Solving the Ethics and Customer Service Problem

Aug 14, 2006

Somewhere in the journalistic masterpiece known as USA Today during the week of July 17 is a small blurb about business ethics. It was one of their polls that they regularly take. Forgive me for not citing the specifics— I searched high and low and cannot find the original article. But the gist of it was this: The question was asked about what should happen if an employee does something illegal or unethical that benefits their company. Should they be punished, be rewarded, or should nothing happen to them? While the majority felt these people should be punished, I was shocked by the number of respondents who said either nothing should happen or the employee should be rewarded. No wonder we have an ethical crisis in business today! It got me thinking about how ethics and customer service are so inextricably linked. Something may be the wrong thing to do for the client or customer, but it benefits the firm in the short term. A good example for the A/E/P business would be underpricing a job so you could hook the client, knowing full well that the scope wasn’t clear (though it could have been written clearly), and that you were planning on going back to the client later for lots of extra services agreements. This, if done deliberately, could be construed as unethical. It would help the company win the job and may even help the company make a profit on the job, yet the client would ultimately have their budget expectations shattered. Here are some of my thoughts: Do the right thing every time. Doing the right thing is the most important behavior management MUST exhibit IF they expect their employees to do it. I bought a $10 car wash the other day here locally for my black 4-wheel-drive Dodge Ram pickup. The wash line did a so-so job, so I went back afterward and asked the attendant to run it through again. First, he asked me what price wash I bought. $10 was their priciest. Then he told me their policy was not to rewash. After I protested, he got the manager. The manager had the nerve to tell me to take it to a $.25 car wash FIRST before I took it through their wash! If they’d have been smart, they would have done the right thing and rewashed it for free. Now, I MUST tell everyone I can what a crappy car wash they are and how I will never go there again. The manager lost his chance to do the right thing in front of the employee and make everyone happy. Confront bad behavior now, not later. I don’t know why the A/E business is so afraid to confront. I hear of case after case where employees exhibit entirely inappropriate behaviors and they aren’t confronted. It’s a disease of our business! Recently, I had a principal of a firm tell me how one of their junior partners was bragging about how he overcharged a government client on a job in front of some of their young people! I can tell you that if I heard about something like this, I would go see that person immediately and get him straightened out— straightened out on how we want to do business and straightened out on how to act in front of other employees lower in the hierarchy. Voices would probably be elevated and he’d know in no uncertain terms I was angry about his behavior. Stop kidding yourself about employees who don’t do the right thing and who don’t get it when it comes to their responsibilities to clients and the public at-large. These people rarely change! They probably weren’t brought up very well and simply don’t understand the difference between right and wrong. Or, they’re just too stupid. Either way, they can’t help it BUT YOU CAN’T REPROGRAM THEM, either! Get rid of them. Find a replacement now. Don’t be held hostage by these people. They screwed up, they embarrassed the firm with their behavior, they were greedy— whatever. You can’t let them make the same mistakes— except bigger ones— and they will. Get these people out of your firm. They are a cancer. I just can’t imagine any unethical or illegal behavior ever being good for the company. This is especially true if the client is getting ripped off or hurt as a result of this behavior. Maybe firms would be better off with taglines such as “we do the right thing, every time,” instead of ones that say something such as “we improve the quality of the built environment one project at a time.” Think about it. Originally published 8/14/2006

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