46

I recently got a job that has been great. Unfortunately, my boss is now trying to ask me to do something I feel as unethical.

I have a presentation in front of a group of potential clients next week, and I am being told to keep reminding them that our bank has "The best banking customer service in the planet!"

Now, I've had interactions with over 20 banks, and I can safely say that we have the best customer service out of any of those banks. But I haven't worked with every bank in the planet. So it would be a downright lie for me to say we're the best, because I just don't know for sure.

I've asked my boss if I can change the wording to "We have great customer service" or "We're probably in the top 10 in the world", but he said no.

Is it better to escalate this to my boss's boss? Or be defiant and refuse to say this to our potential clients? Or should I just resign and look for another job?

  • 69
    It's difficult to believe at that level, this sort of problem would arise. – Fattie Jun 26 '17 at 10:08
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    That's not a lie, that's a silly exaggeration. I detest banks in general and distrust them entirely, but even I would not classify that as a lie. I think it's a sentence that sounds incredibly amateurish and will not impress your clients, but it's not a lie. I'd encourage your boss to tone that down just because it's so silly sounding, but I see no ethical issue here. – StephenG Jun 26 '17 at 10:34
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    From the title of the question I was expecting some though ethical concern: lying about security measures, about technology, about money. Here it is simply an ad -- nobody believes that anyway. – WoJ Jun 26 '17 at 10:47
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    I agree with the other comments. You shouldn't worry about feeling immoral, you should worry about looking silly. But if your boss is asking you to do it, and can't be convinced it's a bad idea, i'd go ahead and do it. As I said, not really immoral, just silly. – ESR Jun 27 '17 at 6:43
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    The best banking customer service in the planet, we didn't say anything about banks on the surface of the planet! – user60393 Jun 27 '17 at 8:30

14 Answers 14

203

In the law there's a difference between talking up your product (known as puffing), and lying. If you say "Our diamonds sparkle like the stars in the sky", they know that's not literally true. But what you're saying is your diamonds are bright. You puffed the product. That's different than saying "Our diamonds are 10 karats" when they're really 1 karat. That's a lie. You can be sued over the second one, not the first.

What he's asking you to do is puffing – talk up your service. Since you really do believe that your service is good, it's not a lie. Granted it's not how I would state it (I'd probably say "It's the best I've ever dealt with", since I think "Best on the planet" is annoying since you can't possibly know that), but I would never consider someone saying they thought their product was good as lying to me, unless they made a specific promise of it.

  • 29
    I agree with this. I'm almost certainly not the target audience for this kind of a pitch, but fwiw, I'd have one of two reactions. Either I'd roll my eyes to myself (not visibly) and think, "ooohay, sure you are," or, if I really cared, I'd stop and ask for details: what metrics are you best on, who made the assessment, etc. In other words, a statement like that is either something I'd ignore, or something I'd want backed up. Luckily for the OP, 99% of the time I'd be in the "ignore" camp. – yshavit Jun 26 '17 at 5:03
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    This answer is country-dependent. In some jursidictions, a certain amount of evidence is required before making a claim. Further, different rules may apply to business-to-business sales, versus consumer advertising. Also, the question is about ethics, but the answer is about the law – Qsigma Jun 26 '17 at 7:46
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    @Qsigma Well the question is really about escalating a non-issue which would be a preposterous thing to do. But the OP doesn't know that and the point is that they are making an incorrect judgement and need to realise that their value system is off-base on this one.Bringing up the general legal aspect of (limited) exaggeration being nigh-universally acceptable helps support the argument that this kind of "lying" is ok.. – Lilienthal Jun 26 '17 at 8:52
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    MBA here with international business law education, most of which I've probably forgotten, but one of the big lessons that stuck out is you can always say you have the "best" anything. This is called puffery - I've never heard it called "puffing". But maybe I'm wrong. In any case, +1 for being closer than anyone else. – Aaron Hall Jun 26 '17 at 15:39
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    For something as subjective and hyperbolic as "best service on the planet" no one is going to seriously believe that is a statement of substance, rather than hype. On the other hand, as someone who utters such a statement, OP might be taken as someone of less substance, who makes hyperbolic, blow-hard statements, so even not worrying about the ethics, there's still an issue about the person's personal image and credibility. – PoloHoleSet Jun 26 '17 at 15:58
47

This sounds like a mere advertising slogan. Everyone knows these are exaggerated hyperboles and are to be taken with a grain of salt. I wouldn't call it a "lie"; at least, not more so than any other company on the planet with a marketing department is doing (applicable Dilbert).

