One thing I've found curious is how people seem to be blind to how they are abused by big business in this country. As someone who has run or been a partner in small businesses all her adult life, I've learned that one of the most important components of success -- not to mention feeling enjoyment and pride in your work -- is customer service. The clichÃ© is that "the customer is always right." Well, in an industry where everything seems obvious but is in fact the result of much craft learned from years of experience and decades of evolution, I can say that sometimes the customer needs to be educated as to what's right. But darn it, the client should walk out the door feeling good about the work you did or the product you provided.
Why don't we see any of that in big business? How many of us have warm, fuzzy thoughts about our insurance companies or credit card companies or cellular phone companies? Your doctor wants to run a test? Sorry, we don't think that's necessary. Your payment a day late? Sorry, we have to bump you up to 23.9%. Getting sucky cell service? Sorry, you signed a contract.
Sorry, your account has too little money in it so we have to charge you more.
Sorry, you return too many things, so now you're stuck with what you bought.
Sorry, the DVD was due 20 minutes ago, you now owe us double.
Sorry, you live in the wrong country, this drug will cost you more.
What's worse is that there doesn't ever seem to be any "sorry" at all from their end. In fact, it's like they want to trap you into these things. It's like they're salivating over the opportunity to screw you over. That's how they make the big bucks.
Do you trust your phone company? Do you trust that the airline is giving you the best price available? Do you even get the sense that they want you to feel like you're getting a good deal? Not from where I sit.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not anywhere near anti-capitalist. I think we've achieved some pretty great and astounding things through the capitalist system. I believe in free enterprise and competition.
But what about corporate responsibility? What about treating the customer -- us -- as an asset instead of as the enemy?
Think about your local store or coffee shop or restaurant or any small business. You don't have those same ill-feelings towards them, do you? They treat you with respect. They let you have your dignity. They solicit your satisfaction. (Well, okay, not all of them, but then those exceptions don't tend to last long, do they?)
Where is that ethic in big business? Setting aside for a moment the egregious offenders epitomized by Enron -- the outright thieves, scam artists, polluting pigs and cheaters who take all they can, and leave a mess for the rest of us to clean up -- why is it that big businesses seem to behave like we're marks to be exploited?
It's rare for corporations today to even pay lip service to customer satisfaction, let alone being a good player in society. It was something of a shock to see the Google guys talk about doing good things and running an honest business that actually makes things better. We don't hear that very often -- at least not when they seem to mean it. (We'll see if they do.)
Meanwhile, companies squeeze wages and cut benefits, and we the taxpayers pick up the slack. Companies dump toxic chemicals into the ground and spew them into the air, and we the taxpayers pay the health and healthcare consequences, as well as for the cleanup. Companies sneak toxic drugs onto the market, buying the regulators, making huge profits as compared with other Fortune 500 companies while we the taxpayers pay the price, sometimes by dying. We trust them with our lives, and they come up wanting.
How can the people making these decisions sleep at night? Why is it starting to feel like they're the wolves and we're the sheep?