In a recent BNET post “Lying to Your Customers? Come on, Everyone’s Doing It,” author and customer advocate Christopher Elliott shares six companies who have lied to their customers: Tavern on the Green, Ford, Microsoft, Office Depot, Cablevision, and Apple.

Lies or Business As Usual?

The chef at Tavern on the Green lied about gluten free pasta. What is the big deal, right? If a diner has food allergies, it is a huge deal. While Chef Damian Cardone may not have thought too much about the “white lie,” those with gluten allergies likely suffered the consequences of their meal. Tavern on the Green’s reputation is known far and wide—making it an iconic brand. Now, it’s doors are closed after filing for bankruptcy.

A Ford engineer told NPR that the gas tanks in Ford cars register full when they are not actually full. We are currently living in a depressed economy and gas prices are soaring. With all of Ford’s efforts to be social and bring customers to the center of their organization, how does this admission affect their brand? Is stating that the gas gauge’s purpose is “giving a customer ‘a prediction’ of what will happen” enough to protect the reputation they have worked so hard to preserve? If all car manufactures have this same challenge, is it a lie or a limitation of technology?

Due to pressure, Office Depot sales people lie about stock in order to upsell customers. There is just one little problem with this sales philosophy: customers have changed. They are more likely to have done their research, reached out to friends and experts, read all of the reviews and calculated the level of risk they are comfortable with. The days of thinking customers do not know what they want are over, they know want long before they walk into a store. Upselling them from their needs will most likely make them walk on over to the competitor.

Cablevision lied to its customers about an FCC ruling allowing them to earn potentially millions in additional revenue. According to The Consumerist, the FCC is well aware of the lies. Is lying acceptable in regulated industries? Are consumers so addicted to TV that they’ll just pay the price?

Apparently, Apple employees lie to customers all of the time about things like why they shouldn’t unlock their iPhones. However, this is just one employee’s “inside scoop.” Does one bad apple mean the whole company lies? Of course not. It does indicate, however, that a larger issue might be brewing inside of corporations today. Employees can be just as much a threat to your brand reputation as customers.

The Benefits of Lying

  • Sick Customers
  • Reputation Challenges
  • Lost Sales
  • Indentured Customers
  • Rogue Employees

Not to mention everything that comes along for the ride… like negative word of mouth, blog posts, tweets, reviews, etc.

Not Lying—Easier Said Than Done?

Is a little white lie—or even a big one—okay when it means more revenues? The obvious answer would be no, one would hope. But perhaps there are times when lying is a necessary evil of doing business. Who is to decide what is ethical and what isn’t?

How does a marketing or PR professional handle this internal conflict?

Additional considerations: Do you do as told to keep your job? Is counsel regarding what could go wrong enough when money is the shiny object in management’s eye? Who is the customer advocate?