Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are Customer relations friendships?

Customers in a shop or guests in a restaurant usually very much appreciate it when the employees are friendly, understanding or even empathic. It contributes to the fulfillment of their desires and needs with full satisfaction. Therefore, customer focus rightly is an important requirement in customer relations – the customer as a human being should always be in the center.
However, the human relationship between the customer and the company is being abused more and more as a sales gimmick. At Starbucks, you’re the barista’s best friend; you belong to the IKEA family or the salesperson at the high end Ralph Lauren store trusts you with her very own preferences.

The staff in shops or restaurants is instructed to create a feeling of closeness through simulating a strong friendship. Customers get the feeling that you really like them. But in reality it is only about encouraging them to buy more. It’s not about the individual and understanding and considering his or her personality and needs, but about hard selling and sale success. So customer focus ultimately only serves the purely financial success of a company and doesn’t add to the perceived quality of life of a particular customer.

 However, in a humanistic perspective, human beings are considered as ends, not as means. Each human being is a unique person with specific interests and values. Already in the 1970s, Erich Fromm called for recognizing the “oneness” of people in a capitalist society, instead of considering them only in anonymous customer group categories in terms of “sameness”. Pretend friendships exploit our human peculiarities.

The employees of companies with such sales strategies are exposed to an emotional dilemma. They are asked and usually also trained to put their human abilities in the service of financial ratios. As a customer you also face a dilemma: How should you interpret the kindness of the salesperson? If it is authentic, you don’t want to reject it, but if it’s only manipulative, you can’t and don’t want to trust their advice.

 However, recent empirical 1) evidence confirms that the trustful treatment of people and their recognition is crucial to the perceived quality of life. I hope that in 2014 you will have the opportunity in your professional life to contribute to the quality of human life. 

1)      Anderson, C., Kraus, M. W., Galinsky, A. D., & Keltner, D. (2012). The Local-Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being. Psychological Science, 23, 764-771.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On the Pope’s criticism of today’s economic thinking

Last week the Pope published his text “Evangelii Gaudium”, in which he is giving different inputs for reorienting the Catholic Church. Although I am not Catholic, I was interested in his statements about the challenges of today’s world and especially in his criticism of our current economy.
In quite a positive way, he recognizes the improvement the economic system brought to “people’s welfare in areas such as healthcare, education and communication”. Yet he blames this economy of “exclusion and inequality”. He thus asks critically, “how can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” And he continues: “Today everything comes under the law of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”

I was especially amazed by his criticism of issues that have also been discussed by the stakeholder theory for the past few years. One example is his critique of the free market. 
However, he makes no specific suggestions as to how extreme competitiveness could be limited. In contrast, the stakeholder theory proposes, for example, to focus more on the potential of cooperation among stakeholders, based on the resource based view of strategy, instead of pure competition: Through the cooperative pooling of resources, innovative solutions to issues, products and processes can be found, according to the stakeholder theory, which a single stakeholder who considers others only as competitors could not find. It would have been interesting to learn whether the Pope could in addition to this instrumental perspective on cooperation also offer a normative view, in his case based on the Catholic faith.

The same could be said about his criticism of the concept of human beings that prevails in economy. Certainly, many economists would agree with the Pope’s analysis that “the denial of the primacy of the human person” predominating classic economic theory is questionable or wrong. A growing number of publications are increasingly critical of the basic concepts of economic theory, in particular of the hypothesis of human self-interest. In this sense, the Pope states, “the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.”
This criticism also calls for the question of which normative concept could form an adequate basis for a more realistic image of human nature. The Pope refers only summarily to the need for ethics: “Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – could make it possible to bring about balance and more human social order.” One can assume that he refers to Catholic social ethics. One can add here that there are also ethical approaches not tied to a specific denomination or religion, which are therefore also acceptable to non-Catholics.

Our reflections on stakeholder theory refer to a humanistic approach based on Kant. This approach considers human beings always as ends, not means, also in economic interactions. In this view, the different values, norms, interests and capabilities have to always be considered and taken into account in economic and business activities. Such a general humanistic approach not only addresses believers of a particular denomination, but its non-denominational claim makes it a fundamental norm also for economic activity.

Edwin Rühli