By now, everyone knows the story of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He was banned by the NBA when racist comments he made over the phone to his “girlfriend” ended up on TMZ.

Obviously, his comments and opinions were despicable, and he deserves the punishment coming his way. While he seems to be waffling on whether or not he is going to fight the NBA in court, the court of public opinion has already rendered a verdict. You see, that usually happens quite rapidly. It is that part of the equation that should be a cautionary tale for anyone who runs a business — including HVAC contractors.

Going Viral

It is scary to think that comments you make in the privacy of your own home — or even in public — could play a role in bringing down your business. We live in a technological world where everyone is walking around with a camera and digital recorder in their pockets. Our behavior, at all times and in all places, is a legitimate concern.

I am not talking about racist comments. I am sure that a great majority of you would never dream of saying such things, but I am also not naïve enough to think nobody would. However, it does not need to rise to that level in order to affect your business.

What if one of your employees has an argument with a customer in her home? Pretty bad, right? You probably lost that customer and perhaps a few of the neighbors that she told. What if that customer’s son was taping it on his iPhone from the other room and uploaded it to YouTube before the technician got back to his truck? That is not the social media strategy you were aiming for. Your company can quickly be turned into a laughingstock because one employee flew off the handle.

It would do even more damage if your employees were the ones doing the taping. Run a Google search on Domino’s Pizza YouTube Scandal and you will find a pretty chilling story of a couple of rogue employees who failed miserably at comedy, and rather significantly hurt the reputation of the business. In the video, a Domino’s employee was filmed putting cheese up his nose and spitting on sandwiches. Quickly, the video was viewed a million times while the pizza company was attempting to do damage control. Evidently it did not work as this incident happened in 2009, and I still remember it.

These examples are all items that can happen in public or at your place of business. We have not even considered an owner’s personal life. Think for a moment about the about the most inappropriate conversation you’ve shared over the phone. Now, think about the reaction you and your business would attract if those quotes were attributed to your community. You would probably not look as bad as Sterling, but you might not want to show up at the local Olive Garden on Friday night.

Obviously, you can’t live in a bubble, and you’ll drive yourself nuts if you’re continually scared of society’s unavoidable invasiveness. But, you also should not turn a blind eye to how the behavior of your employees, as well as yourself, can change the course of your business.

You, and every one of your employees, have always been a walking billboard for your business. How employees behave has always been a direct reflection on the business. But now the stakes are higher. You are not worried about a customer telling a few people, you are worried about your entire community getting a front row seat to the act.

I urge you to think about this the next time you are sitting across from a job applicant. Also, this might be worth bringing up at your next staff meeting.

Publication date: 6/9/2014

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