On Being Instrumental, A Tool

We’ve all heard in so many ways by so many that the customer is important to (our) business.  Why is the customer important to business?  Simply, the customer is the one who purchases the goods or services that a business sells; customers can bring profit to a business! That is to say, customers are instrumental to revenue generation that in turn can lead to profit.  So all you customers out there must feel pretty important, huh? 

Buyer Be Used

But if customers are so important then why are they often getting the inferior end of the exchange?  Well, if it were otherwise it wouldn’t maximize profit for business.  Let us not forget this is business we are talking about: Pure and simple today the business of business is profit!

So, in general, do business enterprises actually care about the people they call customers?  Not really! Again, for the vast majority of businesses, customers are instrumental to the goal of realizing profit.  They really only care about profit! Hence each customer is a tool—not a person—to be used to this end.  Moreover the product or service an enterprise provides is seen as a cost to the business of maximizing profit.  Hence so many business managers cut corners in producing and delivering their products and services—it is more profitable this way.

Case in point: I recently had to travel by air requiring me to fly on two different flights connecting in Philadelphia (a hub of the airline of which I was a customer).  After 6 hours of numerous announcements of delay the connecting flight for which I purchased a seat was cancelled—it was now early evening.  Since weather was the official cause the airline had no legal responsibility to do whatever they could to meet the needs of the people, to which they so often referred to as customers.  So what did the airline do?  Well it did what any profit maximizing airline would do, they simply offered unreasonable—but profit protecting—tickets on their airline to each of the customers.  Some tickets were for the next day and some for two days later requiring several hours of travel (additional connections) for essentially a one-hour direct flight—no hotel and meal accommodations provided.  Long gone are the days when an airline would work with other airlines to find you a way to your destination!  Why was this action taken?  Simply the airline felt no sense of care or concern for the people and their individual needs.  For example one person was travelling to attend her father’s funeral scheduled for the next morning, yet the airline’s representative kept his corporate persona, showing no empathy, handing out the unreasonable alternative.  All that concerned the airline was keeping as much of the revenue they received from customers for the original purchased seats.  So a lot of people felt pretty insignificant, like a tool.

This scenario is not unique to one enterprise or one industry it is but one illustration of a rather all too common experience businesses provide customers and employees (which includes managers)—also known as people.  It is so common because the system of economics that businesses follow fosters this approach to conducting business.

Maximizing shareholder value has become the unquestioned sole intent with the conduct of business being about exploitation and extraction not equitable exchange.  The evidence is strikingly clear since productivity gains have not been shared through commensurate gains in worker compensation.  Nowhere is this more striking than the negative growth in the minimum wage.

Enslavement of a Different Kind

While in advanced societies slavery was outlawed quite sometime ago, the business argument for it remains ever present.  In the advanced world it goes something like this: our business could not exist/survive if we had to pay our workers a living wage.  Can’t you just imagine a group of plantation owners sitting on the porch of one of their mansions talking amongst themselves and saying ya know if we had to pay these people who keep our plantations going we couldn’t continue to live as we do.

The operative principle is: If a business enterprise can have people work for essentially nothing then that enterprise can make a lot of money—talk about maximizing profit.   It is not the little business owner but big business—the likes of Walmart and McDonald’s—that is aggressively putting this principle into action.  The only reason these business enterprises don’t pay less than minimum wage is that the law won’t allow them to do so—they probably would like to see the minimum wage abolished.  Just stop for a moment and imagine how it would be for you to live on a $7, $8, or even $9 an hour wage.  It is even worse for tipped employees (i.e. waiters in restaurants) as their employers’ association successfully lobbied to hold their industry’s minimum wage to $2.13.  Try taking that to the bank!

Today, even the political parties in America—supposedly the pinnacle of democratic representative government—are quite blatant about how they view those they are suppose to serve.  The question openly asked by these parties is not how can we better serve the needs of all the people of the country but rather which category of people do we need to bring into the fold so that we can win the next election?  Again the concern is not for meeting the society’s needs but leveraging/using people to win elections.  While this is disturbing, what is even more disturbing is that the majority of U.S. citizens are not consciously aware they are being used as tools.  Politically, the governing of America has become a profit making venture, a business.

We Need Not Be Tools

If ever there was a time for businesses to be led by those who manage with a different minda caring mind—it is now!

We can’t ensure our viability as a society of human beings by mistreating each other for the purpose of maximizing one’s own gain.  This is not only exploitation it is plain and simple de-humanization.  The inhumane treatment of our self and others has been growing steadily for quite sometime, becoming part of how we roll, that few are aware that this is so.

What if the business of business was not profit and shareholder maximization?  What if those in authority of the enterprise ceased being tools themselves and actually woke up to their humanity?  What if those in charge of the business enterprise truly cared about the people they serve—both customers and employees?

As asserted in a previous post, if only someone would step up with the courage to realize that the business of business is quality—no matter the type of business this is what every person deserves.  I suspect life would be far more enjoyable, both in and outside of the workplace!

All that it takes is the courage to care about (all) people.

Just critically think about your experiences, not just those you’ve had but (in particular) those you will provide.  The experiences you provide could be the difference that makes a difference!

4 thoughts on “On Being Instrumental, A Tool

  1. Loved your essay. Had a choice experience with ATT just this week where I felt like an instrument. A tech-in-training was sent out to do some wire work before he was ready, and had no senior tech to back him up. He knocked out my internet, cable TV and landline–I have U-Verse–and left the site, apparently frustrated at 2:05 PM. Several of my neighbors were also knocked out of service. I called Repair. Just getting to a live service rep made me feel like a rat in a Skinnerian experiment, searching for cheese in a complicated maze. I find that mechanical voice that announces my menu choices especially noxious. At length I got to talk to a sweet lady in the Philippine Islands, who told me that they would surely have my service restored the next day by 8 PM. That was comforting. I teach college, and much of my work is online. I had to go to Starbuck’s to upload my students’ assignments. Their server is much slower than mine and it took me an hour to do fifteen minutes worth of work, not counting the travel time.

    Having consulted for several of the Baby Bells for a couple of decades after divestiture, I knew their “inside wire” policies by heart and that the problem was caused by an inept technician, not my customer premise equipment. I was therefore unpleasantly surprised when a “Tier 2” ATT rep called and informed me that a tech would show up at my premises the next morning and that I wouldn’t be billed for it. I received this call because I had not concealed my outrage at ATT’s callous approach to customer care when I spoke the rep in the Philippines. When she assured me I wouldn’t be billed, I replied “Of course I won’t be billed! This problem was caused by you guys. What the hell has happened to this company? I remember when it really did care about customers. Now all it cares about are the rapacious appetites of its officers.” She was used to dealing with irate customers, kept her cool, and apologized for the inconvenience. I responded that I knew this wasn’t her fault. But I told her I was going to change service providers the next time I got a teaser offer in the mail from one of their competitors. Glad to know that Randall Stevens, the CEO of the appropriately rebranded “att” (note that the absence of capital letters), has a corporate jet and that att’s shareholders are happy. I wish another provider would come along and put this Orwellian monstrosity away for good.

    Thanks for your continuing efforts to keep faith alive.

    Rick Johnson

  2. Pingback: Oil And Water Don’t Mix | For Progress, Not Growth

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