Corporate Castles: A Chinese Perspective

Last week I posted a few thoughts on corporate castles, and was both impressed and intrigued by a comment it received. I’d like to share this comment with you for three reasons. Firstly, because it was so eloquently written; secondly, because it was written by a friend and fellow morphological researcher Sami Wong; and thirdly, because it provides a different cultural perspective on the idea of corporate castles.

“Ancient Chinese emperors, such as Kang Xi (康熙), Yong Zheng (雍正) and Qian Long (乾隆), would have their regular undercover visits to the public and try to understand what was really happening outside of the ‘forbidden city’. The goal was to ensure that they are not out of touch with their citizens and to explore people’s actual needs. Instead of relating to the public with a view of ‘I-It’ relationship (treating them like an object), these emperors chose a highly personal approach by using ‘I-Thou’ interaction which involves intimacy and understanding of each other. As a result, they are the most respected emperors in Chinese history and their ruling had been longer than any other dynasties.”

“Isn’t that amazing that most of these corporations are taking the I-It relationship in their public dimension? They are relating to their customers like an object; keeping it as impersonal as possible, just like a daily transaction with grocery clerks and bank tellers. And yet, they request customers to remain loyal towards their brand and with minimal complaints. What they can’t see is that as human beings, we all long for the I-Thou relationship which involves a level of intensity, intimacy and respect. When our needs are not met, we rebel or we leave.”

One of the things I find most interesting about this comment was the idea that Western corporations may be adversely affecting customer relationships because they view them as ‘ownable objects’ instead of more ‘holistic interactions.’ Could it be that our Western drive to objectify people is impeding our ability to really understand and satisfy them? We call them customers instead of human beings. We target them instead of building relationships. We create campaigns instead of interactions.

Over the coming years, it will be fascinating to see if the economic rise of China will also give rise to new concepts of customer interaction (like the idea of an ‘I-Thou’ interaction) - or whether traditional Western approaches to marketing will remain the status-quo.