The Truth About Business

Old Cash Register

The bottom line for all businesses, is to make as much money as possible.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, that’s the entire point of business, right?

However, the problem lies in how far a business is willing to go to achieve that goal, pushing the boundaries of what’s legal, and often, even crossing that line.

The moral and ethical lines, however, are much more blurred. This is the gray area that ALL modern business operates in. Why? Well, first, let’s look at the most basic definition of what commerce is:

Person A gives Person B tender/trade in the Amount of X in exchange for Item Y.

Now, in early civilizations, this was perfectly innocent, one person trading with another for items that they both genuinely needed: food, tools, shelter, etc. But, for hundreds (or thousands) of years, most products have been nothing more than snake oil. And by the way, I have to say that tiny bottles of smelly liquid, ya know, perfume and cologne, that sell for $50, $100, and more, are the perfect example of a modern day snake oil scam.

And whether it’s snake oil or things people really need like clean water, there is always some level of for-profit privatization involved, and therefore, manipulation taking place on Person A, by Person B. Honestly, that’s essentially what all marketing is. Marketing is basically a euphemism for manipulation; trying to manipulate people into buying crap that they don’t really need.

The absolute upper echelon of marketing, are those companies that are so popular, they’re able to actually create their own culture. Apple is the perfect example of this. All companies dream of reaching this status. Even laundry detergent and diaper companies are on Twitter trying to be “cool” and “funny” to build a following.

Here’s the ultimate point that I’m trying to make, companies DO NOT care about you. The appearance of caring about you, protecting you, offering you the best value, or even being your friend… it’s all carefully manufactured marketing. Every company I’ve ever worked for talked shit about their customers.

They think you’re dumb sheep (Facebook is actually on the record saying that they think you’re a “dumb fuck” for giving up all your info) and the point of most meetings consists of brainstorming more effective ways of tricking you into spending as much money as possible, while also avoiding you being able to get a refund or ask for support as much as possible.

Even companies that provide high quality, friendly support, don’t actually care about you. They just know that good support is smart business. But, behind the scenes, they’re saying to their co-worker:

Ugh. This guy again.

If most of you don’t overtly know this already, I think everyone generally, at least on some level have always suspected this was the true nature of things, and you’re absolutely correct. It makes me sick, and I always tried my best to do what was best for the human, even when it directly opposed the policies of the company. I’ve gotten in trouble for being honest with customers before and I’ve also gotten in trouble for offering refunds to unhappy customers.

One company in particular that I worked for in the past had a strict “No Dead-ending Customers” policy, and a lot of customer support departments at different companies actually implement this tactic. And while at a glance that sounds like it might be a good thing, something that’s for the customer, it’s not, and in fact perhaps the one thing that frustrates people more than anything else when they ask for help.

What not “dead-ending” people actually means is, don’t ever admit that we were wrong, say no, or say that we don’t know. In other words, give them the run-around. This is the most idiotic method a customer support team can implement. It pisses people right the fuck off, as it should. If you’re just honest with people and give them straight answers, they’ll find it so refreshing, it’ll usually build stronger loyalty.

There is still quite a large sector of business that mostly gets a pass though, that people have a big misconception about, because they’ve done the greatest job of anyone at hiding their true nature. And that would be the companies that we take for granted, assuming that they’re public services and utilities; that they’re a basic human right.

Businesses like: hospitals, police, prisons, schools, mail delivery, city officials, road workers, electric, water, sewage and garbage management, etc. These are usually very much FOR-PROFIT entities, and some of them (like the USPS) even sell your data to third-parties. Sure, they usually have more oversight from cities and government, and generally don’t get away with some of the same tactics other businesses do, but all the same, they very much have their own agendas, marketing strategies, and think of you as just a number.

That said, being someone who both provides customer support and receives it from others, I have understanding and empathy for both sides. Clients From Hell will give you an interesting insight into the kind of things pros are probably saying (or at least thinking) about you behind your back.

Luckily, the site isn’t as nasty as you might think, considering it’s all anonymous; they don’t actually share personal info. Also, if a freelancer is actually the one that’s being dumb, the community will defend the client and give the freelancer a hard time. While it can be amusing, I would never post anything to a site like that. Even if it’s anonymous, integrity still means something to some people, and it’s just not very nice.

Reddit is another excellent way to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Check out the subreddit for USPS as a perfect example. Generally, any unofficial company subreddit is going to have a treasure trove of info. If it’s an officially run subreddit, they’ll obviously censor anything that puts them in a negative light.

Glassdoor is pretty good for finding out what the employees think of the company itself.

I actually have a hard time thinking of any business or entity that’s truly good. I think public libraries and library workers are the best example of something that may truly still have altruistic intentions for the community. But, they’re a dying breed.

I think the nastiest of businesses that most would consider public utilities, that still have a private monopoly, are Internet Services Providers like Comcast. Did you know that no different than drug dealers that have territories, many cable companies have these nasty contracts with cities that state that only they can do business in the area because of the lines they laid down?

There’s probably no bigger consumer complaint than from people that are greatly dissatisfied with their internet service, the quality of support they receive, but cannot do anything about it because there is no competition in the area to both push for better quality services and lower prices. Here’s another shocker, in many other countries outside the US, they pay a tenth of the price for internet and get 10x the speed!

While most of what I’ve said above isn’t just some pessimistic opinion on the way I think things are and facts about the way things actually are, it’s not a total wash. Yes, and even though we’re still part of the problem, the broken economic system, there are still good individual professionals like myself and very small businesses that actually care about what’s right, and care about their clients and customers in a more human, intimate way, beyond just the money we make from them.