This may offend your personal sense of ethics or honesty, which is perhaps not entirely unreasonable. However the reality of the matter is that this is normal and accepted behaviour for a company. If you stick to your strict interpretation you will run in to problems in other companies as well.

So you will have to choose: ethics or career. I can't choose for you, but I do think there are more important battles to be fought than some advertising slogan.

  • 16
    The third tactic would be to convince your boss to change the slogan, not because you don't like it, but because customers will find it too hyperbolic and it gives the wrong impression ("what else are they exaggerating?"). – jpatokal Jun 26 '17 at 7:48
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    @jpatokal Perhaps turn that into an answer? It's indeed a good third option to suggest alternative selling points that are more grounded and can be proven like "95% customer satisfaction" or "consistently high support ratings". Numbers sell. Platitudes rarely do. – Lilienthal Jun 26 '17 at 8:54
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    "If you stick to your strict interpretation you will" find a slightly different job where hopefully you don't lie to people. Not all positions require flexible ethics even if a every company does communicate some lies. – kubanczyk Jun 26 '17 at 9:02
  • The answer from DesignerAnalyst seems to contradict this one. – ANeves Jun 26 '17 at 10:03
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    @Lilienthal: Unfortunately, puffery DOES sell, and that's why more than half the ads on TV use it. – WGroleau Jun 26 '17 at 15:14
17

If you can honestly say yours is the best from a sampling of over 20 banks and you have never come across one that is better, then you're in a good place. They already know you haven't checked every single bank on the planet.

What I would do if I were you is, rather than argue with your boss or worry about the ethics of it, get prepared to defend that statement as you may well be asked about it. i.e. have answers for stuff like, "what gives you the right to make that claim?" or "How are you better than xxx bank?" Get your boss to help out with suggestions here, maybe.

Everyone of those (over) 20 banks obviously had some flaws that you don't have, or do something that you do better. This being the case, I'm sure there are plenty of things you could bring up. Also mention (if it's true, and it should be) your are continuously striving for improvement, hopefully with examples.

If you can do all this successfully, I think your conscience should ease up on you a little.

  • 1
    I feel this should be further up. A) you say that your bank is the best and when challenged say that your experience with over 20 banks allows you to state that extrapolation with confidence. B) you tell them about your personal experience instead, which might actually be a more potent argument anyway. The first one is a slogan, a boast. The second is judgement from experience. – Kempeth Jun 26 '17 at 11:05
12

I am being told to keep reminding them that our bank has "The best banking customer service in the planet!"

I've asked my boss if I can change the wording to "We have great customer service" or "We're probably in the top 10 in the world", but he said no.

Is it better to escalate this to my boss's boss? Or be defiant and refuse to say this to our potential clients? Or should I just resign and look for another job?

If you truly don't understand the concept of sales puffery, then you are in the wrong profession.

You should find a new job immediately and resign from this one.

Perhaps something with no sales/marketing or presentation involvement would suit you better.

  • 1
    is OP likely to walk into another $200k job? probably not – user29055 Jun 26 '17 at 12:53
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    @Midas Is OP in a position to do their current job? Based on this question I think that is also called into question. They are "doing presentations to potential clients", but aren't even comfortable saying "Best banking customer service on the planet!". Seems like a very reasonable thing to say if your job involves trying to get new clients. They don't want to say it because it feels like a lie, that's a problem. It wouldn't be so bad if they just thought it was a silly thing to say; but they are actually questioning the statement. Hard to sell things you don't believe in. – JMac Jun 26 '17 at 12:57
  • @JoeStrazzere It would still be a good idea to run it past compliance to make sure there's no implied guarantee. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 26 '17 at 13:05
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    Wrong company, yes. Wrong profession, not obviously. No company offering serious product would use such childish slogans. For selling snacks, it's OK, for selling banking products, it's a clear scam indicator. Or the banking product is targeted for teenagers. – user50700 Jun 26 '17 at 15:28
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    If you don't understand the concept of puffery just ask, like OP has done. Honesty and willingness to learn and improve are an asset; do not resign. – Jose Antonio Reinstate Monica Jun 27 '17 at 19:57
8

