Will this do?

Five years on from the Personality Declaration Act 2009, we are in a position to evaluate the indubitable changes it has wrought on society.

A reminder of the background to the legislation – which itself obliges me at this point to declare my red status. Towards the end of 2008, the general populace was growing restless against the use of call centres for businesses to manage their customer relations. There was also a rising tide of complaints against shop floor staff in many retail outlets having no clear interest in or knowledge of the products they were selling (in the cases where they had not been replaced by electronic information points and automated tills).

In a White Paper, communications analyst James McCully proposed that customer service, from both sides of the fence, would be rendered much more effective if the customer were able to determine the level of sincerity of the salesperson or support operative and their personal investment in the matter in hand. He further proposed the use of Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, then still in vogue with human resources professionals, and ran trials in a number of large utility companies where software was used to determine the broad emotional nature of a calling customer (their emotional state was indicated by detecting stress patterns in the voice). The operative then appointed to handle the enquiry was chosen according to their own MTBI profile and how likely it was that they could help the customer (or get rid of them) without further emotional escalation.

To everyone’s surprise, the experiment was generally successful in terms of customer retention – but in practice around 80% of the work was allocated to only 20% of the customer service operatives. Only those with certain personality traits were likely to achieve a positive outcome.

The reader is likely to recall the next stage, a radical simplification of this process where all workers in a public-facing capacity – whether in person, online or as a skypist – were obliged to declare their ‘enthusiasm’, with the use of a statement such as ‘I am obliged to tell you I am personally invested in this company/product’, or its counterpart ‘NOT personally invested’. As with the MBTI experiment, the ratio of the former to the latter was something in the region of four to one. However, the new system threw up successful outcomes, even with the operatives ‘not invested’.

The simple reason was that customers could relate to an operative ‘just doing their job’ (as many were in the same situation in their own workplace) and forgive the lack of interest. To start with there were headlines along the lines of ‘STAFF URGED NOT TO BE BOVVERED’, but when the policy was enshrined in legislation, the journalists themselves were obliged to declare their motivation or lack thereof, and the threat of hypocrisy soon ironed out controversy.

The further simplification in 2012 of this system into a ‘traffic light’ system of ‘green’ and ‘red’ status (for enthusiasm or lack of it respectively) was even more popular and avoided the unwieldy jargon of ‘personal investment’ – although some foreign visitors for the Olympic Games were no doubt somewhat baffled.

Although ‘red’ staff achieved higher levels of customer satisfaction than hitherto, naturally the ‘greens’ remained more popular where detailed information or assistance was required, and they began to attract higher salaries. The occasional cases where members of the red group attempted to fake a green personality were soon weeded out with advances in the burgeoning field of neurorecruitment. Whether the minority of highly paid, ever-smiling and persistently helpful workers retains this popularity is for the future to tell.

This article was written largely with the assistance of Wal*Martopedia, “the free encyclopedia anyone green can edit” (TM). It took 20 minutes to compile and I have been paid 30 euros.