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Marketing / Customer service

Bad business ethics or just business?

Regular readers will know I’m something of a customer service freak. My most recent experience has got me thinking about business ethics.

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John-Paul and I were taking Amy to San Francisco for our friend’s wedding.

We were one of the first people to book on the new airline, so had no problem securing seats in the bassinet row.

Months later when I called to check the booking, it turned out we’d been placed in a standard row. The bulkheads had been assigned elsewhere “But wait… I may be able to get you the bassinet and one adult seat, with the other adult in the row behind. How does that sound?”

It sounded awful! I would rather cope alone with Snakes on a Plane than a toddler, so being a man down was not an option.

What to do! Should we stick with the ‘wrong’ booking and hope for a spare seat next to us, but risk having to have Amy on our laps? Or should we bite the bullet and buy her a seat?

"I would rather cope alone with Snakes on a Plane than a toddler, so being a man down was not an option."

I asked how full the flight was. “About 90%. If you want to get your daughter a seat, I’d definitely buy one.”

Needless to say, we coughed up for the extra fare.

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A week later I saw our plane’s seats on sale at a very competitive price. My first reaction was “D’oh!” My second reaction was “This doesn’t sound like the actions of a 90% full plane.”

I called and pretended I wanted to make a booking. I gave our dates and asked “How full is the plane?”

“Oh, less than 50%.”

Now I know airlines are in business, and businesses need to make sales, but in my view lying to sell is bad business ethics and just not on.

On the other hand, I can understand they don’t want to give the seat away. Then again, they were the ones who stuffed up the initial booking for a bassinet, so maybe they should have given us the extra seat.

I have lost sales in the past by choosing to tell the truth (“This website doesn’t need a rewrite, just a quick edit will do.”) But I want to sleep at night, even if I do lose money.

Was what they did an acceptable business ethics? A little bit naughty? Utterly deplorable? Tell me what you think.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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