What your boss is telling you is to make a good pitch. I think you should just listen to him and sell your services right. Rest assured that the crappiest bank on the planet would claim they are the best without so much as batting an eye.

If you really want to be honest to your customers, make sure they understand from your presentation exactly what banking services you offer. In other words, just bare facts. If you want to sell right, focus on the stuff that your bank does right.

And think for a little about Steve Jobs. He was selling overpriced computers, which had two great things going for them: OS stability and beautiful design. Steve Jobs' advertising campaign, by your standards, was disingenuous, at best. But, people who just wanted a stylish and stable computer were not disappointed, while people like me, who wanted certain functionalities, stuck to their original preferences (in my case, Linux PC).

So is with your clients. The ones who know what they want, will see beyond your sales pitch, and ask about what exactly you can offer to them. I'd be honest with them. The other ones who don't see beyond your pitch, will still get serviced by one of the top ten banks.

  • Actually Steve Jobs did much more than that, and had the incredible luck to be right on time, including in a time Linux functionality in the desktop was seriously lacking. Tim Cook is wasting all of that...Let´s see for how long the iPhone market can keep them going. Suddenly *BSD alternatives look better now. As for the actual advertising, I think the simplicity of it was a stroke of genius. Just say to the world what you are doing right, and keep it simple. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 26 '17 at 9:20
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    At Apple, OS stability only came along later. – Fattie Jun 26 '17 at 10:10
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    It is unclear which Apple Mac campaign your answer refers to, and why someone might consider that campaign to be disingenuous. – Qsigma Jun 26 '17 at 10:49
  • @Qsigma Disingenuous because probably Apple products were not the most stable and most beautiful products in the world while someone, maybe even Steve Jobs, might at some moment have said so. – Trilarion Jun 26 '17 at 12:59
  • And... how often did Apple talk about how Magical! they were? REVOLUTIONARY!!! Stunning, revolutionary, unbelievable... so many adjectives and descriptors – WernerCD Jun 26 '17 at 13:28
7

Sales is about psychology more than anything.

The absolute veracity of the statement is irrelevant. The purpose of such a statement is establishing self-confidence. You're telling the clients, "I haven't seen every bank in the world, but I'm so confident in our customer service, that I sincerely doubt there's anyone out there who does it better."

You're also implying that customer service is very important to your company and that if there was ever a bank that did it better, your bank would do what it needed to match and exceed the other bank's service.

Now, a more powerful statement than, "We have the best customer service in the world," would something like be "I've worked with 20 other banks, and our customer service is so much better that I'm confident in saying we have the best customer service in the world."

  • 1
    The best solution in my view. OP has this experience, and the wording "I'm confident in saying ..." transforms a (probably wrongful) factual claim into an opinion. – Dubu Jun 26 '17 at 14:50
  • I can't disagree with this answer strongly enough. This appears to be an attempt to turn a brand slogan into a factual claim. It's like instead of a McDonald's ad saying "I'm loving it" it said "From years of experience, I'm confident that people will love our food". Which of those two is more likely to create both a brand identity and a positive response in customers? – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 16:06
  • @DavidSchwartz if his bank's slogan is "We have the best customer service in the world," by all means, the OP should say it verbatim. If however, it is a statement that his boss asked him to include during a sales pitch I believe my suggestion would be more persuasive. It'd persuade me better than the original statement, at least. – SethWhite Jun 28 '17 at 16:27
  • @SethWhite That's his boss' call, not his. And his boss is insistent that the exact phrasing be used. It's quite clear he wants to build brand identity with that phrase. Read the question again -- he asked explicitly if he could change the working and his boss said no. Why are you advising him to go against this explicit, and reasonable, request from his boss?! This problem has a simple solution -- the request is reasonable, honor it, and move on. Why are you advising him to provoke his boss by doing what he was explicitly told not to do?! – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 16:30
  • @DavidSchwartz I'm not asking him to use the statement, simply giving my opinion on what a more powerful statement would be. My answer also defends the original statement in a way that reflects your sentiments about brand identity. – SethWhite Jun 28 '17 at 18:10
5

