Sunday, January 31, 2016

Should customers gladly pay for a $130 sandwich?



Not long ago, M.N., a reader in Massachusetts, was waiting to order a sandwich at the deli counter at a small gourmet food store during lunchtime. Ahead of him was a woman waiting for the sandwich she had ordered. The deli man was taking longer than typical and the woman's sandwich order seemed to be quite involved.

A line slowly built behind the woman who had ordered the sandwich. When the deli man finished preparing her order, he wrapped it up carefully in white paper on which he wrote the price so the cashier at the front of the store could ring it up.

The woman thanked the deli man. Then she looked at the price he'd written, looked back up at him, and asked if he had made a mistake.

"No," he said. "You ordered the Catherine the Great. It's $130."

M.N. took a look up at the sandwich board and saw that among the ingredients in the Catherine the Great were Sevruga caviar and crème fraiche. The price seemed clearly marked on the board.

"I would never order a sandwich for $130," the woman said. "You should make the price clearer so people can see it better."

M.N. thought the price was quite clear.

Now, there was a line at least five deep of customers waiting to place their orders. The deli man asked the woman if she would still like the sandwich. She said no and then the deli man asked if she would like something else. She placed a new order.

M.N. wondered if the deli man had done the right thing by not putting up more of a fuss. He also wondered, given that he and others had been waiting on line while the woman's refused sandwich was being prepared, if it was right for them now to have to wait longer while the deli man built a new sandwich for her.

The right thing would have been for the deli man to have confirmed the price of the sandwich when it was originally ordered and for the woman to take greater care in reading the price board. Now that the woman claimed that she hadn't been aware of the price, it may have been her mistake, but the deli man did the right thing by not insisting that she pay for a sandwich she now claimed she never would have ordered had the $130 price tag been clearer.

Since the sandwich was taking so long to build and a line was forming, the right thing would have been for the deli man to call another clerk at the store to help him fulfill other customers' orders. While he shouldn't have insisted that the woman return to the back of the line to place a new order, rather than make the other customers wait while he built her a new sandwich, the right thing is for him to serve her while he asks for another clerk to come to deli counter to help others.

The store may have ended up eating the cost of a pricey sandwich, but the deli could have assured all customers received good service by calling another clerk to take orders, and the deli counter would have built good customer relations for the long term. 

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 Kennedy School. 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, January 24, 2016

Is it OK to accept a job offer knowing you may move on soon?



Is it ever OK to accept a job knowing that you might have another opportunity several months down the road that may cause you to quit that job you're accepting? A couple of incidents among readers recently have raised the question.

The first incident involves a reader, E.C., who was recently offered a new position, one that she believes she might enjoy more than her current job. But she also recently received news that she was accepted into a graduate school program to which she applied, but hasn't decided yet about attending. The program would begin about eight months after she started the new job -- if she takes the new job.

The second incident involves a reader, L.M., who is a finalist for a position for which she's been interviewing for several months. It's been a long search process. Before she and the other finalists have been scheduled to meet on the site of the prospective company with the search committee, she was offered another job at a different company. It's an attractive job offer, but the job she really wants is the one for which she's a finalist.

Is it OK for E.C. to accept the new position knowing she may leave in eight months to attend the graduate school that accepted her? Is anything wrong with L.M. accepting a new job knowing she's a finalist for a job she'd take in a minute if it were offered?

In E.C.'s case, she hasn't yet decided if she will accept the graduate school offer. If the job offer is for a job she believes she'd like to do, she has no reason not to accept it. But even if she decides down the road to go to graduate school, giving any company eight months of hard work before moving on is not wrong. Even if she doesn't go to graduate school in eight months, she might be offered something else someplace else. That too would be OK to consider. While jumping around too frequently might raise concerns in some future prospective employers about E.C., if she's willing to take that risk, then that's her decision to make.

L.M.'s case strikes me as clear. She cannot be expected to put her life on hold as a lengthy search process unfolds. Turning down any good opportunity on the chance that she might be offered her dream job would be foolish. If she's offered the dream job shortly after having accepted a position, then she might find it awkward to give notice after only a few months. But awkwardness here doesn't equal unethical behavior.

Each reader might be concerned about doing right by whoever their employer happens to be at the time. The right thing is to be concerned, work hard not to deceive their employers, but ultimately to do what's right for them. Their employers are hardly likely to do something for either of these employees if it would harm the best interests of the company. As long as they are honest and do good work wherever they happen to be employed, neither employee should be expected to ignore their own long-term best interests. 

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 Kennedy School. 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.


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