Practicing ethical behavior

Date Published: 
August, 2005
Original Author: 
Victoria Hand
Washington Memory Gardens Inc, Homewood, IL
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, August-September 2005

Treating customers with care, honesty and dignity helps us build ethical business practices and also helps us learn what standards to expect from ourselves.

As individuals with free will, we must determine for ourselves what ethical standards to follow. Therefore, it is possible that others' standards will differ from our own.

This can add to the struggle of deciding what is right and wrong in business, especially when something falls in a gray area. Many issues have two sides and will never have a black or white answer.

The basic question you should ask yourself when a problem situation occurs in your business is, "How will my decision affect my conscience?"

If your company discovers a wrongful burial and you correct the problem at midnight, without notice to the family, you might find yourself very troubled, even haunted by that decision. However, if you fess up to the family, apologize and then correct the problem, after it is all over, you are likely to feel good about your decision—and not likely to have nightmares.
In other words, honesty is the best policy. When you enter into a contract with a customer, you must follow through. If you find, after the customer has left, that you made a mistake in an agreement, such as putting down an incorrect burial location, you must not change the agreement. You must have the customer return and execute a corrected agreement.

If you make a verbal promise to the customer, you must follow through. A good example of this might be when you promise a grave will be sodded. Get it done! You must also follow through by checking to see that your promise has been fulfilled (since you are probably not going to sod that grave yourself). Always remember the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.

Most of us know what unethical practices are in business. Stealing is unethical. If you remove someone's flowers off their loved one's grave and put them on someone else's grave, it's stealing. If you accept payment for services and don't render those services, you are stealing.

Lying is unethical. If you show a picture of a certain type of vault when you make a sale and then deliver a different type of vault at the time of need, you have lied to the customer.

Abusing a customer is unethical. In our sensitive business, ethical violations can include psychological abuse. Take the example of a headstone damage, which can occur during mowing. If a customer comes to you to report such damage and you dance around the issue instead of acknowledging and taking care of it that could constitute psychological abuse. You must train your employees to be truthful so that you can honestly deal with customers.
It is always a good idea to have a mission statement framed and posted in your office so customers can see it. For example, your mission statement can promise customers that your company will:
•    honor their wishes,
•    take care of their loved ones with compassion, and
•    deal honestly with all customers.

The 5 areas to cover
There are five important areas you need to cover in business ethics: conduct, administration, confidentiality, competence and identification.

Conduct: Everyone who comes in contact with a customer must always engage in ethical behavior. It is wise to have everyone trained in your state's laws and to stress the importance of being truthful. If all employees are truthful to each consumer about what they are buying and are honest about any mistakes made, they will be practicing good, ethical behavior.

Administration: The people in authority must always practice ethical behavior. If you set an example of unethical behavior to your employees, you can expect them to learn from it and practice what they have learned.

Confidentiality: This is of utmost importance when dealing with customers. Giving out your mailing list is unethical. Letting someone know the cause of death of a decedent is unethical. Some of these practices are also illegal.

Competency: Being good at what you do leads to good ethical practices. If someone who works for you out on the grounds is constantly damaging headstones while mowing, that person is incompetent, and so is the manager charged with training and supervising that employee.

Keeping your equipment in good working order is also part of being competent. Using a lowering device with frayed straps is incompetent and unethical—not to mention the fact that it opens you up for an incident that could lead to litigation.

Identification: In the cemetery and funeral profession, a good identification system is a required business practice. This is so vital that if you do not have a good identification system, both for bodies and grave sites, you might be considered unethical.

•    Treat each decedent as if he or she were related to you.
•    Honor your contracts and do a good job.
•    Maintain your cemetery in a fashion that makes you proud.
•    Implement checks and balances to make sure you properly identify bodies and cremated remains and inter remains in the proper place.
•    Admit your mistakes; contact your customer as soon as you become aware of an error.
•    Know and follow the laws and regulations at the local, state and federal levels.

We must do all we can to protect our families, who have suffered the ultimate pain of the death of a loved one, from any further grief.