"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Nietzschean Critique of Customer Service (Oh, Yeah!)

In classical literature, an apology can mean a defense, such as Plato’s Apology. In modern parlance, an apology is known as an expression of genuine sorrow and an acceptance of responsibility for having caused harm to another person. According to Business Ethics for Dummies, corporate apologies should be sincere, as soon as possible, and be coupled with a correction to the problem.[1] Consumers should be on guard lest a company use the semblance of an apology for marketing purposes, and, more generally, to manipulate, which in itself belies the “apology.” Robert Bacal advises that an apology be used as a strategy to use “along with other techniques.”[2] An apology as a technique in a strategy is a means, and thus as such it harbors ulterior motives. This invites “perfunctory or insincere apologies,” which are “worse than saying nothing at all.”[3] Even a sincere apology as a means to get something suffers from ulterior motives. For example, Bacal advises that a “sincere apology can help calm a customer, particularly when you or your company has made an error. You can apologize on behalf of your company.”[4]  A sincere apology is mutually exclusive with an ulterior motive, especially one that is self-beneficial in some way; the orientation must be to the error.  The manager who wants to give the impression of an apology in order to disarm the aggrieved customer therefore falls short, for such manipulation eclipses genuine sorrow.
Likewise, a willingness to take responsibility in terms of making things right is associated with a sincere apology. In fact, a refusal to “make things right,” such as by compensating an aggrieved customer, eviscerates the sincerity itself and thus rides the apology of its content. Nevertheless, Bacal advises, “Keep in mind that tendering an apology doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re admitting responsibility.”[5] Responsibility, however, goes with the recognition of having committed an error. Bacal seems to want to have his cake and eat it too!
As profit-seeking machines, corporations are inherently oriented to their own interests (as are most people); hence getting something out of apologizing while obviating any cost—strangely even in admitting responsibility as if the emotions involved constitute a business cost—fits with the corporate apology. In keeping with a business’ nature, it can also be argued that because companies are economic entities, a corporate apology must involve compensation having a monetary value to be valid. In other words, unless a business gives something to the wronged consumer to make up for the error or mistake, no apology has taken place.
Bacal refers to a “bonus buy off” as “offering something of value to the customer as reimbursement for inconvenience or other problems.”[6] However, Bacal adds that the monetary value need not be significant, “since the point is to be perceived as making an effort.”[7] Here again, he equivocates, for being motivated to appear apologetic takes the focus off the original error. Also, the monetary value must at the very least equal the cumulative loss to the customer from the error to “make things right” again. Therefore, customers should insist on the corporate apology entailing adequate compensation in goods, services, or money; otherwise—especially if nothing is offered even when asked!—the customers should reject the apparent apology.
The vacuous statement, "We apologize for any inconvenience," can be taken as an example of utter fakeness designed to manipulate under a subterfuge that is in actuality nothing more than a script. A customer turning down a company’s easy apology can use the passive-aggressive corporate lingo too, saying something like, “Unfortunately (i.e., appearance of sorrow) I am unable (i.e., false rigidity) to accept the apology as it does not come an offer of adequate compensation.” If the customer “service” employee or even manager replies that the company “cannot” compensate for its own mistakes, defects, or lapses—not the least of which are rigidity and rudeness—the customer has the answer: no apology had been made after all. The customer should reply, “Unfortunately, your company’s apology cannot accepted” and cease doing business with the company. In short, such a customer will have tested the “company’s sincerity” and found the people wanting rather than genuine. Such pretense in place of sincerity is odious, ethically speaking.
Unfortunately, the massive herd of customer herd-animals in commercial society are too easily mollified by the easy corporate-speak.  To be sure, some company managements have grasped the apology-responsibility-compensation connection. As of this writing, Starbucks still sends free-drink coupons to customers who have registered a credible complaint against a store. “We’re sorry,” a customer service employee says, “I’m going to send you some coupons for drinks on us because of your bad experience in one of our stores.” Such a response is exceedingly more credible, and genuine, because there is financial cost in the mix, than a mere, “We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Starbucks is rather generous in giving four free drinks for one bad experience, though more than one drink is necessary to compensate for the bad drink and or experience plus the effort to make things right. In Business Ethics, it is noted that if the compensation is too low—such as McDonald’s offer of $800 to compensate a hospitalized customer scalded by the hot coffee—the offer can even be taken as an insult; the passive-aggression therein is real. Insult that is added to injury is really another injury. Such an “apology” extends the error and this of course adds to the compensation needed to make things right again. The point is to see through the efforts to present the appearance of sincerity and speak to employees in economic terms in order to separate “the men” from “the boys” on their own turf.
In Nietzschean terms, the skimpiness in the refusal to compensate an aggrieved customer points to underlying weakness, for the strong are by nature generous for their strength overflows. The strong say lightheartedly, what are these parasites to me. Giving up some money is not painful, for the strong are self-confidently oriented to their surfeit of strength. In contrast, the weak give up little, and at great pain, because they feel a lack (of strength) within. They are, in other words, over defensive. Some of the weak have an overwhelming instinctual urge to dominate nonetheless, as evinced in the pleasure in saying NO to even wronged customers. Even the passive aggression latent in, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” with a clear omission or refusal of compensation is of use to those “new birds of prey.”  Imagine how business would change if only this underbelly—this plethora of weakness instead of strength—were made transparent in society. Weakness evades the translucent light so as to dominate even the strong even though such a condition is “upside-down” and thus in some sense against the laws of nature. The question from a Nietzschean perspective is how strength can take hold in even a weak sector in society.

1. Norman Bowie and Meg Schneider, Business Ethics for Dummies (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011), 239.
2. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19. Italics added.
3. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19.
4. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19.
5. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 19.
6. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 22.
7. Robert Bacal, Perfect Phrases for Customer Service, 2nd Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 22. Italics added.