This is "marketing speak", rather than an outright lie. Of course it's impossible to evaluate all banks on their customer service quality, and even if it were possible, the outcome would be highly dependent on the evaluation criteria which ought to be at least somewhat subjective for something as broad as "customer service".

If you're uncomfortable with words like "best" or "leading" when talking to your customers, you probably shouldn't be working in marketing.

3

IMHO: If you say you are the best on the planet you are clearly stating that you don't know what you are talking about (per the reasons you mentioned yourself). Your presumed customers will just erase that quote from memory and replace it with "This company is just like any other company."

Just because your presumed customers are polite and nod agreeably doesn't mean they are dumb.

3

The first answer, and all you really need to know, is that there's nothing immoral or illegal about talking up your bank as "The Best in the World". That's extremely common among companies, and nobody would accuse you of lying (though they might accuse you of bragging or being unoriginal).

The second answer is - it sounds like you have some experience and some examples to prove the quality of your bank - and if you're being instructed to puff up your bank, you should bring those to the forefront has evidence that your bank is "The Best".

Everybody expects you to talk up your own company - it's what you're paid to do. There's no issue with trying to make it sound like a great bank. But if you have enough experience with the bank that you know your customer service is fantastic, you can use that to highlight it, and drive the point home.

2

I would tell my boss:

  1. I can't say this and leave it at that, with conviction, because I feel it's a lie. The customer will sense this and won't take me seriously as a result. I'd be damaging our company.
  2. Allow me to add something, and it will be convincing, both to me and to the customer. Let me know what you think.
  3. What I want to say: Our customer service is the best in the world. At least, as far as I know. I've dealt with about 20 other banks, and none have customer service as good as ours.
  • 1
    I would simply say 3 - it is authentic and complies with boss' sales policy. (But for such a minor point I think it's very bad to,even mention the word lie. – eckes Jun 26 '17 at 18:57
2

How about instead of repeatedly saying:

Best bank! Best bank in the planet!

and getting all nervous and weird about this, you just say, once during the presentation:

We considered whether or not I should claim that we have the best customer service of any bank on the planet. I've had interactions with over 20 banks, and I can safely say that we have the best customer service out of any of those banks. Obviously, I haven't worked with every bank in the planet, so I can't in good faith say that we're number one. I can, in good faith, say that we're number one among those I've dealt with, and that's saying a lot.

And, hyperbolic statements are quite annoying. I don't think your intuition that there's something icky about them should be completely discounted.

  • What purpose would saying that have? Imagine if he worked for Papa Johns and their slogan is "Better ingredients, better pizza" and at some point he said "Well, I shouldn't say our ingredients are better. Other pizza places use good ingredients too. But I really like ours." That would completely defeat the entire purpose of working to establish a brand identity around a slogan with specific works and probably get his boss extremely angry. You are advising him to be incompetent. Suggesting that people take the slogan literally, or attempting to do so, is flat out kooky. – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 1:25
  • @DavidSchwartz, of course, that's a bad analogy. For starters, you've changed the meaning completely with the slogan thing "Better ingredients, better pizza" doesn't mean the same thing as "I really like our ingredients," not even close. And, since Papa John's slogan is less annoying than "we're the best," and less insincere sounding, it's really just a silly comparison. And, I think you're undercutting your ability to think clearly by using concepts like "brand identity" and other such marketing gibberish. This isn't some 15 second ad on free to air TV, it's a presentation. The potential... – goblin Jun 28 '17 at 2:40
  • ...clients chose to be there, and they want to deal with someone they trust, not some "We're the best !!! We're the best!!!" weirdo. In short, I think you're conflating marketing with sales, which are completely different ballgames. – goblin Jun 28 '17 at 2:41
  • The phrase "best banking customer service on the planet" is a slogan. That's why his boss is so insistent he use the exact wording. I am not conflating marketing with sales -- I am insisting that the OP not do that by trying to turn a marketing slogan into a sales pitch against his boss' advice. "Best banking customer services on the planet" is a marketing slogan and he should not attempt to turn it into something else, as he seems insistent on doing. It should stay a slogan so that it maintains its branding capability. – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 16:09
0

