When I wrote a recent post about trialing different meal delivery companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh with no realistic expectation to continue the service after the initial promotion, it made me wonder: What obligation do we have to companies?
I know what obligation I have to God (Mark 12:30) and to government (Luke 20:25) and to my fellow man (Mark 12:31), but what about corporate America?
When he was running for U.S. president in 2011, Mitt Romney got into trouble by saying “Corporations are people, my friend,” in response to a heckler. Legally, I’m sure there’s an ounce of truth to the statement, but politically it was damaging, and you can see why. Companies comprise employees, but they’re far from human. Citizens United notwithstanding.
If there is a dispute between a consumer and a company, our culture typically provides knee-jerk support to the consumer. Corporations are considered faceless monolithic entities that are out to rip off consumers if they can get away with it. The response of most people: Hit them back and get what you can.
It’s not hard to find evidence to support the Greedy Corporate Actor Theory. Smart phone apps that secretly and unnecessarily collect data that they can sell, Wells Fargo fraudulently opening millions of unauthorized accounts in their customers’ names, Volkswagen cheating emissions standards.
But like with people, you tend to hear about the fraud and not the good. Lots of companies do good, and not just non-profits. The companies I’ve worked for try to do the right thing, while also maximizing profits. That’s not incompatible.
And contrary to popular opinion, most companies aren’t rich. In 2012, 99.7% of U.S. employer firms qualify as ‘Small’ (less than 500 employees). Unlike with a Morgan Stanley or Apple, there’s typically no stock options, big cash reserve, or golden parachutes. Instead, there is paltry pay, meager benefits and the constant worry of running out of cash and not making payroll.
In that light, we need to recognize that our actions as consumers can have a deleterious effect.
So, I’ve created three “Taking Advantage of Companies” buckets that reflect the spectrum of how we as consumers might interact with corporations, from ‘Benign’ to ‘Bad to the Bone.’ These categories help guide my actions, perhaps you’ll receive some benefit as well.
My mom once counseled me to feel no obligation to a company that distribute freebies, that that’s their choice. She was referring specifically to one of those solicitation mailers that included a pack of return address labels, but the same has to be true for coupons or discounts or the like. I had no intention of continuing with Blue Apron after the initial trial and they probably knew that, but they figure their product is so good that they will win over some converts anyway.
My sister-in-law Krista is expert at getting what she wants from companies. She once ordered a birthday ice cream cake from Friendly’s for pickup at 3:00 PM. When she arrived at 3:00 and it wasn’t ready, she got an upgrade to a better cake and a personalization, then harassed them into giving it to her for free.
My mother-in-law is similarly gifted in the Gray Arts (a step up from the Dark Arts, if you were wondering). She’ll win $1/gallon off at a gas station, then conjure the Gray Mark in the sky so that she and a couple friends can meet at the station and all gas up on a single discounted pumping. Not sinister enough to trigger an APB from the Order of the Phoenix, but definitely questionable.
(So you know, I’ve also been known to engage in questionable behavior in my company interactions.)
Bad to the Bone
My brother Grant bought a battery-powered Milwaukee Sawzall from Home Depot. When he got it home, he opened it and discovered its batteries were worn and totally spent – they could no longer hold a charge. Someone had probably bought it, swapped out the good batteries for bad ones, then returned it. Not shoplifting, per se, but just as bad.
It’s no wonder that L.L.Bean recently announced that they were considering discontinuing their long-standing free-shipping policy due to too much abuse.
Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.