Why real people hate big corporations

I wish there were some magic pixie dust, let’s call it, say, “social media,” that big companies could sprinkle over themselves so that, suddenly, they would be loved by their customers.

However, I spent a few hours on Saturday  frustrated with a giant corporation who has an awarding-winning, best practices, does-every-possible-social-media-approach. But I still hate them.

With their marketing millions, they tell me they are people, just like me, who will drop everything to help me. But when it comes to a Saturday morning and their customer (me) wants to know why their product isn’t working, they become an impenetrable wall of barriers between me and the help I need.

Last week, Seth Godin, perhaps the most lucid mind and consistently insightful voice in marketing, used his gifted story telling skills and mighty platform to explain
why people hate big corporations
. His example was Progressive Insurance and the issue used as an example far outstrips the petty frustration I felt.

But, frankly, Seth’s example is too often the norm, and unfortunately, is not isolated to Progressive.

Says Seth:

“Corporations (even though it’s possible that individuals working there might mean well) … bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars, commercials and discounts. Employees are pushed to focus on bureaucratic policies and quarterly numbers, not a realization that individuals, not corporations, are responsible for what they do….If someone in your neighborhood used this approach, treating others this way, if a human with a face and a house and a reputation did it, they’d have to move away in shame. If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.”

I have pointed before to the research by the Pew Foundation that reveals American’s remarkably high regard for small businesses and their deplorably low regard for big corporations (see chart). Seth nails the reason why in the last sentence of that quote: “If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.”

Here’s the thing. When institutions grow big, the people who run them stop acting like people and start acting like “entities.” They apparently don’t notice that when they start acting like entities, the people who are their customers start hating them.

Legally speaking (which I do as little as possible), U.S. law actually does, in many circumstances, consider corporations as collections of people, a legal concept called “corporate personhood.” (The principle behind the allowance of corporate donations to Super Pacs.)

But I’m not referring to this legal definition of whether or not corporations are people. I’m talking about the social compact we, as individuals, have with the institutions to which we have the choice to form relationships.

By my interpretation, I view this compact as being something like this: If a company creates the product I want, sells it to me at a fair price and then (and this is the part most companies don’t get) helps me accomplish what it is I wanted to accomplish when I purchased that product, then I’m their customer for a long time.

If they promote their product to me, convince me to purchase the product…and then disappear when I can’t accomplish what I purchased the product to help me accomplish, well, that’s when I start thinking of how I can avoid that entity forever.