VW, Amazon and Starbucks: Why Employee Obsession & Customer Loyalty Should Always Be Worthy Goals

As a lifelong fan of cars and technology, I’d been looking forward to following the North American International Auto Show, which kicked off on January 11. It promised to be about a revitalised automation industry looking towards the future. But what really stuck out this year was the showcase of apology from Volkswagen (VW). While the rest of the industry was busy showing off their toys, VW was on stage saying “sorry,” trying to make amends for its infamous emissions-cheating scandal.

It struck me that in a world where relationships with people, institutions and businesses are so nuanced and complex, the one thing we cannot take for granted is loyalty. When I say loyalty, I mean the deep and long-lasting variety; evoking the values and ethics conjured up to achieve lasting strategic advantages, both with employees and customers.

Christmas is but a fading memory for all of us. But the season of giving made me think harder about how businesses can be a force of good – both internally and externally – while still being successful. I was staying with friends in Dunfermline, the town that is home to the UK’s largest Amazon distribution centre. Talking to friends and locals, I was horrified to learn there were people who lasted less than two days at the business because of its oppressive culture.

One unsettling story I heard was how a new manager, upon starting, had been put under strict instruction to ignore the workers who performed well and “heckle” those who needed to perform better. According to the stories told to me, Amazon’s working culture and reputation has become so bad that locals are refusing to work for Amazon, resulting in the business having to bus in staff from further afield.

And later I read these astonishing figures: “record-breaking holiday season” for Amazon delivery services, with its shares up 123 percent just before the start of the New Year. Christmas Eve was reported to be the “biggest day ever” for Prime Now, its two-hour shipping service. Amazon is now buying its own trucks, hiring delivery workers and building hubs across US cities as it aims to lure the instant gratification shopper with one-hour shipments. And, of course, awaiting regulatory approval to use Prime Air delivery drones.
But the business of business cannot be just for business alone.

I also read this fascinating story recently about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s father – a struggling blue collar worker who was injured at work and had no health insurance or employee compensation. “It was not the calling of coffee, but the calling to try to build a company that my father never got the chance to work for,” Schultz is reported to have said about Starbucks.

A business can only be as strong as its weakest link. Starbucks knows that. VW is learning that lesson. It is only a matter of time Amazon will.

Jake Dyer – Head of Strategy and Media, gyro London

With a wealth of strategic experience in both the B2B and B2C arenas, Dyer has an exceptional track record of being able to deliver campaigns that transform clients’ businesses. Additionally, he is renowned for his part in strengthening the strategic offering of the agencies he has worked at and championing the development of new business practices and thought leadership, including the application of behavioural economics across client accounts. Jake has led planning at top London shops including LBi, Agency.com, TBWA/GGT and now gyro London.