Vantage Point: Doing Right Professionally

A 140Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

An experience I’ve just had has me shaking my head and wondering why it is rare rather than usual. My phone had been acting up, disregarding my touch to change settings (frustrating but not killer) and either locking up or ignoring certain letters on the keypad when responding to emails, leaving me to the wiles of the voice recognition software with the usual grim experiences of unintended transcriptions and auto-correct. So after going through all the steps for resetting and restoring my phone, both solo and with the aid of online technicians via Apple’s website chat, I finally took my phone in to see if a "hands on" diagnostician could figure out a cure. After a few minutes he did. His message: Since I was nine days away from my warranty’s expiration, he was giving me a new phone so I would not be stuck just out of warranty if his fix attempts didn’t work. Wow. (And it’s a newer model.)

Contrast this to an experience my husband had with his low mileage recent model car a few years ago. It began an unnerving habit of suddenly and inexplicably dying, sometimes in inopportune locations like ramps onto highways. He took it in to the dealer each time (when he could get it started again), and they charged him many dollars to do whatever, but the problem persisted. The fourth time it happened he had the car towed in and was told that he was experiencing a known problem with this model car, and–surprise!–it was just out of the special warranty for that particular expensive issue. He sold the car for parts. That Stealth Warranty is still a topic of heated discussion in our household because he later bought another BMW, from the same dealer.

Is this second scenario any way to run a business? It is far too common. Customers and clients seem only a pesky side matter on the way to bottom line profit. In a brief YouTube outline, Richard Shreve of Dartmouth’s Center for Business and Society integrates the two factions in the Center’s name to identify four basic and universal ethical considerations. (

Consequences: This utilitarian approach considers not just direct but further ripple effects. In seeking the greatest good for the greatest number, who are all the stakeholders (both clients and employees)? Who is affected, and how? If outsourcing CAD work overseas to save money and get things done overnight (due to time zone differences), what is the effect not just on the ledger books, but on staff and the overall local economy?
Duty: Whose rights are at risk, and what are our responsibilities to protect them? Every interaction in which we are involved represents a relationship, whether with a group or an individual, a client base or a business partner, a "good" employee or a "difficult" one. Do we treat everyone equally and with the same respect? Do we fulfill contracts and promises?
Values: Who am I as a person? Who are we as an organization? Can we separate the two? (But remember that our reputations will linger long after we may have had a change of heart and changed our values.)
Caring: What is the caring thing to do in respect to the others involved? This requires paying attention to the particular others involved, and not making presumptions about what is best for others or what they want based on our own beliefs and values. If you want to know what is right for me, talk to me.

Let’s apply these principles: Years ago we had Internet service provided by a company that also sold cable television subscriptions, but we did not subscribe to the bundle, only Internet service. When we called to complain about frequently dropped connections and sluggish data transfer, the customer service person looked at our account and immediately told us we weren’t paying enough for our service because it was not bundled–even before trying (or not) to figure out how to actually help us. We switched as soon as Comcast’s monopoly was broken; our new provider is significantly better.

Consequences: We departed angrily. The company lost our business and enabled my further vocal tarnishing of its already infamously poor reputation.
Duty: The company had a responsibility to provide the service promised in our contract for the stated fee. It didn’t.
Values: The company clearly indicated its profit line was more important than our satisfaction. Stockholders rated higher than customers.
Caring: Printable words fail me here. After various highly publicized incidents of employees insulting customers (even changing names printed on bills to derogatory nouns), Comcast says it is working on better employee training. We won’t be going back to check progress.

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

A 140Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE