Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Pass It On

So this morning, I was updating Microsoft Edge to the newly released version. Then a spent some 30 minutes hunting down and trying settings in order to get current Edge to look like the Edge it had just replaced. I'm the sort of person who is irked by these things and once a friend, seeking to be supportive, said: "Wow, man. That's terrible customer service." But here's the point: It isn't. Because I am not the customer.

Microsoft having yet another go at making MSN my homepage is actually good customer service. They are attempting to obtain more attention for the people who advertise on their site (a.k.a., their customers). But this comes at my expense, because I don't find the MSN news and ad feed to be particularly valuable, and so I turn it off. Which is a bit of work, at least the first time. It was a bit of work when I went from Internet Explorer to Edge, and a bit of work when I went from old Edge to new Edge, because the settings were in different places each time. I'm pretty sure that Microsoft could have set things up so that my settings carried over. It may have been some work on their part, however. And rather than assume the time and expense that such work would have entailed, they pushed that work to me, because if I hadn't done it, it would have meant more value to the customer.

How does that relate to the world outside of my home? Well, this pattern of shifting the costs of providing value to customers away from the business providing the value and on to non-customers can be said to be at the root of systemic racism. Take Ferguson, Missouri. One of the findings of the Department Of Justice in that case was: "that Ferguson Municipal Court has a pattern or practice of: Focusing on revenue over public safety, leading to court practices that violate the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements." But I suspect that if you asked one of the people that the Ferguson Municipal Court considered it's actual customers, they thought that they were just getting a good deal for their taxes, because some of the costs were being shifted to other people. And I suspect that the case is much the same in Minneapolis. George Floyd didn't die because the Minneapolis Police Department turned on its customers. Instead, it was a matter of costs being shifted from the people that were considered customers, to those that were not.

So what's the solution? Require that the businesses, governments and other institutions that we deal with make or buy all of the value that they deliver, rather than extract value from others by shifting costs. Easier said than done, because it means potentially leaving a lot on the table. It asks people to risk paying more for goods and services, accepting lower rates of return on investments, fewer government services for their taxes and so on. But perhaps more importantly, it asks people to know, rather than assume, how the institutions they interact with work, and be prepared to miss out on things if there are questions about how their value was derived. It asks people to be secure enough to know that they can afford the added costs. And in that, it asks that everyone support one another.

And that, perhaps, is why it fails, time and again. A nation that tends to operate in an every-person-for-themselves mode is difficult to bring together on a large scale. And undertaking that requires a high level of social trust is next to impossible when that trust is lacking.

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