How Business Ethics Can Boost Your Reputation
By: Joe Zuccarello
Ethics. By definition, ethics are described as the “moral principles that govern a person or group’s behavior”. Seems pretty subjective. Who am I to tell you what is morally correct or not? Similarly, who are you to tell me what is morally acceptable? But it is much bigger than you or I. Different societies and cultures have their own spin on “ethical behavior” just as two people may disagree about the nature of ethics. Not being a psychologist, I cannot begin to describe the intricacies of this very deep subject, but what I can say is what I have observed in this industry and what is widely accepted and rejected as “ethical”. I can also tell you how much influence this has on your reputation, either for better or for worse.
Let’s start off by defining what business we are actually in. When I ask people or companies of people in our industry this question, “What business are we in?” I hear many different types of answers. Some of the answers include, “pet business”, “dog business”, “grooming business”, “boarding business”, “pet supplies business”, and so on. All of which are correct, but not as perfect as the one answer I will provide that seems most accurate.
At the end of the day, we are not just in the “pet business”. We are in the “Peace of Mind” business. What do I mean by this? Take a moment to think about all of the customers we interact with on any given day. Some come to use looking for a specific product. Some come looking for a specific solution to a problem they are having with their pet. Some come looking for a safe and responsible place for their pet to visit for the day or multiple days while the pet parent is away. Some seek us out for our expertise and guidance.
In any of these, and a multitude of other cases, our customers come to us, and what we tell them can have a substantial impact on the relationship they will have with their pets. But we have to take a BIG step back in time to the time before they are standing in front of us asking for our opinions. If this interaction were a history lesson, we would understand it best by studying how this conversation came to be in the first place. My bet is they were influenced by some credible or attractive stimulus prompting them to take this action. Where did they hear about you? When did they hear about you? What did they hear about you? What will they say about you after they meet you?
Where and When did they hear about you? We have all heard how important referrals can be. In the “Peace of Mind” business, this is the most important element to get right. The suggestion of a friend, co-worker, family member, or even the person we meet at the dog park goes a long way and dictates much of what we do next when we are in need of pet advice or products. When it’s positive, a referral to our business is fantastic. When it’s negative, word will spread like wild fire and can sometimes ruin our business.
It’s the what DID they hear and what WILL they say about you that is at the heart of Business Ethics. You may carry all the right products, have a premier location, deploy a fantastic marketing campaign, and have the most elaborate web site, but all of these positive attributes can be tainted or in vain if you don’t behave and encourage behavior that is viewed as “morally correct”.
In a time where our pets are viewed more and more like family members, simple things like cleanliness, odor control, staff appearance, and vocabulary can cause unrest in the confidence pet parents will have in your ability to provide them peace of mind. Bigger issues like the treatment of the animals, treatment of the staff, and community service can exaggerate the positive or negative feelings your customers have about your business and your reputation. I once heard, “it takes years to grow your reputation, but only seconds to lose it”.
As a business leader, our job is to make sure we are always diligent and in a protective mode over our reputation. We do not get to take a break. Maintaining and growing a positive reputation takes CONSTANT effort. If it truly can take only seconds to loose it, we should have a firm grasp on it at all times. Our reputation must be viewed as our most prized possession. It is more valuable than money and fame, because it can create or destroy them. It is more valuable than possessions and notoriety, because it can increase or erase them. It is more valuable than who you know or what you have done in the past, because it can alienate you among your peers and your customers.
Strengthening your reputation is like strengthening a muscle. With no exercise, muscles will atrophy or even disintegrate. To build muscle strength and mass, we must push our muscles to their limits, beyond what we originally thought we could do. We must also do the correct exercises, those meant to focus our efforts on the greatest result. We may even consult a trainer to guide us in our quest and keep us from injuring ourselves in the process. Well, all of these efforts hold true for building our reputation mass and strength. Push yourself outside of your comfort level, do the correct things, seek out experts who can offer you guidance, then do it all over again, and again, and again for the life of your business.
Better health means a longer life. Better reputation means a longer business life.