by Marina Brunale

We all know the internet is changing everything. Every new communication media caused seismic shifts but the internet is doing that to an even bigger extent. So, if the key to a good relationships is communication and the internet makes communicating easier, then we are bound to be going somewhere good. Right?

With the amount of corruption news and companies just being… well, evil it would seem things aren’t getting any better. The mess is just a whole lot more visible.

Thankfully, a lot of people would disagree. In the book ‘Extreme Trust: Honesty as a competitive advantage’ the authors, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, argue that when ‘evil acts’ are more visible more trustable companies are given a competitive advantage.

In the age of the web, smartphones and social media everything a company does can be critiqued in a matter of seconds and, within minutes, millions of people can learn about it. It is no wonder so many companies have a bad reputation. Bad reviews and customer service stories can significantly affect people’s perspective of a company.

There are a lot of positive examples out there of companies doing amazing things and really doing good to the community and their clients. The problem is there are just too many bad examples. This ends up giving all companies a bad reputation.

I often get annoyed at people who think every company is automatically evil. Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to point out when I think companies have done something wrong. But it is certainly not every one of them. So, recently I have been on a quest to find out what makes a company good and what makes it actually evil. There is bound to be a very visible line between the two.

Is it prioritising money?

Paper Money by Kevin Dooley

Paper Money by Kevin Dooley

Most people think chasing money is what makes a company evil. But that can’t be, since making a profit is necessary for a company to survive. So what is it then? Of course, there are the obvious cases in which companies use slave labour, underpay their employees or pollute the environment. But we don’t need to be told they are evil, it is written all over it. There are other signs of ‘evilness’ that are much more subtle but just as bad.

According to Don Peppers and Martha Rogers it’s when the company’s means of making a profit are things that are not in the client’s interest. In their words:

“The fact is that far too many businesses still generate substantial profits by fooling customers, or by taking advantage of customer mistakes or lack of knowledge, or simply by not telling customers what they need to know to make an informed decision.”

A good way of explaining this is with examples:

  • To a credit card company, a borrower who can’t resist spending and is often late paying fees is much more profitable. In this case, the client’s weakness can actually benefit the company unless they implement things to help the client stay on top of things and avoid too many fees.
  • For mobile phone companies, a lot of profit can come from customers signing up for more expensive calling plans than they really need. Also, often times roaming data services are accessed by accident. In this case, a large profit is made because of clients being distracted.
  • Some retail banks make a substantial profit from overdraft charges and other fees for minor infractions that are usually simple customer errors. If a message or a warning was sent every time someone was going into overdraft, or if the payment just didn’t go through, clients would be safer and would have an easier time keeping track of their spendings and avoid extra fees.

Most of these examples are simple day to day things. The evilness is in the fact that some companies count on customer weaknesses and distractions as one of the main forms of profit. A good company watches out for their customer’s interest.

When is a company good?

A good company is one whose products/services is valuable and actually benefits the client. An example of good company behaviour is when you try to purchase a song on iTunes and it warns you that you have already purchased it in the past. It could just let you spend more money, but in a way, it looks out for you. It has other ways to make a profit.

Another example is when a phone company informs you that you are not using as much data as you are paying for, it tracks your consumption and offers you a service that works better for you. Or when you walk into a store looking for something specific and the salesperson tells you buying something else, maybe even in another store, would be more beneficial to you.

These behaviours are, unfortunately still rare, but this is changing. According to Peppers and Rogers it is all because of the internet and the fact that we are communicating much more nowadays.

“.. lots of traditional, widely accepted, and perfectly legal business practices just can’t be trusted by customers and will soon become extinct, driven to dust by rising levels of transparency, increasing consumer demand for fair treatment, and competitive pressure…… Things that companies, governments, and other organisations never meant for people to know they will know.”

So, not to worry, the internet is only young and will definitely keep evolving and changing the world around it. It is only a matter of time until companies realise that treating their customers better and respecting them more is the best strategy out there.

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