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Why Do We Need an Empathy Movement?

Kelly Salance

Technology underpins nearly every single thing we do. So much so, technology has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s no wonder given experts predict that by the year 2030, between 20 and 25% of all jobs that humans hold today will be replaced by technology and control more and more of your daily interactions.  

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Tech may soon be filing your taxes for you, driving your car, teaching you how to play piano, and it may respond to you automatically when you have a customer service issue with a product you just purchased. (We should know...we're working on it!)

While all of this will be done in the name of becoming more efficient and eliminating redundancies, it will do so at a cost: less human-to-human interactions. And yes, we know the cynics out there are shooting off confetti cannons of joy, the truth is human interactions are key to living a healthy life!

According to a fascinating TED talk by Susan Pinker, the Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. Why? Because it's not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders healthy -- it's their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions.

Yet as more efficient algorithms and technology reduce the amount of real, human interactions we have in a given day, week, and month, how can we make sure we don’t lose touch with the stuff that differentiates us from the machines?

Welp, this is might sound crazy, but customer service may just be the answer. (Ok, ok… at the very least one of the answers.) Think about it. It’s a good bet that you might have more customer interactions on a given day than any other. Imagine what it would be like if the vast majority of those support interactions are high-touch, high-empathy and from real people who can detect emotion, relate to our human needs, and even make us laugh occasionally. We might all need to rethink our current retirement strategies. But might actually be happy to do it.

We promise we really aren’t trying to break the world record for eye rolls, so imagine your first Uber ride in a driverless car. (It's already in trials in two American cities, so if we all plan on being like Sardinia, this is in our future.). What would it take for you personally to get in the car?  Would a screen offering a live video chat with a helpful, knowledgeable, and kind customer service representative do the trick? Someone in real-time who can answer any concerns you have with the car, or how the process works, or what happens if it gets stuck. Or would you rather a live customer support person from Uber on video for the entire first ride, so you can feel more safe, more protected, and more trusting of this new technology.

It’s scenarios like these that Zendesk believes is the future of customer experience. It's not only improving technology to automate and make customer service interactions more efficient. But also investing in the creation of more human interactions so we don’t lose sight of the importance of these interactions as we all more and more of our lives to be automated

We call this the Empathy Movement. As tech becomes the tool to define some of our most vulnerable interactions, it’s critical that we all learn how to layer and integrate empathy into our interactions much more deliberately. At Zendesk, we’ve done this by launching the #6hours campaign, which asks every single one of Zendesk’s 2,000+ workforce to invest 6 hours of their time into community service. The idea being that volunteering is a vehicle for building up one’s empathy muscle.

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Join us in the #6hours campaign by simply tweeting at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a photo of you volunteering with #6hours.

You can also catch Tiffany Apczynski, Zendesk’s Vice President of Public Policy and Social Impact take a deeper dive into the Empathy Movement at Relate 2018 this November.

Point of Interest - Zendesk Headquarters

Kelly Salance

Located in the heart of one of San Francisco’s most notorious neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, our global headquarters at 1019 Market Street has been a historic beacon of the economic ebbs and flows of the city.

Originally built in 1909, the six-story, 75,523-square foot building that Zendesk San Francisco calls home was originally the headquarters of Eastern Outfitting Co. The furniture and carpet store was described as “one of the handsomest store buildings in the west,” by the San Francisco Call,  one of San Francisco’s original newspapers. This historic milestone is the reason why it says “Furniture and Carpets” at the top of our building instead of Zendesk.

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The Early Years

When 1019 Market made its architectural debut to the world it was thanks to the vision of architect George Adrian Applegarth, who was known for his Beaux-Arts style and elegant symmetry in his designs. The building was immediately embraced as iconic and symbolic of what can only be described as the Golden Age of Market Street and the main artery of hustle and bustle. The building later became home to the Union Furniture Store in the late 1940s, continuing on as a symbol of prosperity along Market Street, when it was the major retail district for the city (thus being named “Market Street,”). It was also at the center of what was then San Francisco’s burgeoning theater district and center of culture for San Francisco’s well-heeled.

Changes over the years

Later years, were less kind to 1019 and our little section of Market Street. Sweatshops and garment manufacturers eventually replaced the elegant furniture stores, giving the building more grit than glam. During the 1960s when hippies and psychedelics became the resounding cultural force in San Francisco, Market Street’s character changed in tandem. In 1968, the Herzstein Family Trust purchased the building and rented it out to various commercial tenants and artists. In 2000, in the midst of the dot com era, the Herzsteins made necessary renovations to bring the building up to seismic safety code and intended to find a startup tenant. However, when the tech bubble burst in 2001, the family abandoned this idea and refilled the offices with a variety of different businesses.

While the building remained consistently occupied, it had lost the luster of its former years, as did much of the swath of Market Street stretching between 5th and 11th streets. Construction of the city’s subway system, BART, in the 1980s, also piled on a steady amount of blight to the neighborhood. And this is the cloak this section of Market Street has wrestled with ever since.

 

Enter 2014: Zendesk moves in

When the current tech boom hit San Francisco around 2012, real estate investors Cannae Partners and their financial collaborators purchased 1019 Market Street from the Herzstein Family with the intention of turning it into a space for creative and tech ventures. Twitter had moved just down the street, locating its headquarters along Market Street a few blocks away. And Square and Uber were not far behind, also openings headquarters on Market Street as well. A new era was dawning along Market Street and developers were rolling their dice.

Cannae Partners described the building in its pre-renovated state as being “ridden pretty hard over the last 40 years.” The investors spent around $12 million in renovations, which included cleaning off a ceiling littered with pigeon carcasses, erasing graffiti, and disposing of heaping piles of trash. (Though we admittedly did keep some smatterings of graffiti that had been left behind by earlier “tenants.” They make for a fun little Easter Egg hunt around the office.)

It took 10 months to fully renovate 1019 Market Street but Balfour Beatty, the infrastructure and construction group that helped spearhead the building’s renovations, preserved 90 percent of the building original façade. During the massive overhaul, Cannae Partners came across an old postcard of the building aglow in its original exterior lighting structure that its architect Applegarth had bestowed upon the building. 1019 Market’s majestic series of bay window frames had been equipped with 700 light bulbs, a high-tech innovation for the time period. But it had been decades since they illuminated Market street.

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“We thought to ourselves, 'wouldn’t it be cool to reignite those lights and maybe signify a rebirth on Market?'" according to a spokesperson from Cannae Partners. And so, as a part of the building’s transformation, the developers decided to reactivate the lighting system with LED lights, once again illuminating the historic Furniture and Carpet building.

While it is mainly tech tenants seen as signaling yet again a new era for Market Street, the situation is delicate. Cost of living in San Francisco continues to soar and tech, for many, is seen as one of the complex root causes. Which is why it’s been incredibly important for us as a company be neighbors to those families, businesses, and community leaders in the Tenderloin and along Market Street that far precede our tenancy here. While we hope to herald a new era of prosperity for this section of Market Street, we hope it is a prosperity for everyone and will continue to do what we can to make it so.