Justice, Learning, Marketing and Culture of Civility

One of the top most deliverables for the State is to ensure provision of justice. The concept of injustice is based violation. It happens somebody’s rights are violated or an unjust/ wrong act happens. Many expressions are related to injustice including breach of law, wrongdoing, misconduct, and unrighteousness. The rape in Delhi has lent a loud noise on the issue of injustice to which women in our country are subjected to everyday because of violations of different kinds. Getting the people to behave in the rightful way is a great challenge. This involves preempting the potential transgressions from happening. Ultimately it is about bringing a behavioral change.
In the marketing world, companies succeed by bringing about a behavioral change of their customers. They make people to learn to act in a particular manner. Companies and brands condition their customers to behave in a certain way that their objectives are realized. Take for example when groceries run out we rush to a specific store or we take a detour to locate a brand of our preference. We learn which brand offers the best value and when brands can be switched. Beneath the apparent randomness of our behavior lay a system of learning/thinking that equips us not to commit any kind of behavioral violation or ease hurt would be invited.
If we are oriented not to commit violations in consumption then why are laws violated rampantly? Market is a big learning place/space. Marketers bank upon various learning theories to bring about desired learning in their prospects. These are: classical conditioning, instrumental conditioning, rote learning, vicarious and cognitive learning. One of the important determinants of learning is reinforcement; it increases the likelihood of occurrence of a response. It strengthens the behavior.
Reinforcement is anything that follows a behavior and it may come as a pleasant or unpleasant happening. Consider how brands reinforce their purchase by offering a reward (positive reinforcement) or prevention of something undesirable (negative reinforcement): praise (Gucci), happiness (McDonald’s), confidence (Cinthol), accident saved (Ceat), and prevented body odor (Rexona), avoided theft (Harrison). Another type of reinforcement is punishment (unpleasant consequence after response) which ensures learning that a given behavior is not repeated. We learn not to buy petrol from a filling station (short delivery) or not to go to a shop (poor service).


Where do we learn to avoid law violating conduct or adopt lawful conduct? Unlike marketplace where stimulus-response- reinforcement work in tandem to bring strong learning about what to approach and what to avoid, there exists no workshop for civil conduct. As people begin to spend more time out of home, public spaces can be turned into open schools of learning. The first learning about the acceptance of violation begins with the road usage which later is generalized as an overall attitude toward legal system. If violations on the roads, especially the minor one, are made non-negotiable (reinforce with punishment) it will go a long way in building a culture of righteous conduct.

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Ethics, Business and Justice

Like life, business also involves dilemmas and conflicts. The line dividing between good and bad and right and wrong often becomes hazy.  Consider the following:

  • An advertisement showed a biker jumping the traffic signal and being chased by the policeman for the violation only to find that biker was in rush to help a patient.
  • Many glossy advertisements of investment products over emphasize benefits but rush through ‘conditions apply’ so fast that nothing can be made of them.
  • Many pharmaceutical firms conduct human trials of their drugs on people in poor countries.
  • Doctors in hospitals recommend patients to undergo unneeded tests in the name of diagnosis.
  • During the time of scarcity businessmen hoard and fleece customer by overcharging.
  • Gurus and ‘Babas’ exploit the vulnerable and naïve people by recommending magic remedies.
  • Many countries dump their products in order to save livelihood of its citizens but jeopardizing the welfare of the other.

Business happens at the point of intersection when two or more people meet. This simple exchange needs governance mechanism.  In the absence of such a mechanism the fairness of the distributive outcome cannot be achieved.  Fairness in the distribution of outcomes is essential to justice. Ambiguity is a fertile ground for debates.  Establishing the rightness of an action demands justification and it is here various approaches of justice came to play a role. Harvard professor Sandel identified three approaches: welfare, freedom and virtue.

The utilitarian school aims to maximize welfare and seeks greatest happiness for the greatest number.  The costs and benefits of an action become the guiding principle of morality.  The correctness or right of an action is a matter of calculation. So a drug trial on a small number is right if a large number of people could be saved.  

The idea of freedom is linked to justice in libertarian conception. The focus here is on individual rights such a freedom of speech or religious faith. However the others rights to do the same should be respective.  Business in this conception should be left free and liberated from any regulations.  Milton Friedman considers many of the sate activities to be illegitimate infringements on freedom.  There is nothing wrong if a ‘baba’ or guru doles out magic remedies.

The third set of theories view justice linked up with virtue and the good life. Justice is about cultivation of virtue and common good. Justice should promote virtue.  Immanuel Kant proposes that a deed be done because it is the right thing to do irrespective of its consequences. So if an advertiser does not mislead because people will discover misrepresentation, he has done the right thing for wrong reason. This lacks moral worth. Moral worth of an action consists in intention not consequence.  

