Sunday, September 14, 2014
Would you report being undercharged?
Few of us would hesitate to correct a store clerk if we found he or she had charged us too much for an item, returned too little change, or failed to ring up the correct price of a sale item.
About a month ago, I lined up in a food court at a local mall to purchase a soup, sandwich and drink combo listed on the menu at $7.99. I was the first customer of the day and the young man behind the counter admitted he didn't know how to ring up meal combinations, so he called over a more senior member of his crew. She rang me up and told me the total was $10.68.
I pointed to the menu and observed that even with sales tax, the total should be well under $10. She looked at the menu, eyed me again me, and said, "I know, but that's what the register says."
A few moments of silence passed as I waited for her to correct the error. Nothing. So I canceled my order and told her I wasn't willing to pay more than the listed price for the item.
"Sorry," she said.
I skipped lunch - likely the healthier thing to do anyway.
Like most of you, I'm not inclined to let being overcharged go unnoticed. But how many readers would call attention to an error made in their favor?
While it's nice to believe most would report being undercharged, but there are those who would simply chalk it up to good fortune - even if undeserved. If you're among those who'd do the honest thing and point out an error in your favor, what if you knew that doing so might mean an employee received a reprimand or worse? What would you do?
Years, ago, J.W., of Russells Point, Ohio, writes that he faced just such a scenario. J.W. and his family were buying goods at a local grocery store. After they got out to the parking lot, J.W. noticed on the sales slip that the clerk had rung up a 10-lb. bag of potatoes. He was pretty certain they had purchased a 25-lb. sack. J.W. checked his groceries and confirmed that the clerk had charged him for a less-expensive item. He went back in the store to get the matter corrected.
"The sales girl was furious that I'd called her attention to the error," writes J.W. She explained, angrily, that if the customer wanted her to correct the price she'd have to call her manager. "She was afraid she'd get fired," writes J.W.
Without hesitation, J.W. did the right thing and told her he wanted to pay the correct amount and that she should call her manager if that's what was needed to get it done.
"I wasn't about to let it go by."
Following J.W.'s example, I didn't let my food court experience go by, either. I emailed the company on the form provided on its website and explained what happened. A representative acknowledged my plight and offered my next meal on the house.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.