Tainted Love

The other night I watched the movie “The Invention of Lying”, which posits a world, exactly like ours in every way, except for the fact that the concept of lying doesn’t exist. One day, the hero finds himself the only person in the world who can lie, and high jinx ensue. The most unbelievable part of this movie was that, a total lack of deception aside, everything about the world was exactly the same as the actual world; companies were the same, brands were identical, in fact everything about Corporate America was unchanged. However, in a world with no manipulation, no exaggerations, no lies, would the American corporate landscape really look exactly the same at it does? It’s hard to believe that it would.

In fact, it increasingly feels, to the average person at least, like Corporate America is one giant shell game. If nothing else, there is certainly the perception that obfuscation is generally being practiced, and that few of the activities are to the benefit of the average person on the street. Ultimately, as with any relationship, once the trust disappears, so does the love. Whether its banks, mortgage lenders, insurance companies or oil companies, to name just a few examples, the consumer just isn’t feeling the love at the moment.

Perhaps what’s needed to inject some trust back into the system is a new type of service innovation, one that turns the traditional, business as usual attitude that corporations have on its head. There are already companies that are taking this tack, usually with impressive results. These companies put a premium on the customer experience, at any costs. Employees never need to say, “I’ll have to speak to a manager before I can authorize that”, rather they are empowered to do whatever it takes to fix a situation and to make customers feel valued.

In a recent article, Daniel Pink suggests an interesting possible dimension to this kind of service innovation: he says, “In business…we resort to a weird and inadvertent bilingualism. We speak human at home and ‘professionalese’ at work. And that might be hurting our businesses.” Pink points out that business relationships are based on trust and goes on to say, “trust depends on openness, respect and humanity. Yet we often resist taking that approach in our professional lives, even though we know it would be absurd to do anything else in our personal lives.” Pink quotes author and entrepreneur Jason Fried who claims, “In a world awash in information and choices, clarity is now a source of competitive advantage…The real winners in business are going to be the clear companies. Clarity is what everybody really wants and appreciates.”

What would a corporate landscape look like that was based on clarity, transparency and trust? Well, as per my problem with the movie, it almost certainly wouldn’t look exactly like the landscape we have today, where so many business practices rely on intentional ambiguities at best and outright deception at worst. There clearly are a growing number of companies that are beginning to realize that relationships with customers that are based on trust, mutual respect and honesty, have more long-term value than the alternative. Not surprisingly, these companies also usually rate high in employee satisfaction metrics, if only because, in allowing employees to develop a trust-based relationship with customers, it imbues their jobs with a sense of meaning and purpose. Also not surprisingly, many of these companies are also at the forefront when it comes to utilizing social media for customer interaction; responding in real time to customer issues and suggestions.

It’s clearly Pollyannaish to believe that standard business practices can or will change so radically for most companies, at least in the short-term. However, there does seem to be evidence that the innovation of bringing clarity, transparency and good faith to dealings with customers is a sound business strategy and not just the latest marketing gimmick.

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This entry was posted in Behavior, Culture, Innovation, Trust. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tainted Love

  1. Nasrin Azad says:

    “I don’t want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.”

    Samuel Goldwyn

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