I was reading a comment made by a colleague about a video he’d watched on teams in software. He gave a synopsis of the claims made, one of which was:
Success metrics for teams are how quickly and reliably they can deliver value to their customers. [emphasis mine]
I had to laugh out loud.
I hear this all the time everywhere. It’s all about delivering “value to the customer”. That’s actually somewhat true, but only if you know who the real customer is.
It’s all about concentration
For-profit entities in a capitalist system—and they are all capitalist systems now, if we’re honest—have one and only one mission, no matter what they claim. This mission is to concentrate capital. That’s it.
The mission is not to make a product or service. It is not to provide jobs. It is not to satisfy the “customers” (ostensibly, but not really, the folks paying for the product or service).
The mission is to concentrate capital in the hands of the “owners”.
Hence the true customers are the shareholders who “invested” their money (i.e., paid for) a capital-concentration service. Harvesting money from the wallets of the pretend “customers” is really no different than drilling for oil. Oil companies are not delivering value to the oil, are they?
This capital concentration is accomplished in one of two ways. The first is by increasing revenues while decreasing expenses, i.e., making more profit. The second is by increasing market share, growing the market, or entering new markets.
Revenue comes from what you charge for your product or service, so the goal is to charge the most you can. Expenses come from materials and labor and related costs, so the goal is to get those as cheaply as possible regardless of who suffers.
Privatize the profits and socialize the expenses. Externalities, ya know?
Increasing market share is most easily done by cheating in order to crush your competition. If you can manipulate the laws to make competing with you more difficult, then you must do so. That is your charter.
People who do not understand this are simply delusional. More precisely, they are in deep denial. This denial creates massive confusion and cognitive dissonance when the organizations around them say one thing and do another.
Most people will admit that this is true when pressed, but then they will say, “yeah, but…” And back into denial and delusion they will go. The cognitive dissonance of remaining in reality is simply too great for them.
Destroying lives for fun and profit
I’ll give an example, but I’m not trying to persuade anyone. When people are deep in denial, all attempts to reach them are pointless. But for those perhaps beginning to emerge from the delusion—those who are, frankly, tired of this shit—here is an example from my own experience.
In the late ‘80s, I managed a McDonald’s. You might have heard of them? Burger joint, right?
Wrong. McDonald’s does not give a shit about hamburgers. Exactly zero shits given. I’m serious.
For one thing, few know that at one point early on McDonald’s nearly went bankrupt (so much for Ray Kroc’s “brilliance”). What saved them was that they owned the land on which most of their stores sat. It was this real estate that kept them afloat.
In short, they were much more a real estate management company than a company that made burgers.
But it gets better! Back then, McDonald’s had introduced “happy” meals for kids. Pretty sad meals, really, to anyone not drinking the Kool-Aid. These came in a box with a toy, and those toys were often tie-ins to big Hollywood extravaganzas. I particularly remember the Jurassic Park tie-in, but there were many.
Come to find out that McDonald’s was making more money off the toys and tie-ins than off their hamburgers. So they were, properly speaking, a toy company that also occasionally served “hamburgers”.
And anyone who has actually tasted a McDonald’s hamburger—not just swallowed it, but actually tasted it—can confirm that they really don’t give a shit about hamburgers: flavorless, overcooked meat with limp pickles, sugary catsup, a dot of “yellow” mustard, all on a nutrition-free bun.
It gets worse
Oh, but they cared about the customers, right?
Ha, ha. Stop! You’re killing me!
Back in those days, and I doubt that it has changed since, McDonald’s spent a huge amount on advertising. And the district manager explained to me why—when they thought I was fully indoctrinated into the cult, that is, and McDonald’s is definitely a cult, as are all big corporations, if we’re honest.
He said that most McDonald’s customers saw at least ten commercials for McDonald’s for every actual visit to a McDonald’s. And that in their subconscious minds, viewing each ad counted as a visit.
So even if the actual visit was a terrible experience, it was ten to one in favor of the ad experience, which was designed by the most devious psychologists in the world to bypass all critical faculties and make the viewer feel great about McDonald’s. And their children doubly so.
In fact, the ads were deliberately aimed directly at the children. Does anyone really think that “Ronald McDonald” was intended for grown up viewing?
The district manager was very proud of this.
This was around the same time that McDonald’s corporation was trying desperately to prevent the outlawing of styrofoam because it would just “ruin” the food. No way they could stay in business without styrofoam! Funny how that turned out.
They did not give a flying fuck about the environment or the damage they were doing. Not then, not now.
As for the crew people—including the store managers, really—they were utterly exploited. Raises were infrequent and were nickels and dimes, literally. Management joked about it—behind closed doors of course. To say that the company was miserly with benefits such as meals and uniforms is a gross understatement. Frankly, it was utterly sadistic.
And the salaried managers were completely conned. True believers one and all. Their kids wore McKids™ clothing. They wore McDonald’s pins and sweatshirts and more daily. They had McDonald’s vanity plates and bumper stickers. They socialized almost entirely with other McDonald’s managers and talked exclusively company gossip.
Of course, we were never allowed to give any hourly worker more than 30 hours per week because if we did, then we’d have to give them benefits such as health insurance. Oh, hell no! And we were certainly never allowed to fraternize with them. We might develop some empathy. Can’t have that.
The company insisted on scheduling workers at its own convenience, and if they no-showed, well, they could just work somewhere else, right? And management would understaff whenever they could get away with it, so let the customers line up four deep during their short lunch hours and the crew go without breaks. So what? We were making serious bank!
