Have you ever not had a complete service delivered to you that you paid for on the internet? Did you assume you could get a refund if there was a significant problem with an internet business and found that there was no refund policy? Have you been ‘promised’ or led to believe something via internet marketing and not only didn’t it come true but that no one would even talk to you after you complained?
As a business coach for those who are in business startup or early growth, I always cover the issue of Ethical Behavior during our conversations. While some on-line business owners have some concept of and/or practice a code of Ethics, the majority of other business owners on the internet are likely to have never had any exposure to what Business Ethics entail.
Why I want to bring up Ethical Behavior on the Internet is many fold: One, I have been on the receiving end of unethical behavior. Two, I see all too often, what I consider to be too much unethical behavior being done on the Internet. Three, I feel people need to better understand what Ethical behavior is and thus, perhaps, think twice before engaging in unethical behavior, and Four, the Internet is really an unregulated universe that has no boundaries, police or safeguards against unethical behavior.
Ethical issues will arise in every business and you can’t think of every one of them in advance but you can do some planning. Every business needs to sit down and seriously consider what their business code of Ethics will be. Will it offer refunds or a guarantee and then state the answer in their Policy/Terms. How will complaints by customers be handled? What kinds of claims in marketing will you use that don’t ‘cross the line’? How will you behave with customers or contractors you are not happy with? How will you handle someone saying negative things about you and will do say negative things about others?
You need to know exactly how you will apply a Code of Ethics, be clear about it and implement it consistently. You should also expect the people you work with or contract with to adhere to the same or very similar code of Ethics too.
Why do you need an Internet Business Code of Ethics?
Business Ethics are implemented in order to ensure that a certain required level of trust exists between consumers and other participants with you and your businesses. Such practices ensure that the public is treated fairly. A code of principles based on values that govern an organization’s actions and decisions may mean good business and it may be time consuming but it will offer a lasting benefit for your website and your financial success. An unethical approach allows for quicker accomplishment of goals but only provides a short-term gain and risks your websites reputation for the long-term.
The Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, located at the DePaul University in Chicago has said, “Every possible abuse of integrity and decency takes place on the Web.” Randy Pennington, an ethics consultant in Dallas, Texas, has expressed that “a sense that moral and ethical values are not important” on the Web. And that “There is no standardization in technology on the Web, so why do we expect standardization in behavior?”. With these truisms in mind, what options are there?
Checklist for Creating an Internet Business Code of Ethics:
• Become a member of the Net check Commerce Bureau where visitors to Netcheck’s site can register consumer complaints about anything from unsolicited e-mail to copyright disputes. There is even a place to compliment a company.
• Learn and keep abreast of Ethics information at the Online Journal of Ethics which has comprehensive links to other sites that deal with the topic of ethics.
• Use best practices to perform internet marketing.
• On your website, have a Guarantee badge.
• Include refund information and other language that benefits your customers in knowing your Ethics in your Policy/Terms and Privacy statements on your website. Make them clear, readable and understandable by your customers. You in return must ‘live’ them daily.
• Act with integrity – Always conduct business in a just and moral manner.
• Practice and promote Ethics – Encourage others to act with integrity. Promote strong ethical standards. Do not do business with those who do not practice good Ethical Behavior.
• Provide the best service you can, continue your own self-education and continue to grow professionally and personally through employing good Ethical decision making.
• Use logical judgment – Use your moral and Ethical knowledge in every day decisions.
• Realize that Ethics are important to financial success.
• Conduct your business in a proper, legal and Ethical manner at all times.
• Customers come first and do no harm.
• Clearly note on your site any information that may be obtained by your visitors that may be sold or rented to other parties or vendors.
• Realize that even though the Web has no standards, it is up to all of us to create what is and what is not acceptable for not only ourselves to do and not do on the Internet but to educate others to operate personally and/or professionally in a more Ethical manner.
• Have Copyright notices on all of your material that you do not wanted copied and respect other’s copyright material.
• Make sure the customers and others have an easy way to find out how to contact you.
• Create a policy in how fast you will respond to customer requests or complaints.
• Provide what you say – whether it be a service or a product.
• Realize that the World Wide Web is just that, it is global and with that comes the need to be sensitive to international, national and local cultures.
While I realize this list of ways to think and provide more business Ethical behavior is not the end all, I do think it is a place to start. If we all become more aware of Ethics, practice them every day and truly ‘live’ them, the Internet will be a better place. Let’s make the Internet Ocean where customers and businesses often feel there are way too many sharks waiting to take a bit out of them into a safer and happier place to do business.
The Practical Expert is a comprehensive place for business startups and businesses in their early growth phase for products and services. Through quality business coaching, collaboration with other professionals and other innovations, you will find the means to help your business reach its next step towards success.
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