As it appeared in the Daily Nation of July 17th 2012
By Lucy Kiruthu
The ethics debate goes on. On one end it is driven by the insertions in our new constitution. The chapter 6 on leadership and integrity has especially raised many points to ponder and so has section 46 on consumer rights. On the other end the debate has been initiated by scandals that leave us with many questions than answers on commitment levels to customers. It is for this reason that I feel we need to take a look at the ethical dimension of customer service. Most will agree that many of the issues in business ethics have been about leadership, human resources, production, accounting and marketing.
Why has customer service been left out on this list? It is no doubt that it has a straight forward ethical dimension. It has been a must have value for many of our organizations. Values and ethics are interrelated. Simply, I could explain this interrelation by highlighting this; that our judgments whether ethical or unethical are influenced and express our values or our lack of values whether as individuals or corporate. The ethical issues in customer service have been camouflaged for too long. We continue to bury the issues in the tomb of poor customer service. It is time to see poor customer service as being bluntly unethical!
The unethical issues in customer service range from clear-cut concerns such as lying to the customers to more complicated issues such as unethical customer service policies. Take for example customer service staff who occasionally lie that the customer’s cheque is awaiting signature whilst they have not even raised a requisition. In such organizations there is a culture of lying to customers. When the manager fails to deliver on the promise, they lie that they are out of office and lock the door behind them. Additionally, the policy decision that goods once sold cannot be returned made by managers who know too well that their goods are sub-standard is unethical. The same applies to business leaders who fail to include and enforce non-disclosure of customer information in the organization’s code of ethics.
Ethics must play an important role in the customer service arena. The more I think about poor customer service, the more I feel we simply need to consider it as unethical! In contrast good or exceptional customer service is based on ethical business principles. Besides, ethical issues in production such as product defects and recalls and in marketing such as use of ambiguity and vagueness, concealed facts or exaggeration in promotions have a customer service angle.
To the smart managers and business owners there is one option, to lead by example. Only those business leaders that walk the talk of ethical customer service will survive in the long term. Start by being forthright when there are customer complaints or problems and fix what is not working in your service delivery chain, better still, include basic ethical guidelines such as “do not lie to the customer” in your code of ethics. It is no longer adequate to have integrity or honesty on the list of values. To the customers, when you spot unethical customer service behaviour uncover it and let us contribute to making it a better Kenya for all!