More than once and by more than one ‘customer guru’ I have been accused of bringing moral considerations into an arena where moral considerations do not belong. Which arena is that? The business arena. Many folks are convinced that what matters in business is the right strategy (plotting the right course) and effective-efficient execution. According to these folks nothing else matters – except perhaps for good luck.
Are these self proclaimed rational, bottom line, no nonsense folks correct? Frederick Reichheld published The Loyalty Effect back in 1996. And in so doing he put the matter of customer loyalty on the radar of business. So folks in business have been working on building customer loyalty for almost 20 years. In the process, customer analytics, CRM systems, customer loyalty programmes, NPS, and voice of the customer feedback have become firmly established in big business. What is there to show for it? Which companies have, through these and other ‘vehicles’, cultivating meaningful customer loyalty? Please name these companies. Now go back and ask yourself if the ‘hard headed’ business folks and the ‘customer gurus’ who pander to them are correct in asserting that moral consideration can be and should be left outside of the business arena.
I say morality matters. I say that the motive that gives rise to your ‘customer-centred’ actions matters: it makes all the difference! Allow me to illustrate the importance of motive through the words of Edward Slingerland:
“On November 14, 2012, a tourist in Times Square surreptitiously snapped a picture of a police officer kneeling down to help a bare footed homeless man put on a new pair of boots. When posted onto the NYPD’s Facebook page, the photo went completely viral. The officer, named Lawrence DePrimo, had apparently been so moved by the suffering of the barefoot man that he popped into a nearby store to buy him a new pair of boots with his own money. “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet,” he said when asked about the incident. “I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold” The story was an enormous publicity coup for the NYPD, but the secret to its appeal was the spontaneity of the officer’s gesture and the happenstance of someone catching it on film.
Imagine if we found out later that DePrimo knew that the photographer was there and had been merely been grandstanding for the camera – his act motivated by the desire for fame rather than spontaneous compassion. This knowledge would instantly transform a heartwarming act of kindness into a horrible travesty. The very act itself would magically change, even though nothing would be materially different: the officer would still be out $75, and the homeless guy would still have a nice pair of boots that he didn’t have before. We have a powerful, ineradicable intuition that a “compassionate” action performed without the right motivation is merely a semblance, a counterfeit of virtue. The flip side is that evidence of sincerity and spontaneity in the moral realm inspires and moves us.
– Edward Slingerland, Trying Not To Try
As I said, morality/ethics/motive matters. It is the thing that matters the most when it comes to the matter of relating, trust and loyalty. If it did not matter as much as it does matter then many a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ would have made a success of their customer initiatives – cultivated meaningful customer loyalty.