Thursday, 30 March 2017
"Corporate Politeness" as a new facet for theatre
I believe that theatre (plays and productions) should become aware of a new way of communication that you find in banks in the way they handle customer services. I would like to call this new kind of communication corporate politeness. It is a sophisticated way of unmistakably establishing the bank’s power and superiority that seems to be taught to employees across the sector, because you can observe it and experience it across different companies of the same sector.
In a local branch of a major bank, the interior design of the public hall has been changed relatively recently to reduce the customer services positions and add to the range of machines. In the hall, one or two employees approach customers who have joined the queue for the customer services desk and ask them why they have come into the bank today. The tone is slightly reproachful, many people react with some alarm at being approached and stutter in their response. Some are told off that they should really be using the machines for whatever they have come in, and several machines are free, and the customer services person can help them if they need help using the machine. If a machine can be used, customers do not have the choice of using the machine or a person. And the bank clerk’s tone of voice makes that very clear to them, in addition to making them feel inferior if they do need the help offered. Those customers whose business cannot be handled by the machines are told to stay in the queue to the customer service desks, and asked to please move forward a few steps from where they were before. Again the tone to stay, and to move, is reproachful, and soon the person next in line is asked to move close behind you, so that you feel their breath on your neck. The hall is vast, the hall is empty, there is no need for such crowding, but anything to make the customer politely uncomfortable seems to be used by the clerks.
In a different bank, I have submitted a letter authorising me to withdraw money from a savings account, a form to the same effect after the authorising letter was not considered sufficient for the bank to rule out attempted fraud, and my passport. The cashier looks at all three, scrutinizes me in relation to my passport photo, several times, very thoroughly, and then asks me to tell him my name, my date of birth and my address. My name and date of birth is on all three documents he has just scrutinized, and my mailing address on two. His tone has the corporate politeness characteristic of being reproachful. When I hesitate and gesture towards the three documents, he repeats the same request word for word, more slowly, more loudly, more reproachfully. Another cashier in the background motions to the area obscured from view and can be heard saying that the customer (meaning me) seems to become agitated and aggressive. I neither seem nor am either, so this is a further component of corporate politeness: when the cashier has to repeat his request, it means to her/his colleagues that the customer is being difficult.
I have not yet noticed this tone of corporate politeness in the theatre—it will be a challenge for actors to capture the sophisticated nuances it encompasses.