Love, business and management

Benito Teehankee

Managing for Society

Manila Times

I once called my bank to request for a manager’s check. No can do, I was told. I was requesting this from a branch in Pasig instead of my home branch along Taft Avenue and this wasn’t allowed. I’d been banking with them for two decades and had made similar requests in the past so it was quite disappointing to be told that I had to drive almost 20 kilometers to get the service I required. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling much love.

Resisting the urge to blow my top, I asked to talk to the manager and painstakingly explained why I needed the service at the branch nearer to me and that, having been their client for so long, this was a reasonable request to grant. I reminded him that I believed in their newspaper ad which announced their devotion to me as a customer. After a tough ten minutes of back and forth, the manager relented and approved my request. I felt my love meter go up a few points. Maybe this manager actually cared about me as a customer more than he cared for sticking to a rule.

But I had nagging questions in my mind. Can I really trust this bank to look after my interest? Will I always have to spend countless minutes and hours talking to front liners and managers about my needs? In fairness, I don’t only experience this love challenge with banks. My broadband provider left me without Internet at home for more than a week just when I was rushing an important piece of research. I had a tough time getting past half a dozen call center agents who couldn’t solve the problem to talk to a responsible manager. This prompted me to go to the company’s headquarters to sit outside the office of a senior manager until my concern was attended to. I did get some relief but the experience did not really inspire much trust.

Fr. Oliver Williams is a key leader of the United Nations Global Compact program which involves more than 6,000 businesses around the world in promoting human rights and labor welfare, protecting the environment and fighting corruption. He’s in the Philippines to speak on the Global Compact and pointed us to the Edelman Trust Barometer research which tracks the level of public trust of business and other institutions globally. The 2013 report cites the three most important trust expectations from business as “offers high quality or products”, “listens to customer needs and feedback” and “treats employees well”. When asked whether businesses were meeting these expectations, respondents reported big gaps for customer care. But the biggest gap was in employee treatment: 61 percent expect businesses to treat employees well but only 24% believe they do.

I wasn’t surprised with the survey’s results on customer-related trust given my own gripes about this. But the high rank and large gap for employee treatment intrigued me. Does this result hold true in the Philippines? Eon, a local consulting firm and affiliate of Edelman, released the results of their Philippine Trust Index survey last year. Conducted in NCR, Cebu and Davao, the survey reported that about 56 percent of respondents found business trustworthy. This was lower than 83 percent for the Church and 64 percent for media. Should business be happy knowing that it is trusted by only a little more than 1 out of every two people out there?

The Eon study went deeper and asked respondents to give the important qualities businesses should have in order to be trusted. The most frequently mentioned expectations were “give benefits to employees”, “fair wages to employees” and “fair labor practice”. “Value for money products” only came in fourth.

Interestingly, Filipino respondents feel even stronger about employee treatment and think that love needs to “begin at home” with employees. Shouldn’t businesses be rushing to fulfill this expectation of the public? I realize that there is a love fest between big business and investors, with the latter enjoying spectacular returns. (Disclosure: I invest in the stock market.) Now, wouldn’t it be great to spread the gains around – especially with employees? In the US, Southwest Airlines (whose stock symbol is LUV) treats its employees really well, resulting in great customer service and great profits, too.

Memo to business managers: Try loving your employees and your customers more. They’ll put their trust in you and love you right back. That’s a loving thought for this Valentine’s Season.