There are no secrets

Image“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I don’t want you to tell anybody else. Keep it to yourself. Are you ready? The secret is: there are no secrets!

Like it or not, we now live in a world where there are no longer any secrets. If you think for a moment that you are putting one over on your customers, you are sadly mistaken. It’s not that people are smarter than they used to be—information is just much more accessible than it used to be. Anyone with rudimentary technological tools and a bit of time can do the due diligence that will ferret out deceit, lies and fraud. A quick

Google could save you time, money, and heartache.

I recently went into a car dealership to lease a new vehicle. I met with a salesman, a nice guy with a big smile who really wanted to sell me a car today. I typically lease my vehicles for several years, trying to keep my monthly payment as low as possible. To that end, I can vary the down payment and the buy back, not to mention accounting for the intangibles such as predicted resale value several years down the road. The salesman popped these numbers and more into some software on his computer and spit me out a down payment and some monthly payment information. I looked it over and told him I would go home to think about it.

At home, a quick Google found me a site with a car lease calculator, as well as some information about my potential vehicle. I did some reading and some calculations, and discovered that the salesman’s suggested down payment was $5000 more than the amount my objective lease calculator gave me. Even after doing the arithmetic with pencil and paper I determined that my salesman buddy was wrong in his calculation. When I asked him for an explanation, he instead insisted that I should return to the dealership so he could explain or to have the business manager sit with me. I sent him my calculation by email, and even sent a copy of the lease calculator website, but still no response other than phone calls entreating me to return to the dealership.

This isn’t magic. It’s mathematics, and the numbers don’t lie. Unfortunately for that salesman, he misjudged me, and he failed to respond to my request for an explanation. He tried to use a few sales tricks on me, keeping the true value of my car a secret, which I dismissed immediately. At the end of it, for about the same money, I decided to get a Porsche.

You think you can keep secrets? Think again. The only information you can keep secret is information not shared.

You don’t tell anyone anything? Think again. Everything you write, everything you store on your hard drive, everything you think you’ve erased, is still there for anyone who really wants to see. Of course there is the issue of taking physical custody of the media and retrieving data, but that can be done, and with less effort than you ever thought possible. Everything you say and do may come back to haunt you. Everything that you write, whether it is seen by human eyes or not, may come back to bite you. The only way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone. Even professional standards of confidentiality may not protect you from your previous statements.

So what’s the moral here? Be honest. Treat your customers like sentient beings and accord them the respect they deserve. Know that they have the capacity to evaluate your integrity. Although the bar is not that high, people have the resources, if they choose to use them, to make informed decisions about you or your product or your service. All you need to do is match your offering to a willing customer. You will save yourself a huge amount of grief and you will create a satisfied patron who may be inclined to refer you for life. A satisfied customer may tell a few people, but be certain that a dissatisfied customer will tell everyone, and for a lot longer. If you’re dishonest, the secret will be out soon.
Sid Karmazyn, Chartered Accountant