Business Ethics Ain’t Rocket Science

Rocket Science Diagrams on ChalkboardToday’s post is by Allen Laudenslager and Bryan Neva Sr.  You can learn more about them at the end of the post.

The famous U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do… the hard part is doing it!”  Likewise, the answer to most business problems is usually obvious as well.

Consider this – when was the last time you were really stumped for a solution to a problem?  In most cases, the hardest things about solving the problem were the obstacles of personalities, politics, or cost.  Taken together, these obstacles usually make the obvious solution very hard if not impossible to implement.  These are failures of an organization’s values, guiding principles, and ethics.

Twenty years ago, my elderly mother came to live with me due to her declining health.  She sold her home and hired a moving company to move her furniture and transport her car via trailer from New England to Virginia (primarily to minimize the mileage).  When the moving van and car arrived, it was obvious that the car had not been transported but driven instead.  When questioned, the driver admitted that they had driven the car and not transported it as they had been contracted to do.

When I called the moving company’s main office to complain, the representative asked what I wanted them to do about it.  My only reply was “What would you expect someone to do if it was your mother!” Shortly thereafter, the driver came back to tell us that they were refunding the cost of transporting the car.

When a customer calls about a problem with your product or service. You generally know right off hand what the right thing to do is: either fix it, replace it, or refund their money.  But company management may complain that “if we fix every problem for every customer then how are we supposed to make a profit?”  Well, if your company’s product or service has so many customer problems that fixing them impacts profits, then fix the product or service!  It ain’t rocket science!

If the only reason not to do it just like you would for your mother is the cost to the company, where do you think the savings to the company is coming from?  It’s coming from your customer’s wallet.  And if it’s not fair to your mother, what makes it fair to your customer?

The customer’s complaints (whether you like it or not) are a part of your company’s quality control process.  If you’re a proactive company, then you’ll have worked out all the bugs before they even became an issue with your customer.  Unfortunately in their rush for quick profits, many companies out there let their customer’s do all the beta testing for them.

One of the unintended consequences of making unethical or dishonest decisions in dealing with your customers is the message it sends to your employees: that you’ll mistreat them the same way whenever you think its in your best interest to do so.  If you don’t care about your customers, then how can you expect your employees to care about them or the company for that matter?

So here are some suggestions for creating an environment where people just do the right thing:

  • If a customer’s product or service failed the answer is simple and obvious; either fix it, replace it, or give them their money back.  If the customer broke it, then don’t!
  • Make sure your corporate policies, organizational politics, management personalities, and cost focus don’t interfere with the obvious solutions to most customer problems.
  • Generally speaking, if you have to ask yourself if what you are planning to do is the right thing, then it probably isn’t!
  • When deciding a course of action, the best question you can ask yourself is, “Would I do it this way if I were doing this for my mother?”

Obviously, no company or individual can live anywhere near perfection, but the real world test is how hard the company or individual decision maker is trying to do the right thing, and how quickly they’re trying to fairly resolve problems.  Remember, doing the right thing ain’t rocket science!

– Allen Laudenslager is a semi-retired technical writer and former defense industry manager and writer on management and business practices.

Bryan Neva, Sr. is an electrical engineer with an MBA and an extensive background in customer field support who writes on improving management practices.

Photo: Dr. Robert Goddard at Clark University by NASA on The Commons

7 Responses to “Business Ethics Ain’t Rocket Science”

  1. Dear Mike
    Great article. You are right: Business Ethics is NOT rocket science. I have seen that companies that treat me as a service provider with disrespect, (e.g. take forever to pay, cancel workshops at short notice) are the same ones that have high staff turnover and low morale. The common denominator is how they treat people – which relates to their values and their ethics. Or lack thereof

  2. andy_mcf says:

    Good post.

    One of the common misconceptions about business is that ethical cultures can hurt profits. And while this is certainly possible in the short term, ethics, customer service and profitability are _not_ mutually exclusive.

    The facts bear this out. Treating customers well, as you’d treat your mother, helps companies increase profits.

    What could your company do to get >5% higher revenues this year? If you answered “serve the customer” you’re right!

  3. Joseann says:

    I thought it was interesting that you have to bring the elderly mother into the equation to drive ethics home in your post. Problem is: unless the mother has managed to install respect for herself in her offspring, people probably treat their mother as badly today as they treat their customers, elderly mothers are not that favourite as a role model any more, aren’t they? And the cheapest elderly home would do to raise profits. It was a nice try, but for most company owners, a hot blonde or brunette would rock the boat much heavier for service improvement, unless of course the problem solving process allows for more visits of the desired blonde object in question, smart move then to have a deficient product 🙂

  4. Pat says:

    The article brought out the age old truth “do unto others as
    you would have them do unto you”. Customer satisfaction comes from treating them with respect and listening to what they have to say. It is a companies responsibility to treat its customers and staff fairly and truthfully. A company must be honest with its customers, because once the customer feels he has been betrayed, he will always question your sales and/or service departmens efforts to “Fix the problem” You must be true to yourself and your customer to survive.

  5. Ethics is concerned with “doing the right thing” in terms of morals, fairness, respect, caring, sharing, no false promises, no lying, cheating, stealing, or unreasonable demands on employees and others, etc. In addition, business ethics calls for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and addressing social problems such as poverty, crime, environmental protection, equal rights, public health and improving education. We need a practical approach rather than a philosophical one, with “leadership by example.”

    Business decisions often concern complicated situations which are neither totally ethical nor totally unethical. Therefore, it is often difficult to “do the right thing,” contrary to what many case studies will have you believe!

    Leaders have to deal with potential conflicts of interest, wrongful use of resources, mismanagement of contracts, false promises and exaggerated demands on resources, which include personnel. Is it the seller’s duty to disclose all material facts regarding the product/ service in question or is it the buyer’s responsibility to find out the pros and cons of what he or she is getting into? Should the seller answer each question exactly as it was asked, and ignore some pertinent information? Or should he or she merely address the spirit of the question? Is the buyer responsible for due diligence? This is a gray area.
    Ethics training can raise ethical IQs and monitor behavior, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of individuals such as Bernie Madoff, Conrad Black and Vincent Lacroix.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Consultant and Author.

  6. Tavisha says:

    You are so right. But, the problem is that many business owners are too short-sighted – not seeing the value in creating an ethical environment for both their customers and employees.

    Customers DO take note when they are treated ethically and problems are correctly handled. Giving respect, being responsive to complaints, and being honest in your business practices can go a long way toward building a sustainable business that people will feel comfortable doing business with.

    Tavisha Grant, Go Time Insurance

  7. […] Business Ethics Ain’t Rocket Science […]

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