Empathy in Everyday Life

Last night I was leaving my office in Denver to head to the airport to come home. It was 7:10pm and my driver was waiting for me at the corner of 17th and Arapahoe. I patiently waited at the light and then stepped into the crosswalk. bam.

A car turning left hit me and the one thing I remember is “hey my bag is rolling across the street” followed by “holy shit I just got hit by a car”.

A couple of young women crossing the street ahead of me ran to help, picking up my stuff for me while I composed myself. The driver of the car rather predictably got out and said “gee I didn’t see you”. No broken bones, a little sore, but everything seemed to work so as I stood there on the sidewalk I dialed 911 and spoke to a very nice dispatcher who asked me a few questions and actually made me feel very calm.

After another call to 911 to find out where the police were, I told the guy to give me his info because it was cold out and I just wanted to go home. As I was doing that, at 7:25pm a police cruiser pulled up.

Here’s where things went off the rails and the I get to the point of today’s post.

Police officer Patrick Hayden (I only know this because I have his card, not because he introduced himself) got out of his cruiser all geared up and looking hard, and failed to display a minimal degree of empathy. No “can I help you” or “let me get you out off the sidewalk”. Instead, I got the clinical “are you hurt?” and “do you need a paramedic?”. Fine, I could live with that, in such a situation you should cover the essentials first.

However, Office Hayden then displayed a degree of irritation that I was making him file a report. I had to stand on the sidewalk with temperature in the teens for 30 minutes with varying degrees of stiffness and discomfort setting in while he sat in his cruiser and pecked away at his computer and talked on his cellphone. Actually, I would not have minded sitting the backseat of his car out of the cold, instead of standing.

In a perfunctory manner he gave me his business card with a number scribbled on the back, I assume this is the file number I should reference. At this point, I just wanted to get to the airport so I didn’t miss my flight, the last one of the day. I just made it, walked to the gate and right on to the plane.

I got hit by a car and I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest I have full license to be upset in the moment. Office Hayden made a bad situation worse by not recognizing the second part of the “protect and serve” mission stenciled on his cruiser. I have interacted with police officers at many points in my life, from getting pulled over for speeding to local charity events, and the one characteristic that has multiplier value in law enforcement is empathy. Dealing with people in stressful situations, regardless of the circumstances, is infinitely better when the human element is empowered.

This made me think, not surprisingly, of customer experience and how the power and value of brands is improved when the human dimension is enabled. As an example, my flight was on Southwest and the gate agent saw me in some discomfort and helped me stow my bags and get situated. Just this morning, the car service I used called me to see how I was feeling (my driver saw the accident), which is another great example of empathy in action. By contrast, my opinion of the Denver Police Department is significantly worse as the result of one unfortunate situation when I really needed them to help me instead of just respond to my 911 call.