On Values, Hypocrisy and Customer Experience

My friend Joel once pointed me to this incredible article “Do You Really Have the Balls to Change Our Food System.” The article provides a reality check for people who think shopping at Farmer’s Markets, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s will make a difference in the way our food is grown and produced.  As someone who values the experiences those environments offer, I found the article pretty sobering — not just because what the writer is saying about our food system -  but because she suggests that if we really embody the values we claim to have, we must be prepared to pay dearly for them.  This may require us to work harder, sacrifice conveniences, lose some perks, change our habits, and even pay more for what we consume.

This hasn’t been the American way for quite some time now!

In a day and age where consumers have more power than ever before, we be should jumping for joy at our newfound ability to stand up, voice our opinions and join with others to introduce positive social and economic change.   At the same time, doing so does require that we stand up, first.  This requires the displacement of apathy and the exertion of effort.  It also requires us to take on an increased level of exposure.  With our newfound power comes responsibility.  So, we have to ask ourselves whether we are willing to do our part. 

But I AM active.  I’m socially responsible.  Really? 

But the keyword here is “KNOWINGLY,” isn’t it?

Chances are, you can easily get both of the items above from any local store or national retail chain. It’s it’s the knowing will either force us to change our behavior or defy the values we claim to hold.  Sometimes not knowing is just easier for us.  NOT knowing gives us permission to continue to take the path of least resistance.   Not knowing lets us complacently consume based on convenience, rather than by listening to our conscience.  Not knowing lets us continue in relative comfort, requiring no sacrifice.  Truth however, often demands change by searing the conscience.

With regard to your values, what do you DO know? 

First things first.  For starters, simply ASK YOURSELF whether you are living your values based on what you ALREADY know - by judging what's "in the bag."   For example, let's say you are totally against pornography because you feel it exploits women.  Do you buy goods from purveyors of porn?  Have you really checked lately?  It's everywhere. Ouch.

Think about other purchases that trigger your conscience - maybe there are environmental, labor practice or cultural or other concerns that you see being violated where you shop.  Do you buy from companies that support charities, religious or political leanings you are against?   Do you invest in companies that violate your values?  Do you purchase from companies that have policies you don't agree with?   Do you knowingly consume products that have unhealthy or unethically produced ingredients in them? 

When a brand supports exploitation, or promotes content that you find offensive, does that really impact the way you shop on a day-to-day basis?  Is it a short-term impact or long-term?  Maybe you are overwhelmed...and believe it's too hard to live your values this way, because the offenses are too numerous to count.

When you are offended, what do you DO?

This isn’t a preaching session here… if anything I’m processing as I write this article, because I’m struggling too.   As I type this on my MacBook Pro, checking my iPhone for a text, here's at least one immediate issue that renders me STUCK -- between the desire to stage a boycott and the desire to curl up into a ball.  Sound familiar?

Where and when do you draw the line?  When a brand assaults you, do you grumble privately? Do you boycott brands and flog them publicly in social media?   Do you call, write, post about the injustice or wrong you see?  Do you rally others to the cause?  It’s your right to exercise this freedom of speech and free market behavior… but do you exercise it?   Do you believe change is beyond you?  How do you choose your battles?  What motivates you to ACT?  When is enough really enough? 

Do you believe that your voice and behavior make a difference?

In an era of social media and rapid change, these are important questions to ask - and an essential ones for each one of us to answer.  Unfortunately, while we should be chomping at the bit to be heard, many of us roll over.  Many more of us are more content and comfortable in our ignorance.  However, as we proceed in this manner, we unwittingly tell others our values do not matter.  We unwittingly create markets for brands that exploit the values we claim to have and, in doing so, we leave room for nothing but exploitation and ridicule.  We create markets for what offends us by telling companies that our values just really don't matter.  And by turning a blind eye, we also encourage others around us to do the same.

What's so amazing is that it doesn't have to be this way.  Today, the power of one can be magnified by millions, if we only would do our best to really live out our values rather than rolling over.  This applies to all of us.  In an era where many people feel they are not represented well by politicians and lawmakers — perhaps the most empowering thing we can do is reclaim our power as individuals - and as consumers by standing up for deeply held convictions.  I believe, when our consciences are seared, this is a natural outcome because light, truth and knowledge will compel us to act with courage and righteous determination --> and hopefully with love and respect for others, as well.

What brands reflect your values?

We all have different priorities and values as well as different levels of tolerance for the values of others.  I don't want to debate those values here.  However, as a CX (customer experience) practitioner, I am keenly interested in the connection between human values and the brands humans love.  For example, Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has brought the brand attention for its celebration of the female form regardless of weight, age or body type. Whole Foods voluntarily labels all GMO foods as a service to its customers. These are examples of values many people celebrate. These are examples of values that enhance experiences and forge bonds with people. 

So, I'll ask you, reader - maybe easier questions to answer.  What values to you celebrate?   What Brands seem to embody those values? Is your answer based on fact and research or merely a high level impression?    At your core, are you skeptical that Companies really live their values?   Have you ever considered, as a percentage of your spending, how much business you give to brands that support the values you claim to embrace?  

