‘If you want to ruin the truth, stretch it’. (Anon)
There are many forms of self-serving mendacity that I detest, but none more so than what I call Corporate Credit Syndrome (CCS).
I use the term ‘self-serving’ because not all lying is bad per se: when my first wife and I split up, the kids asked us why and we gave them an anodyne answer almost entirely devoid of the truth. But when her lover moved in later, it made his transition to stepfather a lot easier for them, and – we both still believe – reduced the effect on our kids to minimal scarring. Psychiatrists would argue the opposite….but all I can say is that it worked for us. All of us.
Corporate Credit Syndrome, on the other hand, is the worst kind of selfish lying: its only motivations are material gain, falsifying one’s image, share price, and State brownie points. I could enumerate examples from now until the middle of next week – but what follows are some of the worst.
‘We care for the environment by giving you recyclable bags’. No chummy, you don’t give a monkey’s about the environment, but the bean-counters have told you they can source these bags from Indonesia at half the price. Mind you, the logistics blokes have told you that the bags fall apart and break the customers’ wine bottles on the way from the car to the kitchen. But not to worry, eh?
‘Every Little Helps’. Not really, mate: you sell 20 loss-leaders a week, and load the loss onto ‘shoulder’ products. You don’t work for the customer, you work for the City.
‘New easy opening pack’. Define easy: easy for anyone with one-inch steel-strong nails? Easy for a mensa to work out? Easy for a professional wrestler?
‘We want to hear from You!’ If you did asshole, you’d have a Call Centre – as opposed to this deplorable Chateau D’If you call a Members’ Forum.
‘We value your call, so do please hold’. No you don’t: You train the telephonists to fob me off and sell me crap….and I’m holding on because you don’t train enough of them – on account of all you care about is the quarterly bottom line.
‘Where vision gets built’. Thank you Lehman Brothers, we enjoyed that. Sadly, your vision went bust.
‘We’ll get you there’. Thank you Delta Airlines. That’s very reassuring, given that you’re an airline. I mean, it’s not like you’re a taxi service right – where if there’s a breakdown, you park by the roadside and the RAC come to the rescue? You’re a f**king airline, and if you don’t get us there, we all die. And while we’re at it, it’s the airport ground crew and aviation authorities who ensure you don’t immolate or drown us – not you.
Of course, if we’re being truly even-handed here, in 90% of cases these companies don’t come up with this bollocks: it’s their PR agencies who do. But then, on the other even hand, the companies hire the PR agencies and approve the sh*t they come up with.
The core of the mendacity involved in all this is the pretence that a multinational organisation puts the customer first. As if to ram this point home, such conglomerates extol their “customer-facing” attitude. My own view is that there is no other way any successful organisation should face, while ‘first’ is the only place the customer should ever occupy. But the everyday reality is that the customer usually comes a very poor last behind a whole host of other ‘stakeholders’. The holders of the stake more often than not drive it through the customer’s heart. They are the retailers, the regulators, the analysts, the shareholders, the bureaucrats, the accountants, the merchant banks, and the financial media. These are the groups deemed most important by communications advisers, and in a completely inverted way, they’re right: senior corporates unable to compete in a genuinely free market put such peripheral interests first, because they are easier (and cheaper) to square off than dissatisfied customers.
Big business these days takes the obvious – and pretends it’s a competitive advantage. All they’re doing really, though, is taking the piss. Wherever possible, when they do this we should take our business elsewhere.