By Bill Prachar, firstname.lastname@example.org
I was trying to buy a new flat screen the other day at a local home entertainment store. The specific model
I was looking for was apparently out of stock, but the salesperson kept telling me about the model I “really”
wanted, which of course was something they already had. He went on and on about how bad the warranty
was on the model I wanted, and that if anything ever went wrong I’d have zero chance of getting it fixed. Zero.
He told me how the manufacturer had a reputation for poor customer service, and almost never lived up to the
promises made in their fancy advertising. The manufacturer he recommended was, you guessed it, totally the opposite.
I walked out, but this got me thinking. I’m often asked what “business ethics” really is all about. Is it just about
complying with the law or is there more to it? The “ethics” part of legal compliance comes in making the correct decision
when violating a law or regulation is a tempting proposition. We can also find ourselves faced with non-legal ethical
choices when we carry out our everyday work activities. It’s not always about what’s “legal” — often it’s about what’s “right.”
For instance, reflecting on my recent experience at the store, how we treat competitors and customers when we sell, and
our vendors when we purchase items, are examples where we make ethical business decisions.
- With our customers, are we honest about the level of service we can provide? Do we make promises that
we know we can’t keep?
- With our competitors, do we fairly differentiate? Do we tout our strengths and capabilities, or do we rely
on emphasizing how bad their service is?
- With our vendors, do we ask them to bid for services just to drive down the price of the work for a preferred vendor,
or are we really looking for the best price and service? Do we negotiate fairly?
Now, I’m not suggesting we can’t be tough on our competitors, or seek the best prices and services from vendors. What is
important is how we do it. If we believe we can perform better for a potential customer than a competitor (because we have
better equipment, better systems, better experience and better people) then certainly we can say so and make realistic
comparisons. But using rumor, innuendo, or even worse, untruths, about our competitors to make a sale, while maybe not
illegal (although in many states “disparagement” to harm a competitor could violate the law) it is certainly unethical and
violates our core values.
Building a great company requires earning the trust of our customers, vendors, regulators, our shareholders, and yes,
even our competitors. Trust comes from always dealing honestly and ethically.
I’ll buy my next big screen from someone I trust and maybe even pay a little more – wouldn’t you?