My favorite was our no-escape drive-thru. Regularly, I’d get a customer whose order was not ready (usually a custom order) and I’d ask them to pull into a parking spot so we could serve the next customer whose food was ready. And at least a few times a week, I’d get someone who refused to move.
So I would pick up the phone and—as they watched—dial 911 while telling them, “OK, I’ll call the police.” Invariably, they moved. Then I would rush their food out, give them a card for a free meal at their next visit, apologize politely for the delay, and thank them for pulling forward.
Despite all this, some would call the main office and complain. So the main office would tell them, “Hey, your selfishness was unfair to the customers behind you in line. If you can’t show respect to your fellow customers, then we don’t need your business.”
Ha! Right. No fucking way. What they did was come to me and say “Stop calling the cops on people who won’t move in the drive-thru! Just let them sit there.”
Essentially, screw all the nice customers so we can avoid pissing off the utter asshole customer. So much for delivering value to the customer. It’s not the customer they value, it is the money they can get from the “customer”.
[Digression: one day we had some cops in the drive-thru and they got a call. They turned on their lights and siren but the person in front of them would not move. Finally, they had to get on the loudspeaker and threaten the customer with arrest before the customer begrudgingly moved out of their way. And all this for McDonald’s “food”. You really can’t make this shit up.]
Value for the customer my ass
I am struggling to figure out where in all of this McDonald’s displayed any concern whatsoever for their ostensible customers. I’m not seeing it. While individual employees liked a few individual regulars, for most the customers might as well have been pigs lining up at a trough. And, frankly, many of the “customers” did little to disabuse them of this view.
The employees were fake friendly to the customers because we threatened them with dismissal if they weren’t—no matter how egregious the customer’s behavior. The customers, however, often treated the employees like dirt. The victims blame each other while the exploiters laugh all the way to the bank.
So when, exactly, did McDonald’s deliver value to their “customers” if by that we mean the people eating their manufactured product?
Was it when, after switching their fry oil to 100% vegetable oil and making a big deal out of it, they quietly switched back to a mix of vegetable oil and beef tallow without notifying their vegetarian and vegan customers? Ha, ha. Remember that?
Was it when the media discovered that they had been lying about the “nutritional value” [sic] of their ingredients?
Granted, McDonald’s might be worse than most, but I’ve worked for a variety of organizations including big enterprises, banks, energy companies, academia, and more. And it’s pretty much the same experience everywhere.
That’s how capitalism works. To pretend otherwise is simply delusional.
Government and academia are no better
Government is run by politicians. Politicians care about one thing: increasing their power, which requires staying in office. At least until they can exit to a nice sinecure via the revolving door.
It’s not that people don’t enter government intending to do good things. Some do. But once in, they discover that it’s dog eat dog, and they can either compete or get eaten.
The ones that survive are expert at preserving and growing their individual fiefdoms. Doing “good” falls by the wayside. When it is easier to appear to do good without actually doing it, and the reward is the same or better, then why bother?
What does any of this have to do with delivering value to their customers, ostensibly the people who elected them?
Nothing at all. It has nothing to do with helping the citizenry.
But it’s worse than that. The great majority of humans falsely believe that politicians are beholden to—and care about—they people who voted for them. That’s utter nonsense.
Politicians do whatever they have to do, including making absurd promises that they have exactly zero intention of keeping, to attract voters. The voters are not their customers, they are the product.
Once a politician has acquired a block of voters that they can deliver to their real customers—the people who paid to get them elected—then they sell that block of voters to the highest bidder. Essentially, they are selling their influence.
This works exactly the same way that the media attracts viewers/readers who become the product sold to the advertisers. The advertisers are the real customers. You, the viewer, are what is sold.
And most media companies, politicians, corporate executives, etc. will use any means possible, no matter how devious or despicable, to acquire the eyes/minds/wallets to sell.
As for academia, it’s not about truth, it’s about prestige and position. I watched with horror as my employers—full professors—manipulated the data we’d (poorly) acquired to make it say what they needed it to say, discarding statistics that hurt and looking for ones that could be made to look good.
The truth is that they spent millions of dollars to learn nothing. The question then wasn’t “what have we learned?” but “how can we make it look like we learned something worth all that money?”
Wow. That was disillusioning.
Everyone is lying all the time
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you know it’s true. We are surrounded by lies 24/7. All advertising is lying. Even if it doesn’t include blatant lies, the goal of the advertising is to convince potential purchasers that a lie is the truth: that the product or service in question is significantly superior to the competition.
Whether they do this by coming right out with a lie—”The world’s best nose hair trimmer!”—or through the use of good looking models and sex appeal to bypass what little remains of your cognitive faculty, it is all deception. It’s all lies.
We are surrounded by lies all the time. No wonder we stop seeing them. And start believing nonsense about delivering “value” to the “customer”.
Depressing, I know. But forewarned is forearmed, and maybe if you see clearly you can avoid the worst forms of exploitation. Maybe you can even begin to contribute to a solution.
But this is only the half of it, because while organizations have organizational goals, none of which involve delivering “value” (whatever that is) to some customer, the people who work in those organizations have goals of their own. And they absolutely do not align.
That’s for another polemic.
Marx, the Frankfurt School, and Fight Club! Makes me want to cry! This myth of "customer value" is table stakes for any assertion of our value in a business domain. Try saying "I dont give a shit about the customer, and nor do you" at an interview and see how far you get!