Moral Obligations to Customers and Competitors: My Questions

How far is too far when it comes to comparing your product or service as better than your competitors?

Hopefully we have all been in a place where we receive praise from our customers. Whether you are selling the best fishing equipment at the best price, doing the fastest oil changes at the cleanest facility, or treating people’s physical or mental health needs with the most effective and empathetic practices, tt’s a good place to be.

Recently, I was in this good place. But, within the praise came a very clear and deliberate comparison to another group in the area with whom some of the families had previously worked. Their critiques were consistent with other reports and were not friendly, to say the least. As I responded with statements such as, “we really appreciate it,” and “we are happy to be a part of your family,” I held back other emotional responses.  I wanted to pile on.  I wanted to “spike the football.” I wanted to tell stories from other parents who told similar stories.

But, I didn’t.  I don’t.

I do not want to engage in what was essentially glorified gossip. But, it makes me think,

What are my moral and ethical obligations to my competitors?

My answer has always been to sell the quality of our services, and not pile on the perceived inadequacies of other providers. What do we do better instead of what do they do poorly?

Clearly, if the competitor is breaking a law or engaging in some unethical behavior, it is my obligation to report to them first and then the appropriate ethics board, but not all businesses have boards that field these types of complaints. Even for those that do, you cannot call in when the competitor is simply not doing a good job.

What if the competitor’s work is compromising the customer?

If you roof houses and a potential customer (or previous customer) tells you about using a competitor, one who happens to use methods that actually deteriorate the health or value of the home. In this situation, your obligation is to the customer, but how far do you go in describing why your roof is going to cost $1000 more than theirs?

A comparison of products, quality of service and warranty is the sure bet, but at some point is there a thin line between comparing your services and talking trash about the other company?

Yes, you might get the contract and the other company will never know.

But, is that a moral and ethical way to operate? Is it a moral or ethical issue, or is it “just business?”

As we enter the final months towards the 2012 election, you will see this over and over. “Will he win by trashing the opponent or by explaining why he has the best ideas and policies?” Your stomach will turn and you will be frustrated by the predominance of negative campaigning. Maybe, that leads me towards the answer:

I am obligated to serve my customers based on my strengths and in direct comparison to the services provided and advertised by competitors. Customers earned or retained by gossiping or connecting hear-say to hear-say will ultimately prove to be an ethical disservice to the customer, to our employees and our field of service.

What are your questions (and answers)?

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About Baker Wright

Baker Wright, PhD, BCBA is the Director of Clinical Family Services with BMC, Inc., (http://www.bmcsoutheast.com/) a behavior analysis consulting group in Tallahassee, Florida. He also maintains www.BehaviorBandAid.com, a website devoted to helping parents solve common childhood behavior challenges.

Comments

  1. As we enter the final months towards the 2012 election, you will see this over and over. “Will he win by trashing the opponent or by explaining why he has the best ideas and policies?” Your stomach will turn and you will be frustrated by the predominance of negative campaigning. :
    I just started writing for an online gaming mag (Gaming Insurrection) and with E3 (big time gaming conference) the editor in chief addressed a similar issue. For background sake if you don’t know the main console developers Microsoft (XBox360), Sony (Playstation 3), and Nintendo (Wii) (sometimes called The Big Three) will each deliver their own keynote speeches during the conference.

    My editor in chief has specifically said that when we do our write ups on wht keynotes from The Big Three we are not to set them up as being competitive with each other.

    Yes MS, Sony, and Nintendo are competing in the console market but she doesn’t want our coverage on their keynotes to be setup like that. Why? Because it then goes from the Big 3 showing what they have and being graded on how well they did to talking about who “won” the conference.

    This is a bad idea because that leads down a path where MS, Sony, and Nintendo shift from “I’m going to become the leader in the game industry by concentrating on giving customers the best gaming experience” to “I’m going to become the leader in the game industry by concentrating on being competitors”.

    So yeah I can see how this plays out in elections. Makes you wish the candidates would focus more on giving the voters what they want/need rather than focusing on just getting rid of the competition.

  2. Danny,
    Thanks for your story. I like it and think it speaks well to the overall issue of an effect attacking your competitors can have on your own business. Ultimately, what happens is the target, the goal, changes as you have described here. If the target remains serving your customer to your best ability, you are doing not only what is best for the customer, but what is best for your business, regardless of the competition.

    Baker

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