After dinner I went back to the business lounge to finish my report for the day. I was very comfortable, in a red velvety wing chair, with a cup of steaming coffee and my iPad. But I was not hidden.
In comes a group of business people. They occupy the next table, get coffee and open their laptops. At first I do not listen to their strategies, they are planning how to present their added value to their client next day, which is what business is always about. Even when one of them says to the young and aspiring one ” remember added value is not supposed to cost us anything”, I am not surprised. He does continue though,” it is all about giving them something that is understood by their customers as added value, when in truth it they are not given what they pay for.” This makes me listen.
I am still not hidden, I am not eavesdropping, as this experienced executive is sitting a yard away from me, talking loud and clear.
Then they compare their notes and slides and statistics, concluding that their best chance of closing the deal is to present their business client with an IT system that hides as many consumer rights as possible. The consumer that orders something through this site will then give up before discovering their legal rights. The consumer is not cheated, as the truth is still there. As an added bonus, this program could also make the order appear as it was processed at an earlier date than it was, thus giving the customer less time to file his claim. They even discussed the possibility of selling things the customer could not possibly use, as connecting flights before your first flight has landed, and then keep some of the fare. They did not go there though, not to protect the customer, but it was not really legal, or was it?
I was still not hiding, there was no way they could not see me, smell my coffee or hear me drinking it. Even so, they did not think their plans was worth hiding.
I did not discover what firm this was, except that they were americans. I do not know who they were meeting the next day. I slowly discovered a chilling truth though, I think they did not bother to hide, because they thought every business person would think like them. They were not divulging secrets, but showing off their business acumen.They knew their client, and knew the possibility of holding truth and rights away from their customers was indeed added value.
I was not impressed, and even if I was not hiding I do not think they realized that I left. By then they were too busy toasting to the success of tomorrow.
What I do know though is that truth is still truth, even if it is hidden. I also know that no amount of that kind of added value will be worth the lack of trust in businesses that implements systems to cheat their customers.
In earlier days bakers added a roll to your order of a dozen, just to not risk the death penalty of selling less than paid for.
Rolls are easy to count, but how do we count what we do not see, and do not know that we should be looking for? There is no use to blame the systems, they are all made by people like you and me. There is no use to blame the law, at least in Norway customers are protected, if they only know what to look and ask for.
The client could refuse of course, which I hope they did. The customers could be more wary, investigating their rights and insisiting on truths, as I do. Not only for my own sake, but to stir up routines on behalf of those who do not know they may. We all could be more wary, not trusting each other. We could demand more government control, compliance systems and ethical regulations.
Or we could encourage each other to voice our concern, to make heard the stories of companies doing success by being fair, we could dare to challenge each other and hold each other accountable. Not only to a legal framework, but to the ethical choices we need to take to make the world better for everyone. It is still all about doing as you would be done to, isn’t it?