Article as seen on

My wife and I finally decided to move ahead with a renovation on our home. Though the process will undoubtedly be painful, we look forward to the result. With mortgage interest rates at all-time lows, our financial advisor counseled us to finance the project through a bank. We worked with several banks. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons that you can apply to your business. I warn you, though, that some of these lessons on picking integrity or profit for your business are easier said than done. I break this story down to The Experience and then explain how you can apply these principles in The Lesson.

The Experience

I discussed financing options for our home project with three banks: a local community bank, Bank of America, and an amazing business banker at EagleBank, Jenny Shtipelman. Jenny said that for my exact situation, EagleBank was probably not the best fit. I knew that EagleBank would have been the best resource for a business financing solution. I also knew I could count on Jenny to offer great guidance either way. Her candor is why she is always at the top of my list for recommendations for business banking. Jenny explained which product would best serve my needs, even though it was not something she could offer. Jenny demonstrated the value of restraint. She didn’t try to sell me “the wrong thing.” Too many companies overlook the attribute of restraint – somethingwe write about in Same Side Selling.

I asked the remaining two banks each for the rates not only for a variable line of credit, but also for a fixed-rate loan over a long period of time. The rate the licensed representative at Bank of America (BofA) quoted for the fixed-rate option was so attractive, that we awarded the financing to them.

When I called BofA to complete the transaction, a customer service representative quoted me a much higher rate than the one I discussed with the mortgage agent a week prior. Bank of America records their phone calls, and documents their discussions with customers. What happened over the next several days is a powerful lesson in balancing financial performance with integrity.

The Lesson

I sent a note to ask for clarification on the terms for the fixed-rate option. Within hours, BofA assigned a customer advocate. She explained that her job was to be my internal advocate at BofA to ensure that we got the issue resolved promptly. They would review the notes and the recordings. I was fearing the worst. Would they deny they ever quoted that rate? Would we have to delay our project?

Here are 3 lessons The Experience taught me that you can apply to your business:

1)     Take Ownership: The first thing BofA told me was “We reviewed our notes and the phone call. We never doubted what you were saying, and our research confirms that we gave you those rates for the term you mentioned.” In this situation, BofA could have made something up. Instead, they owned the situation.

2)     Discover What Is Important: As the case was escalated, members of the management team asked which part of the product was important to me. Sometimes when things go wrong with a customer, you might jump to discounting or offering remedies that don’t matter to the customer. Instead it’s better to ask the customer, “What can we do to make things right?” The best customers will be reasonable. If someone makes an over-the-top request, you can simply say “I wish we could grant everyone’s wish. Can we work together to propose something I can probably get approved?”

3)     Make Tough Decisions: Ultimately, I received a phone call from several executives on a conference call. They explained that the information had been communicated in error. However, since it was given to me by one of their licensed agents, they would honor the rate since doing otherwise would shift the burden to me as the customer. Ultimately, they opted to vote for integrity over profit.

You Messed Up – Do You Pick Integrity or Profit for Your Business

Things will go wrong: In every business, mistakes happen. When they do, is it your practice to shift the problem to your customer, or do you insulate the customer from challenges even if doing so is at your own expense?

The converse: Several years ago, I was trying to requalify for status on an airline. When booking a trip that I knew would put me over the threshold, I contacted customer service to confirm that the routing I selected would qualify. As you might have guessed, after the flight was taken, they claimed the flight did not count. I asked them to review the recording where I specifically asked about that situation several times. I knew they kept the recordings for 30 days. I even said “Please don’t wait for 31 days and then tell me the recording has been deleted.” They sent a note after 31 days saying that they could not access the recordings because it had been deleted. I stopped flying them. I decided we would not do business with those we could not trust to operate with integrity.

I make this point to illustrate that putting integrity first is not an easy decision. I’m sure Bank of America had to absorb the rate difference. But, I know that if I contact them in the future, that I can trust what they are saying. When you are selling services, is there anything more important than trust?

It’s Your Turn

Please share an example of when a vendor made a tough choice that demonstrated that integrity was more important to them than short-term profit.