It’s February. This month, around 85% of all the commercial honeybee hives available in the US will have been packed off on trucks to California’s Central Valley, to begin their annual act of ultimate service to humankind. They will risk their health, their colony and their lives for one purpose. To keep almond-eating humans happy.
The state of California grows something in the region of 80% of the world’s almonds (and 100% of the US’s needs). Used for everything from, well, almonds, to marzipan to milk; almonds are in increasing demand. Consumption has increased 20% in the last five or six years, and looks set to continue to rise.
The problem is that the almond tree blossoms are short-lived, and the only way to reliably pollinate the 1.4 MILLION acres of February flowers is deploying vast quantities of soldier bees. About 80 billion of the little buzzers. It’s the “largest managed pollination event anywhere in the world,” Scientific American reports.
Recently, though, maybe in the last ten or fifteen years, we’ve become increasingly aware of issues with the worldwide bee population. Bees of all species are in decline. You can barely get through a spring or summer season without being reminded of this nagging fact through some media outlet or other. Mysterious winter die-offs (known as colony collapse), and a more general buzz around the beekeeping community that their bees are ‘unhappy’, or ‘unhealthy’ or ’suffer losses’.
There are a myriad of factors complicit in their declining numbers. Climate change is one, for sure. But our farming evolutions and consumption habits leave a trail of destruction less obvious to the general public.
Bees are crucial to the health of our planet, the production of our food, our survival on this planet. And yet here we are, abusing them to the point of their, and our own, demise.
Bees thrive when they are given natural light, a plentiful and well-balanced diet, water, stress-free living arrangements, and to be free from the horrors of death by pesticide. It’s not rocket science. And yet we have pushed the global population so far that now we are employing science – data science – to monitor their health, numbers, movements and even happiness at hive level. Data stored in the cloud, through the World Bee Project’s program, is battling to save the species from what might be non-viable levels of sustainability. It’s a concept which would have been unthinkable just 30 or 50 years ago.
And while this isn’t an issue of Scientific American, it’s clear to me, from my little corner of the world in Customer Support, that single, repeated acts of service, without support, take their toll on the provider. Bees are the among the most cooperative societies on the planet. They are consummate team-players. They work hard and pull together to achieve a single goal – the success of their team and the success of their product. And that cooperation on the inside of the hive is something that we all depend on.
The fact is, the parallels are there in Customer Support, too. Service teams in most organisations are the ultimate worker bees. Expected to respond to calls as needed, without external nourishment. Agents and engineers are pushed and pushed, beyond their natural limits, until it becomes absolutely necessary to add extra resource. Teams are stretched to capacity before backup is brought in.
Just as the World Bee Project aims to “Save Bees to Save Ourselves”, by monitoring, nurturing and adjusting our relationship with bees, so too we should be aiming to adjust our relationship with our Customer Support teams. We should help them to help us.
From the outside of the hive, we can be a little more respectful and gentle as customers and consumers. Every little less burden on the ecosystem helps.
From the inside, we should all be aiming to provide freedom, nourishment, and low-stress environments for our teams. They should be given time to learn, to grow, to relax and find their own way to other blooming pastures. Their individual health – mental, physical and spiritual – is fundamental to the success of the wider organisation, and, in the end, the success of the product.
There are startups who are already aware they need to invest in their service teams, give them sufficient personal freedoms to help themselves and help us in turn. They’ll reap the benefits of increased employee loyalty, and customer happiness.
Bigger commercial operations should take note. Looking beyond the basic service you need your Customer Support team to provide is fundamental to ensuring your ongoing growth and success. The Support team is very likely that part of your company that has the highest contact levels with customers, at the most crucial moments in the relationship. You need your agents to be willing and able enough to give knowledgeable, empathic service to help that relationship bloom. Burnt-out employees can’t sustain and deliver that without support.
Whether it’s Californian almonds, every single tomato grown in European greenhouses, or your latest product release, it’s time to look after the workers who support it. It’s time to stop treating your CS teams as though they were so many annoying bees at a corporate picnic.
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