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CBI Deputy Director-General Katja Hall writes:

It’s very difficult for companies to thrive and grow without the trust of consumers and employees. That’s why we launched the Great Business Debate, the CBI’s trust-in business campaign, to combat myths and encourage a constructive conversation about what business does and how it does it. We also recognise that people’s direct experience of companies is a big factor in determining their confidence in business more generally.

Katja Hall City AMCreating a better understanding of how profit is made, the role it plays in delivering for consumers and ending its use as a dirty word are important parts of this.

Despite public support for profits as a ‘good thing’, they continue to be demonised widely. In a YouGov poll of more than 2000 UK adults for the Great Business Debate, 70 per cent of people agree profit is a good thing. But just as many believe consumers lose when profits are made, with 71 per cent agreeing that companies put profits before the needs of consumers. I want to change that thinking.

Profits are the result of, and the motivation for, getting it right for consumers.

When markets work well, profits are made by pleasing consumers, not at their expense. The best businesses deliver for their customers and reap the rewards in sales and profits. They make employing people and investing in new products and services possible, bringing huge long-run benefits to consumers.

Just look at Apple. This year they announced the biggest quarterly profit in history at $18 billion and people love their products. The products made the profits and allowed the company to spend $6 billion on research and development in 2014 to take those products on to the next level.

But how do we stop profits being demonised by default?

Greater transparency for one thing. Consumers want to know that the companies they use are making money in a responsible way.

And we need to make it easier for consumers to vote with their wallets through the choices they make. People must have the freedom and ability to choose who they buy from so the threat of losing customers is real for businesses if they don’t perform.

To see that working just look at the link between falling food prices and the ease with which shoppers swap from one supermarket to another in search of the best value.

Or in banking, the effect of the ‘seven-day switching service’ which is making it easier to change provider. The businesses that do the best job of serving customers will reap the rewards. It’s right that they should.

Now, the voice of business and the voice of consumers are coming together to fire-up the conversation. The CBI is joining with Which? for a live event today (Wednesday 25 Feb) which will ask what business should do to increase consumer trust.

While, on its own, making profits doesn’t guarantee continued success, not making profits comes close to guaranteeing ultimate failure – for business but also for consumers.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2080 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15/04/2014 — 21/04/2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). Figures in the table have been rounded up or down to the nearest whole percentage point.

This article was originally published in City AM on 25 February 2015.

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  1. Westread -

    I find this question of profits and the customer quite fascinating. On the one hand those in industry and commerce say that a business will grow by aiming at satisfying customers but on the other hand companies only exist to generate profit for their owners. Isn’t the essence of a companies activities to maximize the owner’s returns by whatever means within the legal framework of the country and exploiting the errors and omissions of competitors.

    The ideal situation from a companies point-of-view is to be a monopoly supplier in their market which would enable higher prices than operating in a competitive market arena. Of course companies need customers but it seems to me that they are exploited in so many ways to generate turnover and in the UK there are plenty of markets where this has happened: banking; energy; telephonic communications; rail travel; insurance. In all of these and other industries the customer is just a cash generator and marketing techniques are created to get as much of it as possible.

    Maybe a simple test of a companies regard for their customers is to see if they use 0845 or similar cash making numbers in their Contact Us options.