Enterprisingly Me x

Enterprisingly Me is a monthly feature where you can follow my entrepreneurial adventures. Names have been changed to protect the innocent but everything you read really happened.

I hope my story inspires you to take your first steps, or if you already have, then it lets you know you’re not on your own. Starting and running a successful business isn’t about being perfect. It’s about loving what you’re doing, learning from your mistakes and keeping the faith!

I’ve recognised that building positive relationships with both our customers and our suppliers will be crucial to the overall success of our business. It allows us to grow the business by offering exceptional experiences which help us to increase business but do it in a way where everyone enjoys the experience.

We depend on so many people in our quest to grow a successful business – in no particular order, these include:

Staff – keeping staff happy all of the time has its challenges but I continue to look for ways of helping them to recognize the important part they play in the overall success of the business and to reward them accordingly.

Suppliers – we depend on so many individuals and organisations to provide us with good service but we can’t forget that we also have a responsibility to show them good customer service.

Partners – we pride ourselves on being easy and helpful to deal with. I believe in the saying what goes around comes around in that we receive what we give!

Customers – we aim to make our customers happy and, when they’re not, we do our best to resolve problems in a fair and equitable way. You always have the odd person who has their own agenda (often linked with trying to get out of paying or reducing their costs ) however we try our best to overcome issues as they arise and try to agree on a positive outcome for everyone.

Let me give you an example of something that happened to me recently and I’ll leave you to decide whether you think this was a good way to deal with customers.

My staff and I visit a locally owned small delicatessen at least twice a week. The products are highly-priced but usually of decent quality. Although a regular visitor to the shop for over 20 years, I still haven’t reached the dizzy heights of being in their ‘in-crowd’. The staff uses the same drawstring voices to sing/speak to you with no room for ‘normal’ conversation or light-hearted chit chat. I can accept this as the shop is on the edge of town, very close to our office, with very little competition close by. That is until recently when a genuine mistake by one of their staff resulted in a catalogue of errors in relation to providing good customer service. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring out the best in me either but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether my responses were appropriate!

I placed my order for three pieces of salted caramel brownie and three pieces of carrot cake and then turned my attention to an email that needed to be answered on my phone whilst I waited for them to be wrapped. They use brown paper bags and then place them in a carrier bag so I had no way of knowing what was in the bags until I returned to the office. On opening the bags I realised Think Enterprise | 19

that instead of giving me brownies they had given me some kind of cake. As I was about to go into a meeting, a member of staff offered to return the cakes to exchange for the correct ones.

On finishing my meeting I was surprised to find the offending cakes still in our possession. We had been told that they couldn’t exchange the cakes and we would need to purchase the brownies separately. Now I don’t know about you, but given the mistake was not mine, I thought it unfair to be asked to pay again and keep cakes we didn’t want. This starts to sound petty, and it stopped being about the cost of purchasing new cakes, it was about the principle… How many times have you heard people saying that its about the principle – was it fair to ask us to pay for goods we hadn’t asked for?

So back I went cakes in hand, to the offending shop to see if I could get them to see sense. Facing the member of staff who served me I was told that because of Food Hygiene regulations, once goods had left the shop they couldn’t be exchanged. As a Food Hygiene Trainer, I’m well aware of the rules however wasn’t sure how these rules were appropriate for goods I clearly hadn’t asked for. But hey ho, I recognise a typical jobsworth when I see one – when in doubt fall back on the ‘rules’.

The assistant tells me that she thought I asked for Caramel Cake. ‘Well I didn’t ‘ I say. The assistant then goes to the back of the shop to find the owner leaving me standing at the counter in earshot of other customers. After a few minutes, the owner enters the shop completely ignoring me and asks another customer, by name (obviously one of her ‘in-crowd’) if she is being served before turning to me to ask what the problem is.

I repeat my now tiresome story about asking for brownies and getting the cake to which I am told that if I’d been watching the assistant pack the food I’d have realised that she had misheard me. My response was that I hadn’t appreciated my responsibility in supervising her staff! I was then told that she had checked CCTV (What? For three brownies I hear you say?) and that the member of staff had clearly repeated to me Caramel Cake. I asked if she had checked the CCTV for my request which evoked a negative response. As you can imagine at this point I was furious – would anyone want to lose business over three pieces of chocolate brownie? At that point, I made to leave the shop with a bit of a flounce stating that myself and my ten members of staff would not be frequenting the shop in the future and leaving the offending pieces of cake on their counter. The owner then called over to her assistant to give me the brownies with a parting comment of ‘There, now you’ve got your brownies’ as if that was going to pave the way for future positive relationships. Well, what do you think?

So what went wrong here and what can I take away from this experience to consider how we deal with the people who support our business?

The mistake could have been rectified quickly and effectively by simply exchanging the offending foodstuffs. Disposing of the returned cake would have been a very little cost to the business. In fact, the cake was in disposable containers which hadn’t even been opened. However, rules are rules and I understand that!

Common sense must prevail somewhere along the line and staff should be given the opportunity to use their own judgment when dealing with situations which have a low financial impact but the high reputational impact on the business

Customers are powerful people and although they’re not always right, as old school customer service training might lead us to believe, they have a very powerful online and offline voice

No one came away from this encounter happy and there were so many opportunities to turn this situation around. Unfortunately, it often becomes about who’s right not what’s right

Worth thinking about?