I have a theory, and it’s not really a theory because you can simply see the evidence by observing, but the basic idea is this, the larger a company becomes, the more money it makes, the more separation there is from consumers and those in control of the company, the more evil it becomes, full stop.

Worshiping Money

Let’s explore this theory with a thought experiment:

A man named Bob likes to make birdhouses at home in his free time. He’s done it for a few years and has gotten really good at it. So good, that a neighbor asked if he could make one for them too. He does, just for fun, and this brings joy enough to him. This is just his hobby after all.

But, through word-of-mouth, Bob continues to get requests, eventually to the point where he’s working late at night, neglecting his other chores and his performance at his day job starts to become affected. At this point, though it makes him sad to say no, he starts to have to decline the requests.

Someone that really wants one though and is disappointed by this news offers him $100 if he’ll do it. Very surprised, but not one to turn down good money, Bob accepts. Without ever asking for money or doing any advertising of any kind, Bob continues to receive requests, all with offers of money and even some custom requests.

With this extra income, Bob is able to buy more supplies and better tools. Eventually, he’s able to fully upgrade his garage into quite a full-fledged, woodworking shop. Bob still has a day job, and there’s only so much time in the day, so he actually has people on a waiting list for his work.

One evening, while having dinner with his daughter, she suggests, why not start his own business? She can help make a website for him, get onto social media, make some business cards, the whole shebang. He thinks about it; he does like working on these projects more than what he does at his boring, 9-5 job, and, while still only serving as somewhat a hobby and a side income, doing the math, hour for hour, he actually makes much more doing this than his current wage.

He decides to pull the trigger. He puts in his notice at work and begins working full-time on his new business, which is eventually registered officially as Bob’s Fine Crafting, LLC. Year over year, things continue to grow. Eventually he needs extra help to fulfill orders, so hires his grandson. It’s not long after that they need more space, so lease their own industrial shop, along with 3 news hires.

They’re now a small, but strong team of 5, that eventually becomes a team of 6 with an accountant, then 7 with a lawyer, then 8 with a professional web designer and marketer. At this point, it’s still a very small, but successful business. Bob, the man that just started out in his garage, now has 7 employees under him, but hasn’t lost touch with the customer. He still cares about the quality of the product and can actually be reached by phone.

His customers are loyal, because he’s loyal to his customers.

It’s now 10 years later, and Bob’s Fine Crafting is now a furniture store, and has expanded to multiple locations throughout the state. Bob has taken more of a purely managerial position at this point, and can no longer be reached directly by customers. He still loves his customers and this brand he’s created still has a high standard for quality and customer support.

Bob is getting older, and is starting to think about the legacy he’ll leave behind and supporting his family when he’s gone. Unfortunately, there’s no one in the family that’s interested or equipped to take on the responsibilities of the business. He makes the hardest decision he’s ever had to make, selling off the business. He’s not simply interested in the highest bidder, but finding someone who shares his ethics and integrity for quality.

Eventually, he’s acquired by a much larger, nationwide, corporate, big-box store, who has convinced him that they care about the customer. He receives quite a large sum that will pay off all his debts, allow him to retire, and put all of his grandchildren through college. Unfortunately, the company that acquired him lied, or at least they did unwittingly, because they don’t actually understand what good support is, relying on absurd test groups and psychological studies to dictate the way they treat people.

All support is now outsourced to a call center where employees who have never even been in the same room with one of the products of the company they work for or met any of its founders, stare at a computer screen and read from a script. Bob’s Fine Crafting no longer sells birdhouses because they lose money on it, and exclusively sell furniture at high prices under the Bob’s Fine Crafting brand that consumers have come to trust for its excellence, except that excellence no longer exists, as all production has been outsourced, where they use a much cheaper wood and pay less attention to detail.

This hasn’t really been a cautionary tale, more so than simply being the rule for all business, not the exception. Virtually all businesses start out with a creative individual, with a good heart, and good intentions of giving people excellent service or products.

If a company is successful and continues to grow, eventually it will serve other masters, investors, or shareholders, people that don’t care about quality, don’t care about the customers, and only want to maximize profit. It’s inevitable. Even a lot of charities, non-profits, and even religions are just other forms of businesses from this kind of corruption.

Money (at a certain threshold) + People = Corruption

I’m not really sure exactly at what threshold that these kind of players and behaviors begin to emerge, but there’s no doubt that it happens to companies that start to make millions or billions of dollars a year.

There are people of course that try and take a stand to make these companies behave. We all have that friend who refuses to shop at Walmart or Amazon or wherever (maybe that person is you), and in essence, the effort is commendable, and of course people can choose where and where not to shop, but ultimately, I don’t think it solves anything, and may even be a little hypocritical.

Really the only difference between a good corporation (what an oxymoron) and an evil one, is that the good one just hasn’t been caught doing anything shady yet. So, when you stop buying products from one and buying them from another, that’s really nothing more than your own form of a manipulation, a PR campaign for your own personal reputation if you will. Outside of living in the woods, completely off the land, and off the grid, it’s impossible to exist without feeding the evil corporate monsters.

Romantics like to say that money can’t buy happiness, but that simply isn’t true. Studies have proven that money CAN, up to a certain extent, do just that. Common sense tells us that making enough money to support ourselves with: shelter, clothing, food, heat, clean water, etc. are absolutely vital to one’s quality of life, but beyond that, we need to be able to play too. Where we get into trouble is when that’s not enough, when we think we need more. That’s called greed.

Capitalism isn’t bad. But, the ends don’t always justify the means.