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Don't Sabotage Your Brand By Covering Your Backside

by Yonason Goldson

The seamstress politely accepted the slacks I brought into her shop to have hemmed. A week later, I returned to pick them up. She looked at my check and, seeing that my bank was located out of town, refused to accept it.

I told her – truthfully – that my bank is one of the largest and most respected financial institutions in the country. She wasn’t interested. It was her policy, she said, never to accept out-of-town checks. I pointed out that my local address was printed on the check, but that wasn’t good enough for her.

I then asserted that if she had such a fussy policy about accepting checks, it was her obligation to post a policy sign to that effect or otherwise inform me of such when I dropped off the slacks; since she had not made that stipulation known, it was only proper that she accept the check rather than inconvenience me to make a second trip to pay in cash.

She refused. Who was right?

***

It’s quite possible that the proprietor had gotten burned in the past, having accepted an out-of-town check that bounced with no recourse for recovering her loss. It’s entirely reasonable, although not particularly common, to demand local checks to ensure a measure of security.

The location of the bank is something different. A respected federal bank that operates nationally without local branches might be more secure than a small, local institution. To refuse accepting a check because the bank is located out-of-state is not something any patron might reasonably anticipate.

As a service provider, you are well within your rights to impose any conditions you deem necessary to protect the security of your businesses. What you don’t have is the right to place an undue burden on customers without warning the customers in advance.

This requires notifying customers up front of any policy that might affect or inconvenience them, especially if that policy deviates from normal business practice. Having failed to alert me up front that my check might not be accepted, the proprietor should have conceded that she had not given me fair warning, then accepted the check with an explanation that, in the future, she would only accept checks from local banks. Had she done so, she would have earned my appreciation and, more importantly, my loyalty as a customer.

By refusing to do so, she may have protected herself from the slim chance that my check would bounce. But she also lost my business forever.

Of course, I’m hardly an objective observer here. Alternative points of view would be welcome.

In his classic work Path of the Just, the 17th century ethicist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato offers the pithy observation that “there is fear and there is fear.” In other words, there are reasonable dangers for which we need to account as we proceed through the normal, day-to-day business of our lives. To disregard such commonsense precautions as looking before crossing the street and not opening our doors at night to strangers is to put our safety needlessly at risk.
However, to indulge wild fantasies about everything that could possibly go wrong and attempt to guard against every contingency is equally foolish, and a sure recipe for making ourselves dysfunctionally neurotic and unbearable company for those closest to us.

An ethical mindset influences every aspect of our lives, guiding us to balance all our decisions as we walk the precarious path between looking out for ourselves and remaining sensitive to others.

Excerpted from “Grappling with the Gray: An Ethical Handbook for Personal Success and Business Prosperity,” published by Business Expert Press. Yonason Goldson works with business leaders to build a culture of ethics, setting higher standards to limit liability while earning loyalty and trust. He’s also co-host of the weekly podcast “The Rabbi and the Shrink: Everyday Ethics Unscripted.”
Visit him at ethicalimperatives.com.
Submitted 56 days ago
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