Ethics Being Tested at Work? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I was recently hired to be a director for a customer service team that provides specialty roofing products to the construction industry. We have had a terrible time with our supply chain and the company has resorted to using what we all know are inferior components. As a result, our customers are coming to us with a record number of problems that end up in my lap. My people are frustrated and overwhelmed. The sheer volume of complaints is unmanageable and the cost of fixing the problems is eroding the profit margins.

Here’s the kicker: my boss is now asking me to press my people to talk customers into “just living with” the low-quality products.

I have taught all of my reps some language to appease customers, but the whole thing feels sickening to me. I am trying to hold the line, not let my frustration show, and help my people make the best of an impossible situation. But I can tell my team is starting to hate me. I don’t know what to do. My stress level is going through the roof.

I was so excited when I got this job, and now I wish I hadn’t. Any ideas would be helpful.

Lost and Confused


Dear Lost and Confused,

Your boss is asking you to talk customers into accepting less than what they expected, do nothing to rectify their situations, somehow convince your team to do the same thing—and, worst of all, develop the skills of a con artist. It sounds like the recipe for a heart attack.

I say no. Just no.

I just don’t see how you can do it. It would be one thing if there were no other jobs available, but everyone is desperate for talent and just about any job would be better than what you are being asked to do. Get busy on job sites STAT.

Of course, it could be possible that you misunderstood your boss, so check with him before you bail. Put your understanding in the clearest of terms and don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.

I mean, seriously. A customer service rep’s job is to understand the customer’s complaint and do everything in their power to make it right—or, at the very least, to tell the truth about the situation and admit that the company’s hands are tied. You are being asked to do something that is, in fact, the exact opposite of customer service.

You have allowed your excitement about getting the job to blind you to reality. Go get another job and encourage your team members to do the same. Your company’s management is going to have to figure out how to manage customer expectations and simply turn down work they can’t deliver on. But by the time they get there, I hope you will be long gone.

I’m sorry. I wish I had a better idea. I’d be interested to see any in the comments. But sometimes you have to admit the reality you’re dealing with and just get out to save your soul. Run—don’t walk—away from this madness.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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