When Companies Should Mind Their Own Businesses
Dear Rich Lifer,
I took my mom and daughter on an Italian vacation back in October.
Well, a couple days ago I got a message from the woman who rented us an Airbnb in Rome.
I quickly glanced at the first part on my phone, which said:
“I wanted to reach out to you to let you know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers. It’s a tough time for all of us.”
“What a nice gesture,” I thought. I had only met this woman for ten minutes and here she was reaching out to me with well wishes!
I quickly responded, saying I was sorry that Italy was getting hit so hard and suggesting we would all come back stronger than ever.
Later, I realized there was more to the message than what originally displayed so I clicked through…
“I wanted to reach out to you to let you know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers. It’s a tough time for all of us. Take care and stay at home!
That last bit kind of bothered me.
I know it was said with nothing but good intentions from a person witnessing extreme effects from this pandemic.
But I certainly haven’t sent messages to past business associates telling them how to behave during this crisis.
I guess I’m in the minority.
A Public Relations Nightmare
Pretty much every company I’ve ever bought anything from – or merely expressed an interest in – is telling me about their coronavirus response and giving me their take on best practices.
And ironically, some companies I have ongoing business with are NOT communicating with me about decisions that actually do affect me.
A specific example:
I subscribe to a premium surf forecasting service, and have for many years.
Last week, I went to check the latest update and found that they decided to stop publishing this information.
In its place was a generic message about staying home, only surfing where still allowed by law, and always maintaining six feet of distance between other people in the water or the parking lot.
Did they e-mail subscribers directly to let us know they were discontinuing publication or offering some type of refund? Nope.
Only after I e-mailed did they acknowledge the possibility of extending my subscription by another month.
Here’s my beef:
They have one of the rare businesses that can continue functioning during this crisis, providing the products that people have already paid for.
Instead, they made a decision to stop giving this information to their customers because they believe it’s for the greater good of public health.
Never mind that I might simply like reading the updates for entertainment as I sit at home. Or that I might have access to a private surf spot somewhere. Or that my local beaches are actually still open.
Don’t mistake this for the whining of an entitled person.
I recognize this is a very serious health crisis, and I’m doing what I can to “flatten the curve.”
I can certainly live without my daily surf forecasts… and many other first-world luxuries… FOREVER if need be.
At the same time, I’m just as concerned with honoring people’s individual freedoms and pre-existing contracts as I am about COVID-19 itself.
Public Action, Versus Personal Freedom
I don’t believe grown adults need to treat each other like children – calling out strangers for walking down the street… chastising friends for continuing to go to the grocery store… or trying to “catch” people doing something perceived as wrong (seen in more recent Instagram posts than I care to count).
I also expect businesses to continue delivering the services they promised whenever it’s safe and logistically possible.
To me, how we behave in a crisis largely defines who we are – and it isn’t just about taking a particular action (or foregoing another); it’s also about how much we continue to honor individual liberties.
I’ll leave you with a final example:
My mother was at the post office and saw an envelope lying on the ground. It said “$1,900” on it. Worried that someone had dropped it, and intent on taking it back inside, she opened it up.
The message inside? “Gotcha, A**hole!”
Far be it from me to tell you what to do …
But I’m not just giving everyone six feet of physical distance, I’m also giving them room for philosophical differences, too.
The reality is there will always be a range of acceptable behaviors and plenty of debate over social norms.
COVID-19 or not, the goal should always be balancing how our actions impact others while maintaining our own rights.
That takes good information, self-reflection, and some degree of flexibility. Not authoritarian mandates… Internet shaming… or knee-jerk business decisions.
To a richer life,