Mark Skaer's recent column concerning "Joe" and his dilemma of one of his manufacturers hiring his people ["A Question of Ethics," Aug. 14] brought up the very interesting topic of ethics in the workplace.

Regardless of your feelings regarding "Joe" and his situation, as contractors, we must deal with the subject of ethics on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We don't necessarily think about it, but the myriad of decisions we face and the way we make those decisions clearly defines whether or not we operate an ethical business.

Many of the ethical questions we face concern how we treat our customers from their very first contact through the completion of the job. That means selling the customer the system that is right for the customer - regardless of what equipment we happen to have in stock.

It means selling at a fair price that will allow a fair profit margin and not "taking advantage" of a customer because of their situation or position. It means giving the customer everything that we said we would give them including what we implied - whether the item will be someplace visible or not. And, of course, it means treating the customer as well after they have paid their bill as we treated them before they signed the sales contract.


Treating the customer ethically may actually start before they become customers. How ethical are we in the advertising we use? Fortunately, I believe most of our industry attempts to be honest and straightforward in our advertising. This means not making ridiculous claims, offering units we know are unavailable, and other deceptive tactics to entice the customer to call. In many industries, it seems that type of advertising is the norm. Let's continue to keep it out of our industry.

In the service department, our ethics become evident in the way our technicians diagnose and solve a customer's problem. That diagnosis and solution should be in the customer's best interest. A service technician responds to a call for "no cooling" and finds that the thermostat is in the "off" position.

If the tech explains the fact to the customer, turns on and checks the a/c, and charges the minimum amount, the tech has acted in the best interests of the customer. If, on the other hand, the service technician wastes an hour acting as if solving a problem in order to run up a larger charge, the ethics of the company are questionable.

I can tell you we have sold many systems to customers because we told them the thermostat was in the "off" position (or something similar), and when they really needed a system, they remembered how we had treated them.


But our business ethics come into play in situations not involving customers as well. The way in which we treat our suppliers and vendors also has implications regarding how ethically we operate our business. The most important point here is simple: we need to treat our suppliers and vendors in the same manner we wish to be treated. Certainly the old adage of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" applies in this situation.

This includes not shopping their bids nor using their expertise and then saving a couple of dollars by buying from someone else. We can all probably remember when we were treated this way and how we felt. We certainly didn't feel very good about the person who shopped us or used us and bought from someone else.

Our ethics show up in how we treat our employees as well. There are many ways we can treat employees and using the same theory as with suppliers is probably the best. Treat your employees the way you would like to be treated.

These are some of the common decisions we make which determine how ethically we operate our business. Remember: Ethics, like reputation, takes years to build but can be destroyed in a moment. A good rule of thumb to use is after you have made a decision, can you look yourself in the mirror and not be ashamed of that decision.

Publication date: 10/09/2006