Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why Do They Hate Us?

Not a post about OBL but a word to the boardrooms of America. The general public consensus regarding the health (or lack there-of) of various corporations so far has been a resounding "let 'em fail." The public's ire is not just confined to the auto industry but a broad range of retailers in general. This should be doubly worrying to the captains of industry who should be asking themselves, why do our customers hate us so much? Sites such as the Consumerist are full of first hand horror stories from the full range of businesses.

Of course there are the standout corporations, the one's that customers do love and would fight to protect (and are the subject of endless books on branding) but they are a tiny minority in a sea of blah. For the others, it seems as if years of treating churn as business as usual is finally coming back to haunt them. Their list of crimes is long but outsourcing technical support, byzantine rules and policies and products that fail to deliver the marketer's promises rate high on the list. The American consumer is completely fed up with their treatment at the hands of these operations which does not bode well for those looking for a bailout to continue in business. The list of teetering companies is long, nevertheless you do not see groups campaigning to keep Gap, Circuit City or Linens n' Things alive. Quite the reverse seems to be true, customers are almost reveling in these corporate failures in a kind of "well they finally got theirs" way.

Although the symptoms are myriad, I think the public perception of a company can be directly traced to the way that company treats their own employees. Outsourcing, benefit cuts and endless rounds of layoffs have all contributed to create soulless organizations whose bottom line may look good on paper but is no stronger than the paper itself. Conversely, companies that are known for their fair treatment of workers are seeming to be able to hold on much better when the times get tough. Perhaps decisions made with the human factor in mind turn out to be better long term strategies. Or maybe it's just Karma?

1 comment:

Tom S. said...

These are great points and you have captured the malaise that has come to characterize how U.S. consumers feel towards failing retailers. You nail it when you connect how companies treat their own employees to the whiplash effect of Karma. However as I began to think about the root causes - demand for profit, greed, distrust - I find I cannot blame it all on corporate boards or management. Unreasonable expectations from shareholders and employees alike have gotten us here. Next we blame government and self-serving politicians and then eventually get back to all of us citizens and our sense of entitlement. Too many people feel someone owes them a living. That someone else should fix our mistakes. That hard work only pays off for a few. And that times should never change.

Times do change and that forces us to accept new standards AND responsibilities. Whether it's a house we can no longer afford or credit card debt we shouldn't have accumulated or a union that wants executives to give up contractual bonuses - sometimes the only solution is to move, cut expenses, or go bankrupt to bring about sustainable change. Status quo is not an entitlement, it's the problem.

Which brings me back to Philip's point: We need to support wise companies and let go of the failures. And a great measure of a wisdom is often reflected in the care and concern employers show for their own - and vice versa.