Online store, online market space – part 14: business ethics and good business citizenship
There is a saying that if you steal my property you take from me as if nothing but if you steal my good name and reputation you take everything. This is my 14th installment in this series on building an effective, competitive online store as a startup and it is about business ethics and business citizenship, and creating and sustaining that good name and reputation.
Basically, you hold your good name and reputation in your own hands and your actions taken determine how you care for and nurture it, or let it fall.
I am going to focus on two closely related sets of business processes and practices here, and in the context of business ethics and citizenship: customer relations management (CRM) and return policies. And as a bottom line conclusion, this is an area where a best policy may or may not be in following the golden rule and doing to others as you would have them do to you.
• Know your own policies and practices, and not just in what you claim to do, plan to do or would like to do and think you do, but in what you actually do and as this impacts on suppliers, customers and potential customers, and others. Be aware of what you actually do in practice and of any differences or disconnects between policy and practice.
• Learn what your actual practice means from the perspective of the people and businesses you deal with and not just from your own perspective. This becomes both more pressing and more difficult as you deal with people outside your culture and cultural perspective, and when you are dealing with people who speak and think in a language other than your own.
• With these and related caveats that active search for best practices may lead you to, look to follow that golden rule – and as indicated above doing unto others so that it provides value in the eyes of those others and as they understand it.
But what do you do if your experience with a customer would lead you to believe that their claim in a return policy exchange, for example, is unreasonable or unrealistic? When you do business you have to juggle the sometimes conflicting short and long needs of your business, and the needs and desires of your customers and others. And there are no simple, one size fits all answers for uniformly resolving all possible points of disagreement or misunderstanding. But there are some best practices that can help you find the best (even if far from ideal) resolution to the specific case.
• Listen to the other side and seek to understand the issues at hand from their perspective.
• Make it clear that you are trying to understand them and that you value them even if you cannot come to complete agreement with them on all details.
• Look for a mutually agreeable compromise solution if and as appropriate.
• And always be courteous and strive to set aside and defuse emotional responses.
• And clearly and fully document everything, letting the people you are dealing with know when you are recording phone conversations and otherwise establishing a record of transactions.
This, of course moves discussion to the issues of negotiations and good negotiating practices, and to training for your CRM, sales and other personnel who directly interact with customers and others for your business.
The result of damage to ethical standing and to reputation can develop out of the cumulative impact of small and individually seemingly inconsequential decisions made and corners cut. In this there are no small or unimportant customers or transactions and a good name and good standing as a business citizen is always a work in progress. And as a final thought, this is what people mean when they talk about a business’ good will and the value this carries for that business, and even in setting its overall monetizable value.
The next posting in this series is going to look into issues of online security for your business, and maintaining business confidentiality and continuity.