Price vs. Values: What Does Your Integrity Cost You?

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I was trained in the school of “what goes around comes around” or, in the vernacular of the moment, “The Law of Attraction.” It‘s a philosophy that has always worked for me in my personal and professional life, and it is one that I share with my coaching clients, during keynotes and just about any other time I have the opportunity to be with people.

That said, this evening I was standing in the merchandise return line at my local Costco (I just love that store) when I overheard this conversation between a customer and the service representative behind the counter.

SR: So you’d like to return this 60” TV?
Customer: Yes
SR: Do you have your receipt?
C: No
SR: When did you buy it?
C: Three years ago.
SR: Three years ago? And why are returning it? Is there something wrong with it?
C: No: I want to trade up. I want the 67” TV.
SR: Our policy to return electronics is 90 days.
C: Well that wasn’t the policy when I bought it three years ago.
SR: Sir, this is absolutely the only time you will be able to make this kind of return? Is that understood?
C: Yes.
SR: What charge card would you like us to credit?

I stood there with my mouth open and my mind in rabble-rouser mode. This customer didn’t even have the manners to say “Thank You,” and the Costco employee was as pleasant as could be. Could I read the speech bubble over this employee’s head? No, because the one ranting over my head drowned out his.

This guy obviously felt quite entitled to take his TV for a three-year test drive without committing to it. I wonder what he’s like in relationship! Does he keep trading his partner in for a newer, shiner model?

Imagine, for a moment, that this guy gets a call from his bank letting him know that the $2500 deposit (the price of his TV credit) on his statement from three years ago was a mistake, and they now wanted their money back. Or maybe he sold his used car to a neighbor, and three years later the neighbor tells him that he wants a refund so that he can get a newer used car? What would TV Guy say? “NO WAY!”

So why did he try this stint at Costco? Because he knew he could. He knew their policy. He knew that they’d do whatever it took to keep him coming back. So he took advantage of their good will, and sold his integrity for $2500 in the process.

And why did Costco let him get away with it? Because they are more committed to their customers than they are to being right.

When all was said and done, I was left with this thought: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Standing there, watching this exchange, I was embarrassed for this man who came from such a scarcity mentality, from such a place of entitlement and irresponsibility that he actually thought he had a right to rip off a company whose motto is to be in service. It reminded me of a visually impaired person who asks for assistance with his change at the cash register…. Would you take a twenty from him just because you could?

What will come around to him? What will he attract? Actually, I don’t know and I care even less. Once I recovered from my self-righteous indignation, I remembered that I attracted this event into my life for a reason; that there would be wisdom to be found once I laid aside my ego. What lessons might I learn from both of these men? Is there a place in my life where I act selfish and entitled? Where I might learn to be more gracious and forgiving like my new teacher at Costco?

Next time you’re standing in a line, or you’re in a meeting or on a call and someone does something or says something that you have a strong and immediate negative reaction to, ask yourself, “What’s coming around?” “What have I attracted, and why?” “Where is the wisdom here?” and “How can I use this experience to become more courageous, to live more powerfully and to be a leader that others would want to follow?”

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