On an episode of Rework, the Basecamp team once talked about the concept of the two tokens that exist in every interaction with a customer. The idea is that you always have a choice of which token you want to take when some kind of negative situation happens. You can take the token that says, “This is not really a big deal”, or you can take the token that says “This is the worst thing that has ever happened!” It’s your choice, but the thing to remember is that the customer will always take whichever token you don’t choose.
So if your company decides it’s no biggie, the customer might feel unheard and upset and pick up the token of being hurt and outraged. But if you treat your customers’ problems like they’re an enormous issue, they may just pick up the token of being calm and patient and kind. And let’s face it: any problem a customer of yours is having while using your products or services IS an enormous issue for you.
The key, of course, which they don’t explicitly say in the episode, is that you have to actually mean it when you pick up the 5-alarm fire token. You have to know in your heart that if you messed up, or if something’s not working properly, or if you can’t deliver on a promise you made: that IS a massive problem. That IS worth dropping everything else to fix.
While I think you could technically probably use this strategy in a more “manipulative sense” (ie. pretending to be outraged while really not caring, just to get your customer to calm down), if the result is that you’re actually taking steps to soothe a distressed human being because of a stressor that you specifically or inadvertently caused, I think that’s probably a net positive. But I also think that it probably works better when you care. Energy doesn’t lie, and we can all feel when we’re being placated (just ask the Too Much Tuna guys!) or lied to.
This was a throwaway line on one podcast (it actually took me a very long time to find the link to the right one!) but it has stuck with me ever since. I’m still exploring where else this concept is true in my life and my relationships. When I feel guilty about something, do I pick up the careless token just to avoid taking responsibility? Do I avoid picking up the outraged token just because I want to seem cool, chill and in control? And most importantly, if I pick up one token, does the universe pick up another?