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Never deceive your customer

Do you get angry when you order a product or service, only to get stung by unexpected extra charges? Over-hyped product specifications? Deceptive project bids with swingeing prices for subsequent changes to requirements? Of course you get angry; everyone does.

Mark Di Somma wrote about an EU finding that half of all European airlines’ websites are guilty of misrepresentation, and many of actually breaking the law. Mark comments:

Perhaps these companies think they’re being clever behaving this way. Perhaps they think they have no option. They’re wrong on both counts.

Deceiving people isn’t just stupid, it makes no sense commercially, because all these airlines are doing is setting themselves up to disappoint their customers.

As for the no option argument, that’s equally dumb. If everyone else is behaving this way, simply following them is lemming behaviour. Instead, there’s an immediate and important opportunity to put distance between your brand and others, and to take the moral high ground by doing so

I totally agree. Most people I know would agree. Most businesses are not run by evil people. So what is going on? Why do some businesses (or rather, the people who work in those businesses) do it?
  • Either they don’t think their product and their price represents value for money; or they don’t know how to demonstrate that value.
  • They are looking for excuses as to why that is so.
  • They don’t know what to do about this problem; or they do, but can’t/won’t take the necessary steps.
  • They don’t personally face the consequences of their deceptive actions.
Anyone who thinks their product and price doesn’t represent value for money needs to either change their product, change their value proposition, or both, or get out of that business. Those are tough choices, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be made.

Many years ago, new in the CEO job, I heard a product manager say to me in front of a dozen people, “We have to pump our specs up - if we don’t, our products will look bad. But don’t worry - the competitors all lie about their products, too.” I realised straight away that my reaction to this would set the tone for my leadership. In a very firm and measured tone, I declared that we did not deceive our customers, and that anyone who set out to do so would have a very short tenure while I was in charge.

Here’s a simple set of principles:
  • Be proud of your product, price and value proposition.
  • Never deceive the customer (or yourself for that matter),

PS. The product manager left soon after. I never saw any evidence that the competitors lied. Fortunately, we had a great product, and we did find a better way of demonstrating its value.

First posted November 14th, 2007