The rightness of a thing is often subjectively perceived. And this individualized perception can lead to unfair decisions. The ‘way things are done’ may have strong historical justification but may be on weak footing on morality front.  Therefore it is essential that top management creates a culture where that rightness of business decisions is not solely governed by the considerations of top line and bottom line. Utility is not a correct perspective to judge moral worth of things.

Service Failure, Recovery Management and Justice

When the Titanic embarked upon its maiden voyage, its captain is believed to have said, ‘I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.’ But then the unsinkable sank on its very first voyage, making history of a different kind.
Services, not withstanding extensive planning and preparations, have an inbuilt scope to fail in their very nature. Although firms attempt to ‘do it right the first time’ but they fail in their first attempt for a variety of reasons giving rise to an opportunity to ‘do it right the second time’. Many studies have found that overall satisfaction levels of customers who first encountered service failure, followed by a successful recovery, tend to be greater than customers who did not experience any problem in the first go. This is called service recovery paradox. This phenomenon makes a strong case for building service recovery capability. Getting the customer back into a state of satisfaction is not as easy as it may appear. Consider the following:
A customer bought a pair of trousers from a reputed store. After couple of washes the customer discovers that fabric is losing colour. In order to redress his problem the customer takes it to the shop and demands remedy of the problem. Upon discovering that here was a customer with a problem the staff first ignores and then engages in a conversation in a very cold manner. He is asked to approach somebody in the office behind the sales area. In order to establish the validity of the claim, the customer is asked to produce the receipt. Prima facie the customer is made to feel as if he is making an invalid claim for the merchandise purchased from elsewhere. Then a defense is built by the seller that they have not received complaint of this kind ever though tens of trousers of the same material have been sold. By now a number of employees are gathered around who in chorus counter the claims made by the hapless customer who finds himself ‘outnumbered’. Angered and insulted by the response the customer wants to leave the store without any claim. But now the matter has gone beyond a simple issue of return of poor merchandise to that of customer self esteem respect. Knowing that no amount of convincing would help, the customer asks the staff to test colour fastness by soaking the trousers in water. And the test actually proves that all along the customer has been right in his claim. At the end of the episode the customer is given an opportunity to choose another pair of trousers. After all this humiliation and poor treatment meted out to him he did not want to pick anything from the store but the staff asserted that they have ‘exchange only, no money back’ policy.
In another instance, a customer bought a dress for his wife from a store of a reputed chain. As it is generally said, if a thing can go wrong it will, the dress’s colour began to run. The problem in this case was compounded by the fact that the dress was altered and the receipt was lost. The only glimmer of hope for the customer was that somehow the bar code on the inside of the dress was intact. Since the receipt of the purchase was lost, the customer felt that in no way the store would entertain his problem. Nevertheless, with great reluctance he goes back to store to check if something could be done. Upon conveying his problem the door man directs him to the customer care department where he is not asked any questions about when he bought, what happened and how the dress was washed. The person on the counter scans the bar code and the customer is handed out a credit voucher of the amount of purchase which could be redeemed at any store of the chain.
The above two cases illustrate how firms recover from failure. Customer evaluation of recovery is based on his or her perception of fairness. The initial failure in itself implies unfairness on the part of the service provider. It is a breach. Customers are not only interested in the outcomes that are achieved by recovery process but also the manner in which these are reached. The manner of reaching the outcomes has two elements, one that involves the process and the second involves the interpersonal angle. Three dimensions of justice play crucial role in evaluation of recovery efforts: distributive fairness (perceived outcomes), procedural fairness (processes and systems) and interactional fairness (treatment and interpersonal aspects).
In both of the above cases, if purely seen from the perspective of distributive element, it appears that the customer received fair outcomes (replacement). But when two other elements of justices are incorporated then the first customer received very poor deal in terms of procedural (unfair redressal process) and interactional fairness (the treatment meted out to him). The perception of unfairness on these two dimensions is likely to adversely affect the distributive outcome. However the second case illustrates how recovery policy of the firm delivers effectively on all the three dimensions of justice. The process of arriving at the distributive outcome has been customer friendly and the interactions during the recovery process have been empathic, understanding and friendly.
Failures are inevitable in services. Service firms have huge opportunity to win back customers who suffer in the first instance. But to achieve this there is a need to broaden the recovery strategy beyond distributive justice (replacement assurance) to include procedural and interaction fairness (simple process and friendly dignified treatment).
Isn’t it true that many firms pay poor attention to the last two aspects in responding to failures?