Is Everything Falling Apart? (The Deep Support Economy)

I got on an airplane recently and the steward welcomed us by saying, “Thank you for choosing United. We know you had your choice of bankrupt carriers and we’re happy you chose us.”

For the airlines it’s a tough go these days. And it’s no picnic for customers either. Flying has become a hassle at almost every point of contact.
But it’s not only the airlines. Many other corporations and organizations formed in the last century to serve mass customers are finding it tougher to get their messages through today. It’s almost impossible to maintain customer loyalty and deliver satisfactory service. The mass market system is under stress, some say it’s breaking down.

Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin contend in “The Support Economy:Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism,” that a whole new form of capitalism is in the birthing, one that will serve individuals and families by offering deep support. Deep support is both service and advocacy to meet complex needs that are frustrating and time-consuming today.

If you’ve tried to straighten out a billing mistake on a medical claim or sought service for a home appliance, you know that the system is not designed to be customer friendly. The customer must fit the needs of the organization rather than the other way around. Mass organizations were designed to provide a product or service to great numbers of people. To do this, the individual needs of the customer must be sublimated to the production cycle and procedures of the mass organization. How else can it serve a mass clientele?

But in the sublimation of individual needs many customers feel abandoned in the transaction. If individuals must conform to the production and service system of the mass organization, Zuboff and Maxmin contend, they experience frustration and dissatisfaction because our lives are more complex and nuanced than ever before in human history.

The mass corporation seems oblivious to the daily realities of the customer. Recently my daughter tried to get a landline telephone installed. She was instructed to provide the installer with a four-hour window–which meant she had to adjust her work schedule to be there. You can almost write the rest of the story. The installer didn’t show up. She called and was advised the installer had attempted to contact her. In fact, the installer never came to her address. She was advised, however, since “she was unavailable” she faced a three-week wait for another appointment.

Zuboff and Maxmin make the case that such experiences will result in the demise of mass market capitalism and individuals, who are empowered as never before in history, will demand new and more effective services. It’s not just a matter of self-interest in a narrow sense, it’s a matter of using one’s time to live authentic, meaningful and fulfilling lives. It’s not about waiting on the installer to show up.

As I think about this proposition, I connect with research that reinforces the claim that people are searching for more meaning and fulfillment. I’m also interested in the growth of small support groups that seem to offer people an environment for growth and problem-solving. So, it rings true.

I’m also thinking that one place where this happens already is in active, informed, caring communities, such as local churches that see that they must be in mission and must carry out ministries of service. The book also suggest to me that in a de-personalized world, those organizations who see their role as healer enabling us to resolve the conflicts we experience and empowering us to live authentically will help us experience deep support. That’s not all the thoughts that Zuboff and Maxmin stimulate, but it’s a good start.

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