I've asked my boss if I can change the wording to "We have great customer service" or "We're probably in the top 10 in the world", but he said no.

This sounds really bland, so of course your boss would turn it down if he is into puffing.

If you are really against saying you are the best in the world, you can say I've dealt with a lot of customer service from banks, and this is by far the best I've ever seen. or something you personally feel is true, but is worded in a way that still stands out.

  • He could say that, but what purpose would it serve? – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 1:24
  • @DavidSchwartz It would allow him to avoid making statements he is uncomfortable with internally. He isn't speaking as just a salesman, but instead speaking as an authority figure who avoids using obvious hyperboles. When he says this, it opens up options for questions about what is better about it compared to others, and he can actually speak about the others. Personally, I would find someone who speaks like this easier to talk to than someone saying "best in the world". I would not ask further questions as I wouldn't trust them to answer. Of course, there are people who prefer that too, so.. – さりげない告白 Jun 28 '17 at 1:33
  • I don't agree with you. I think it would do exactly the opposite by forcing emphasis on the literal interpretation of the brand messaging where that is not intended and, frankly, not even reasonable. If, for example, this was Papa John's and everyone is saying "better ingredients, better pizza", by someone saying, "I've tried lots of ingredients and our are really good", you weaken and confuse the brand messaging -- calling attention to the literal meaning where that is not reasonable. – David Schwartz Jun 28 '17 at 1:42
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    He isn't creating a marketing campaign and slapping that on ads, he is talking to actual human beings in a presentation. That is the difference, I feel. – さりげない告白 Jun 28 '17 at 2:33
  • @DavidSchwartz, "He could say that, but what purpose would it serve" - it emphasizes the benefits of this particular bank, without alienating the listener. – goblin Jun 28 '17 at 2:42
0

It is a marketing statement. It is exaggerated, but that's fine, because everyone knows it is a marketing statement and marketing statements are exaggerated.

Your customers will compare your marketing statements with the marketing statements of your competitors. And the plain fact is that your product or service is not as good as the marketing statements and promises of your competitors. It may be as good or better as the competitor's products or services, but not nearly as good as their marketing statements.

So if you insist on only making statements that are literally true, your company will lose out. Don't go there. Your boss will not even understand your problem, and your bosses boss won't understand it either. They will just see you as difficult and possibly damaging the reputation of the company. There is no ethical problem except in your mind. If you can't get over that you will lose your job unless you quit first.

Maybe you should look at the statements that your competitors make, and that will help you.

0

First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hyperbolic statements so long as no reasonable person could take them literally. When you say "we have the best customer service on the planet", you are communicating to the person you are speaking to (assuming they are not an idiot) that you take customer service seriously, believe you have excellent customer service, and want your customers to evaluate you on that basis.

For branding to stick, it has to be consistent. So if this is the branding your company has decided on, it has to be delivered consistently. There is no rational reason for you to refuse to do that unless you can genuinely claim a reasonable person could get a false impression from it. That seems like an stretch.

The Red Cross has a slogan, "The greatest tragedy is indifference". How could they possibly make this slogan stick if someone people said it like this and others said, "Well, the Holocaust was probably the greatest tragedy, but indifference is bad too. And I guess indifference to the Holocaust is awful. But you get my point ..." How would that send the powerful brand messaging the slogan was intended to convey? It wouldn't.

So, at least in my opinion, you are being unreasonably obstinate and making it more difficult for you customer to consistently brand its products and services to the customers you interact with. Stop it.

protected by enderland Jun 26 '17 at 17:11

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