February 22nd, 2013 by Leonard Klie

Presidents’ Day was earlier this week. It’s the day when Americans celebrate two of their most beloved presidents, George Washington and Abe Lincoln in the only way we know how–taking the day off from work and putting everything in the store on sale. George and Abe are widely associated with honesty, which prompted author and businessman Joseph Callaway to ask whether these two great leaders would survive in today’s business world.

Callaway, who, along with his wife, JoAnn, wrote the book Clients First: The Two Word Miracle, thinks they would. “If they showed up in 2013 and truly lived up to their reputations, they would find themselves in huge demand,” he said in a statement. “People really, really crave honesty and transparency, and it’s mostly because they’re such rare qualities these days.”

In business, the little white lies, exaggerations, misdirections, and lies of omission that we all tell from time to time to appease a boss or quell a customer’s fears are all fairly common today. Though not meant to hurt anyone, they can potentially damage an otherwise solid business relationship.

This was one of the findings of a survey by the American Society of Quality (ASQ), as referenced in an article I wrote for the March 2013 issue of CRM magazine.

Sales and marketing representatives often overstate their companies’ strong points, and while it’s an accepted—if not officially sanctioned—practice at most businesses, apparent dishonesty like this was among the top customer complaints cited in the survey. In fact, feeling misled by sales or marketing is four times more damaging to customer satisfaction than product defects, the ASQ found.

ASQ polled 600 quality and customer service professionals worldwide and found that managing customer expectations was the top challenge facing customer service departments, cited by 29 percent of respondents worldwide and 31.7 percent of respondents in the United States.

“Companies are starting to realize that they are not meeting customer expectations because they are not setting realistic expectations up front,” says John Goodman, ASQ customer service expert and vice chairman of customer care measurement and consulting.

Most sales or marketing people do not want to talk about the negatives, but doing so in the right context can go a long way, Goodman says. For a tech company, for example, “it shows a customer that you care enough to warn him about potential bugs in the system and how to avoid them,” he adds.

So what’s a business leader to do? Callaway suggests that honesty is always the best policy, and he gives seven reasons (clichés) why:

  1. It’s why you exist.
  2. Truth breeds trust.
  3. It helps you show—and earn—respect. 
  4. The truth will set you free.
  5. Honesty is a catalyst for personal evolution. 
  6. Telling the truth is the best insurance.
  7. Honesty is a powerful magnet.

And while these adages might be trite—drilled into our heads since our early days in Sunday school—they still hold true today. It’s time companies fessed up about chopping down the cherry tree (Oh wait, that story is probably more legend than fact…. Now I’m all confused!)

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