Defining customer service in a capitalist culture

It seems that with every passing controversy, new abuse of company policies, or manipulation of current government legislation, the world’s discontent with capitalism grows.  Our culture is rooted in capitalist aims, and it is human nature to want to get ahead in life.  On the other hand, how much of human dignity, how many of our values are we willing to sacrifice to appease the capitalist nature of our society?

I tend to see the strengths of capitalism over potential flaws in the system; a private sector for industry ultimately leads to progress and promotes aspirations.  It allows for company enhancements, expansion, improvement—and, by extension, the illusion of the possible attenuation of the American Dream. However, what does capitalism and the recent boom of capitalistic ideology cost us?

As the recent United Airlines (UA) controversy has shown us, our obsession with profit margins can be overrated.  We constantly presume ourselves to be in a race against time, simply because ‘time is money.’  We accept appalling behaviors from people of power and positions of wealth, simply because we assume that their societal ranking excuses otherwise revolting behaviors. Customer service agencies continue to decline exponentially.  Yet, it usually takes horrendous incidents of depravity for us to realize just how much we have changed as a nation in terms of valuing the individual.

On April 9, 2017, United Airlines instigated a situation that led to the horrendous beating of a paying customer.  Dr. Dao, who already boarded the plane, was asked to leave in order to give up his seat to a United Airlines employee. Upon refusal, he was ultimately subjected to a ruthless beating. Rather than acknowledge the grave injustice that had been committed, the CEO of United Airlines originally stood by the way his employees handled the situation. By officially releasing an apology claiming that the company had been following “established procedures” for “re-accommodating” a customer, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz basically insinuated that the customer had simply defied authority.

Amidst backlash, United Airlines recently readdressed the issue by attempting to acknowledge how poorly the situation was handled.  Was it rediscovered morals or merely an appeasement of public outrage and the power of a 1-billion-dollar decrease in stock value that had the UA CEO changing his tune?

I am no fan of United Airlines, and I would never recommend the company to anyone based on my prior experiences with their customer service (specifically referring to a 17-hour flight delay that was accentuated by miscommunication, indifference, and ‘technical issues’).  Ultimately, airline companies have been overbooking flights since the 1950s that customers, with varying degrees of annoyance and inconvenience, have had to endure.  The service industry is no longer focused on the customer, but on the profit—and this has become a universal issue.

The situation was handled very poorly, but we are all complicit in these backwards values.  And while I do not in any way blame the paying customers who were rightfully unwilling to give up their purchased seats, the entire situation does present an interesting revelation in terms of how affected we all are by this now universally-accepted philosophy.  A man was beaten, but not one customer was willing to give up their own seat and make the entire issue irrelevant, because we have been conditioned to believe that time is money and we simply dread inconvenience. When it comes to things that really matter, that rush to get ahead can be intimidating.  Warnings against the consequences of impatience come in many forms. We have all heard the horror stories before: a fatal crash that took place because the driver simply could not wait the few extra minutes it would have taken for the red light to pass, or the tale of a jaywalker who was ultimately hit by a car. Speeding can be dangerous, yet so many cars are willing to risk their safety to avoid a little traffic, despite the fact that getting a ticket can lead to an even longer delay.

Ultimately, this United Airlines controversy will—when the anger subsides and enough time has passed—become just another story.  It will be remembered not as a story against the airline industry, but about how a large group of people were willing to watch and silently witness police brutality, rather than inconvenience themselves with a simple delay.

We are always in a rush, but where are we all headed to?

The problem is not inherently with capitalism but rather rests in the willingness of companies and individuals to abuse a capitalist system to justify injustices.  Our obsession with the wrong things is ultimately costing us our humanity.  Increased privatization of the hospital sector costs health care agents their mental health and creates hospitals that resemble factories more than agencies of care. Airline companies sacrifice customer service to increase profit margins, and public health is disregarded in favor of decreased supervision of chemical toxins present in FDA regulations because company lobbyers value profit over humanity.

This is not a new problem, but it is one that is continuously unaddressed.  Rather than generally laying the blame on capitalism, we should seek to reaffirm our morals and standards to demand more from companies that may need a reminder about the significance of customer relations.

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