We have all lied at one point or another in our lives. Lying comes in many forms, colours, scales and for just as varied reasons. And we must be lying a lot as people as Wikipedia elaborates with the many classifications of lies. There are big lies, barefaced lies, bluffs, white lies, emergency lies, exaggerations, and fabrications, lies of omission, lying in trade, noble lies, perjury, puffery and jocose lies. We have lied to parents, teachers, uncles and aunts, neighbours, brothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, boyfriends, husbands, bosses, and clients too. Today we focus on lying in business and its costs when found out.
Regardless of the type, almost all lies told are told in more or less the same atmosphere i.e. where chances of challenge are minimal or easily mitigated. Before telling a lie, it is natural for people scan around the room to see who has the expertise, knowledge, experience, or cojones to challenge the lie. If none is present, we proceed to tell the lie with all the confidence in the world.
Lying in business takes several forms. One is lying in trade which Wikipedia defines as “lying where the seller of a product or service may advertise untrue facts about the product or service to gain sales especially by competitive advantage.” Another is puffery which is defined as “an exaggerated claim found in advertising and publicity announcements which although are unlikely to be true cannot be proven to be false.” Businesses in Kenya have been notorious on these fronts either by exaggerating what their products could do, their customer experience, warranty, delivery etc.
For a long time, people only had their immediate circle of friends to complain to about your products and services. It did not worry companies when they had a couple of dissatisfied and mostly also pissed customers because what harm could they do? But times have changed and lies can no longer fly in this viral world of social media. In this space, one voice can influence a thousand who might share and reach a million and soon all your customers and potential customers will be in on the shortcomings of your products, services, and rudeness of your sales people.
Social Media has become that space where Doctors write Poetry, Nurses sing in YouTube Videos, Lecturers pursue their other loves, Writers hone their skills and where every other expert in whatsoever field writes about their trade or their secret fetishes. In social media, people whatever their reasons for being online will not hesitate to call you out when you attempt to mislead them. They will revert to their areas of expertise and challenge you on every freaking bone of contention. They will dig deeper and question your credibility, did even deeper so that they can insult your mother, well, maybe not, but no stone will be left unturned. That is social media for you because people do not take kindly to deception and everything that you publish you must be prepared to defend.
As a company writing about your product, make sure that what you claim it does it actually does well or people will call you out and embarrass both you and your product online. When you treat your customers badly in your offices and then try to put this friendly façade online, be assured that the afflicted customers will be there with their bad experiences in tow waiting in line to comment about your “customer friendly service”. Whereas you could get away with lying then because the people who could challenge your allegations were not in the immediate vicinity or were too spread out to make any meaningful impact, social media has now democratized the media such that challenges to your claims can come fast and hard and from anywhere and be aggregated on one forum like the Complaints Board. It is that serious.
The best bet for companies and individuals is to avoid lies at all costs because getting caught in one will teach you the meaning of viral, just ask the United Airlines guys who broke some musician’s guitar. Just Google United Breaks Guitars and you will understand what consumers wrath can do in terms of Bad PR.