The Jewish Ethicist: Fast Service.
Customers feel they're being cheated by my prompt service. Can I shlep out the repairs?
Q. Because of my expertise as a technician, I'm often able to do complex
repairs in a few minutes. But when I return the item so quickly my customer
thinks he's been cheated! Is it ethical to drag out the repairs if that
makes the customer feel he is getting better service? Either way the price
is the same. EC
A. It may make you feel better to know that the prophet Elisha faced a
similar problem. When he told the Aramean general Naaman that he could cure
his leprosy by merely dipping seven times in the Jordan river, the general
was furious that the prophet prescribed such a simple treatment. His
servants had to calm him down and reassure him that on the contrary, he
should be happy that Elisha was able to effect such a rapid "repair"! (II
Kings chapter 5.)
Let's analyze your question. Normally it is forbidden to give a false
impression of how much you exerted yourself for someone. For example, the
Talmud teaches that if you just happen to run into someone, you may not lead
them into believing that you made a special trip to meet them. Even though
the person will feel better thinking that you honored him in this way, you
shouldn't benefit from undeserved gratitude; rather, you should subtly
inform him that he has an exaggerated impression of your efforts.
It follows that if the customer is satisfied to get his repair back after
five minutes, but you keep him in the shop fifteen minutes to give the
impression that you invested a lot of effort on his job, you are subtly
misleading him. Our Sages call this "geneivat daat" -- stealing someone's
But your case is different. You're not trying to score points with the
customer; you're just trying to stave off unfair resentment. In this case
the customer doesn't have to know how little time you need to get the job
done. (Of course it goes without saying that you can't lie about this.)
This is like "reverse discrimination:" If you drag out the repair for
five minutes instead of the two you really need, you're not giving the
false impression that you spent unusual effort on the job - you're giving
the accurate impression that you spent a normal amount of time on it.
A similar case we discussed in a previous column is when a slightly
misleading impression is necessary to counteract an unfair bias. [See:
"can I remove my kippah for a job interview".]
Of course it's better if you can avoid misleading the customer altogether.
Try to learn how to explain to customers how only your expertise
enables you to give them such quick service.
SOURCES: Babylonian Talmud Chullin 94b; Rabbi Aaron Levine, Case Studies in
Jewish Business Ethics p. 330.
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