Sunday, December 27, 2015

Should first come, first served outweigh common courtesy?



"First come, first served," is a policy that most of us have experienced. The general principle is that whoever gets to a particular thing enjoys first dibs on using or buying that thing. Occasionally, the approach backfires with tragic results, as witnessed by overzealous crowds at department stores eager to be first in the door to buy a newly on sale product, or by fans who storm a venue which features stadium seating to be first in the gate.

But often, a first come, first served approach works. Apple product fans are known to camp out overnight waiting for a store to open so they can be first in line to get the latest release of some gadget or other. And some airlines use a first come, first served approach to issuing boarding passes for their flights.

G.N., a reader from Ohio, regularly flies on such an airline that boards passengers in the order in which they got their boarding passes. Since seats are not assigned, the first people on board get their pick of seats.

"I try to get my boarding pass soon after it becomes available so I get a good seat," writes G.N. But he observes that the good seats are "a zero-sum game," meaning that his gain in getting a good seat first is some other passenger's loss. That only makes sense since there are a finite number of seats on any passenger plane.

But while he takes pride in getting his boarding pass as soon as it becomes available, it gnaws at G.N. a bit that his efficiency might not always be fair.

"If I have plenty of time to make my connection at the next airport and others have a tight connection, shouldn't I let them get earlier boarding so they could sit near the front and get off first?"

G.N. raises a good point. If someone else on the plane risks losing his or her connecting flight by being seated far back on the airplane, wouldn't the right thing be to make sure to move those with connecting flights up closer to the airplane's exit?

Perhaps, but such consideration would be true for anyone flying on any flight regardless of whether it uses a first come, first served boarding method. It would be thoughtful and make sense if the airline figured out which passengers had the tightest connecting times and made sure they were seated so they could exit the airplane first.

So yes, G.N., the right thing would be to try to make flying as simple and effortless as possible for all passengers and to take special note of those who might need more time to make connections. But the responsibility for doing so doesn't fall on you or other passengers. It falls squarely on the airlines which, after all, are selling a service to their passengers.

Perhaps airlines can make the effort to make flying a bit less anxiety producing by providing such a service. In the meantime, while it's the airlines responsibility to try to get their passengers to their destinations safely and on time, showing courtesy to fellow travelers whenever possible, whether it's to let them step in front of you to exit the plane if they've a tight connection or helping them lift a suitcase into the overhead, is simply a nice thing to do. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's KennedySchool. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When the item that didn't arrive finally arrives



A little more than six weeks before Christmas, A.L. ordered one of her grandchildren a present online. She was thrilled when she found the present after it appeared as a pop-up advertisement on a web page she had been browsing. She thought her grandson would love the gift.

So A.L. placed the order, putting in her credit card information, shipping address, email address, and everything else for which the online seller asked. Whoosh, off the order went.

A.L. was surprised that she didn't receive an email confirmation for her order. Typically, she noted that such confirmations included information on how to track the order to see when it might be delivered. But A.L. decided that the lack of a confirmation was a quirk and that she would simply have to wait until the order arrived, ideally well before Christmas so she'd have time to wrap it and give it to her grandson.

As the second week of December rolled around and no package had arrived, A.L. began to get nervous. Since she had no confirmation email, she searched online for the advertisement she had seen, but had no luck finding it. She checked her credit card billing information online and saw that on the date she'd placed her order, the name of a company she didn't recognize appeared, along with a phone number. A.L. called that number, which turned out to be a website hosting company, not the T-shirt company.

Concerned, A.L. called her credit card company, explained what had happened and that she was concerned that she had been the victim of some sort of online scam. The credit card company opened an investigation and credited her for the amount that had been charged.

A few days later, after searching around on the Internet, she found a different company that sold the same product she wanted to buy for her grandson. This time, she found a phone number on the site, called it and confirmed that the company seemed to be what it claimed to be. She placed her order online and received a confirmation email along with a tracking number.

That afternoon, the package from the first company arrived, containing exactly what she had just re-ordered from the second company.

She had already been given credit for that purchase and she really didn't need two of the same item, although it was the type of thing that her grandson might have multiples of. But returning the item would mean another run to the post office, a call to her credit card company. A.L. was confident no one would know if she simply kept each item.

What should she do?

Regardless of the hassle, the right thing is to either return the item or to keep both items and pay for each of them. While the first item took a while to arrive, it still arrived well before Christmas. The company had done nothing wrong other than failing to provide a confirmation email.

After confirming that the credit was given to her credit card, A.L. could either call to have that charge reinstated, or she could mail the item back to the company and keep the credit. If she really didn't want to go to the post office, she could have the charge reinstated, keep the item, and -- if the second item arrived -- give both of them to her grandson. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program atHarvard's KennedySchool. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What's your story about doing the right thing?



What's the last story you heard about someone doing what's right in business even when he or she had no obligation to do so?

Twenty years, on Dec. 11, 1995, Malden Mills, a textile company based in Lawrence, Mass., nearly burned to the ground. But as the fire was raging on, the company's CEO, Aaron Feuerstein, announced that he would continue to pay all of his out-of-work employees as he tried to get his company up and running.

By going beyond his ethical obligations to his employees Feuerstein was heralded as a hero.

Six years after the fire, I wrote about Feuerstein after his company had been rebuilt. In November 2001, the company faced a new challenge. The company had run short of cash and was forced to file for bankruptcy. At the time, Malden Mills' customers -- including L.L. Bean, Patagonia, and North Face that used its Polartec fabric in their high-end clothing -- stuck with the company. And Feuerstein asked consumers to make the "Polartec Promise" and buy products using Polartec fleece rather than garments made with fleece made in countries with lower labor costs.

The question I asked at the time was whether consumers should feel ethically obligated to buy his goods because of Feuerstein's past good deeds. I concluded then and still believe that consumers had no such obligation, but I planned to purchase a blanket made of Polartec fleece for my then six-month-old grandson, just I had done for his older brother.

Feurstein turned 90 on Dec. 9. He and his family who owned the company for three generations couldn't hold on to the company after the bankruptcy. The manufacturing site that burned 20 years ago is now run by an unrelated company. Some of the buildings in Lawrence that once produced Polartec fleece have been converted to apartments.

But, as Joan Vennochi wrote in The BostonGlobe in late November, "Feuerstein is at peace with the outcome." He told her that he received credit "because most American corporations had forgotten that the worker is part of the enterprise." He said that he "essentially got credit for doing the right thing."

Now, it's time for you to tell me your story. When was the last time you witnessed someone doing the right thing in business even when it wasn't required? Provide names, dates, and as many details as possible and send your stories to me in 300 words or less.

I will try to use some of the most compelling examples in an upcoming column. If you submit your story by Jan. 12, 2016, and I use yours and you allow me to include your name along with your story in that column, I'll send you a copy of my book, The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, after it is published on January 12.

Include your name, email address, a phone number where you can be reached, and submit your stories to rightthing@comcast.net, or mail them to me at: Jeffrey Seglin, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's KennedySchool. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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