don’t you call the precinct?” they suggested.

After 3 tries, I finally got through to the precinct. A precinct that was perhaps 3 blocks from where I saw the woman, and maybe 5 or 6 from where she was reported missing.

“What silver alert? What text message? Notify NYC? Why don’t you call the number on the text message? You did, well, I can’t help you?”

Had it not been two hours later (and the fact that we walked back the same way and didn’t see her again) I would have gone out and brought her to the precinct.

Sad as it is, why share this story? Why here, on a blog about enterprise software?

This is the thing. It’s not obvious that stuff is broken, until it is.

Someone, somewhere, celebrated the city-wide notification system. That someone probably declared victory on a project, maybe even got a promotion.

Yet, it totally didn’t work.

In enterprise software speak – they solved the technology of it, but not the people and process. In human speak, what were they thinking?

I’ve worked on agile development teams, and frankly love writing user stories. Someone didn’t write such good stories. Or, if they did, they didn’t really appreciate the user experience. I tried really hard to respond to that alert in a way that was helpful, but couldn’t.

Was I the first person ever to respond to one of these alerts? Do they even track their effectiveness in increasing the “return rate” of missing elderly? Didn’t they try it themselves before launching it?

The story popped into my head because of a solution we’re launching around social customer service. I was presenting to a team from Software AG about the value we can add with this solution, and the story popped into my head.

There is a disconnect between what happens in the social space, and what happens in the enterprise space. Today, that’s held together by people that care… but that only takes companies so far. I had a great experience on twitter with United, only to be let down by customer service. The source of the let-down? Well, the “conversation” wasn’t carried from Twitter to “customer support”, and what had been an authentic connection created on Twitter went straight into customer support hell.

They missed a great opportunity with an important customer (I’m a million mile flier with United).

I’m sharing these stories because I don’t want you to miss your opportunity. For the humanity of it, let’s do a little better tomorrow than we are doing today.

About Carla Borelli

Carla Borelli has written 28 posts in this blog.


  • “There is a disconnect between what happens in the social space, and what happens in the enterprise space.”

    I think such disconnects are a logical result of early stage technologies that are deployed standalone, rather than integrated into a broader notion of the overall customer experience. It was the same for web-based approaches to customer service in their first iterations and their lack of integration with more traditional call centers (something that probably still persists in many organizations). To fully appraise new technologies and determine the best way to integrate them within an overall approach requires experience with them, I believe. I would think a requirement to avoid “disconnects” would just slow adoption. Sometimes the “doh, what were we thinking?” revelation can only be understood with real experience.

  • Hey Chris!

    You’re correct that it’s a result of “new”, but I think there is a real lack of deep technical experience in situations like this. I’m not talking about “bad coders” but people who don’t understand how technology works, and how to apply/communicate that to business.

    Of course, having had to “clean a lot of stuff up” when people don’t think things all the way through, perhaps I’m just jaded.


  • David, great story! No matter what your business, ultimately it is about people helping people and application of technology should strive to facilitate that.

  • Manmohan,

    Agreed. And, while this really isn’t a social solution, the growing use of social “methods” in enterprise process software (BPM) enables companies to connect on a more personal basis with their customers (and employees) to really operate in a very personal zone.

    I think it’s a very sticky way of working with customers, if you can figure out how to do it authentically and consistently (I’m foreshadowing my next post!).


  • I really enjoy your storytelling, David.
    I think there’s a key point here: the “people that care” holding enterprises together, but to a limit – the limit is that they are typically only from the responsible department and it’s organizational outskirts. With the right application of the available technology, you can tap on to “the people that care” from a much wider space: the whole organization, your customers, fans and suppliers. By allowing those people to help you, you strengthen your bond. You create a community.

  • Great article. I’m also into user stories and i’m definetely sharing this one.

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