How to not run a business

In business, trust is key. Your customers need to be able to trust you with all aspects of how you run your business, including how you handle customer information.

It’s pretty easy to summarize: a business is generally NOT allowed to reveal who their customers are. If I owned a store and Barack Obama was a regular customer, I couldn’t even confirm that to anyone who asked, even if he was standing in my store at the time. The customer can always confirm whether they are a regular customer, but, in general, businesses cannot without explicit consent from the customer.

It’s about the same as in medicine. A person can say all they want that they are a patient of a particular physician. Even if that’s not true. But the physician, on the other hand, is prohibited by law from confirming whether a person is a patient. In the United States, such would be a violation of the Health and Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But even if it wasn’t illegal, it still wouldn’t be ethical.

As another example, I’m a regular customer of Performance-PCs, and I’ve noted that many times over on this blog. But if you were to call or write into Performance-PCs and ask, their own privacy policy means they wouldn’t be able to confirm that:

We require this [personal] information to understand your needs and provide you with a better service, and in particular for the following reasons:

  • Internal record keeping.
  • We may use the information to improve our products and services.
  • We may periodically send promotional emails about new products, special offers or other information which we think you may find interesting using the email address which you have provided.
  • From time to time, we may also use your information to contact you for market research purposes. We may contact you by email, phone, fax or mail. We may use the information to customise the website according to your interests.

And a lot of companies have very similar privacy policies. They will collect certain information from you — simply because it’s inevitable for them as part of conducting business. And as people are concerned with how their private information is managed, businesses post privacy policies that provide specifically how their information is handled.

So what in the hell was Lady Grey Jewelry thinking?

And the comments they’re receiving show largely a negative feedback to this move. Tactless. Unethical. Unprofessional. Classless. Disrespectful. And I wholly agree.

And I’d say the same thing if a business owner did this same thing with regard to Chelsea Clinton. Even if the business agrees politically with the customer, it is unprofessional to post something like this publicly, whether positive or negative, without the customer’s explicit consent.

Business 101: don’t disparage a customer. Any customer. Regardless of your reasoning.

It’s simple common sense: you don’t do anything that puts your customers or your business in a negative light. You treat your customers with respect, since your customers are the life blood of your business. And word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool around. And that word of mouth can work against your business just as much as it can work in its favor.

You’ll notice, for example, that in the build log for Desert Sapphire, which is a computer I built for a friend, I never identify the person for whom I built the system. Because that’s bad business practice if I don’t have his/her explicit permission to do so. And if I were approached by a high class buyer to build them a system, absolutely I would keep their name private. I’d still post a build log, and they’d know in advance of my intentions to do so, but I wouldn’t reveal the name of the buyer or post a picture of them without their explicit permission.

Contrary to what many have said on the Instagram post and in other venues, it’s not just the content of the note that’s the problem, however you choose to interpret it. Posting it publicly is what’s got people up in arms.

They could’ve been as demeaning to Ivanka as they wanted in private — and likely have. They could’ve canceled the order and sent a demeaning e-mail in response — which likely would’ve been posted to social media. They could’ve just made the donation and not revealed it to Ivanka. They could’ve canceled the order outright and manufactured some excuse to avoid taking her money. There are so many other ways they could’ve handled this tactfully if they really didn’t want the money or Ivanka’s business.

For some reason, they couldn’t just make the donation. They had to make a political statement out of it.

And the note itself wasn’t entirely tactful, in my opinion. It shouldn’t have been written for the simple fact you don’t do anything that could be interpreted as disparaging a customer. So that’s bad enough. But they made it worse posting the note to social media.