Hypocrisy goes both ways

As consumers, we often have little tolerance for poor experience and hypocrisy with Brands... but hypocrisy goes both ways.  For example - we demand that brands embrace our values -- but we can't always have goods CHEAPER that are BETTER (quality, sustainability, feature rich) at the same time.  Sacrifices are required on our part.  Our demands have a price tag.  Unfortunately, many people are not interested in making those sacrifices -- especially in a down economy.

Again, I'm preaching to myself. The values component of our consumption is something that each of us, as consumers - and even as citizens -  must begin to weigh.  As PEOPLE like us begin to do so,  perhaps that's when we will begin to stop exploiting people, grow and eat healthier food, think more humanely, take care of our fellow man.  Funny thing is, if our consciences are seared, change won't require extensive campaigning, government or legislative intervention  -- because as we stand together, we can collectively eradicate the market for the detestable and hidden things that shadow our world.

Why does this relate to Customer Experience, you ask?  It's because, when the detestable is gone, experiences become better for everyone - not just the consumer. 


Ike said...

Ignorance truly is bliss. Knowledge comes with responsibility for those with a heart and a soul.

Ike said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beth said...

Leigh, eye-opening post. I think we Americans have been living a lie for quite some time -- perhaps unknowingly, but mostly not.

Americans buy into the "gotta have it now, don't care about the price, here's a charge card" mentality. Then when they see that they actually paid $200 for a $50 shirt they bought four months ago on a credit card they ask "what happened?!" Well, that is if they ever stop to ask why their credit card bill is going up instead of down with each payment made.

I have been trying to switch to buying some goods that help other people. A t-shirt that helps a charity; a bag that helps a single mom in Africa; a bracelet that helps sex trafficking victims in India., etc.

Food is just the tip of the iceberg. We, as consumers, should know where all of our purchases are coming from, how they are made and who they benefit or harm.

But I fear that until people crash and burn, they really won't ask these questions... They'll just keep buying what's easy, convenient and on the TV.

Leigh Durst said...

Beth and Ike, Well said.

Companies DEPEND on our ignorance and apathy. As long as we choose to ignore the tugs of our consciences, choosing self-gratification over the values we claim to hold, very little will change.

Carl said...

This is an interesting post Leigh, thanks. It seems like you're suggesting we strive for ethical purity - yet, I've concluded I could pour all of my time and effort and energy into simply studying corporations and free market commerce and still not know enough to make the "right decisions."

What oil company(ies) should I support? Is purchasing gasoline even ethical? Should I be using public transportation? Or only public transportation that uses ethanol? Can I support the use of ethanol, when it's driving food prices through the roof because of the effect on the price of corn?

You linked to Amazon and a pornography search (thanks for that, suppose I shouldn't be reading this at work :) with the intimation being if a person doesn't support pornography they shouldn't support Amazon... that's interesting, but I don't know how you apply that across the board. I may just start an "ethical shopping list" and in one column list the company, and in the next, the reason they aren't ethical to buy from them...

What might that look like? We could eliminate Amazon, for the reason you suggest. We could eliminate ABC, ABC News, ESPN, Pixar (so long Toy Story...), Disney Theme Parks, Disney Cruises, Marvel Comics, the Avengers and even Star Wars now because they're all owned by Disney, who is guilty of some questionable labor practices. (I hope you don't have any Mickey or Minnie in your home!)

We can eliminate all of the world's iMacs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Mac Books, etc., because of Apple's labor practices, as you noted.

Of course, we can eliminate WalMart and McDonalds for similar issues. Do you like chocolate? If so I sure hope you're purchasing something that's fair trade and has taken a stand against child slave labor. (Nothing from Hershey's this past Halloween, I trust.)

Other dilemmas this raises for me - take the public transportation issue above. Let's say a person abandons the automobile and gasoline for biking to work, which ends up taking 2 extra hours out of their day - 2 less hours now they they see their family and children. Was that a positive exchange?

Or if a person "buys local" and convinces many others to do so - to the point that their local, big box retailer actually feels the pinch and has to lay off 30 people - "locals" that now won't even have the choice of buying local, because they're unemployed. Was that good for that community?

I suppose I understand your point - one voice, especially nowadays - can have a huge impact, and if we don't start examining our lives we'll never be able to live in accordance with our own morality. I'm just not sure if it's possible to make every decision an informed one...the world seems to be much too big, and too complicated and interconnected a place to do that. The best I've been able to come up with so far is to live as simply as possible, to devote my time to helping and loving one another, and hope that the occasional trip to "Wreck-It Ralph" or a special steak dinner with my True Love won't condemn me in the eyes of my neighbor or, heaven help me, myself.

Leigh Durst said...

Hi Carl,

THANK You for your comment. I really think what we're seeing is a symptom of the Fallen World we live in. It does make living your values through the shopping cart very taxing and trying. It can point a person in the direction of untenable legalism. I can't offer a solution because I feel the same way.

I can however, do what I can. I can choose NOT to ignore the prick on my conscience when it comes. If I take on the battles I am MEANT to take on - rather than trying to charge every hill alone -- and others do the same, perhaps we can make a difference where it matters. Perhaps iteratively, instead of just watching things get worse, and worse... we can see some things get a little better.

I do know that the longer we ignore our consciences, betray our values, and stay ignorant, the brands we patronize will assume our values do not matter - perpetuating many of the problems we face today.

And I'm with you on Wreck It Ralph. ;-)

Thanks for posting. Leigh

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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