Lying to Your Customers? Come on, Everyone's Doing It

Do you lie to your customers?

Chef Damian Cardone claims he did. The former executive banquet chef at New York's famous Tavern on the Green restaurant last month confessed he had repeatedly misled his gluten-free customers at the now-closed restaurant, serving them fresh pasta made with high-gluten flour. The post -- since removed -- caused something of a dust-up in the New York restaurant scene.

Ford does. An engineer for the automotive manufacturer recently told NPR's Scott Simon that gas gauges register "full" even when they aren't. Both the chef and and engineer suggested customers prefer having the facts bent a little and that they are, in fact, more "comfortable" with it.

Oh, don't pretend to be shocked.

More than 1 in 3 senior managers and company directors in one survey say it's acceptable for their employees to tell white lies to customers. Nearly half say it's OK to misstate facts if it could safeguard the company. Three quarters of workers polled by Microsoft feel they are forced to lie at work, and about half admit to doing it.

For example, Office Depot has told customers who aren't willing to spend enough on optional product protection plans that the computers they want are not in stock, even if they were. The reason? Sales associates are under such intense pressure to sell extras that they'd rather tell a tall tale than make a bad sale.

Cablevision tried to convince subscribers to upgrade to digital cable boxes and digital service by saying the Federal Communications Commission was mandating the switchover. In fact, there was no such rule. The ruse potentially netted the cable company millions of extra revenue -- $6.50 a month for the new boxes and $10.95 for digital service.

Even Apple Computer, which has one of the top reputations for customer service, sometimes instructs its employees to bend the facts. They tell consumers that unlocking their iPhone will make them stop working and that switching service to a rival carrier on a jailbroken phone will "fry the antenna." Neither are true.

Have you ever lied to a customer? Here's a quick poll. (No worries, it's completely anonymous.)


And commenters: If there ever were a time to lie to a customer, when would it be? Do you have a different set of standards for employees who fudge the facts with you than when they're talking with customers?

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
image courtesy of flickr user, a God's Child