Has Your Organization Cut Too Close to the Bone?

I have recently noticed a significant increase in the amount of time that I'm waiting in line or on hold for service. Take the other day for example. I was at the deli counter at the local Co-op store patiently waiting, as there was only one person servicing customers. When it was my turn, I asked for half a pound of turkey. The man next to me commented that he would be ordering a pound of the same meat for himself. The clerk turned to me and asked me if I minded if she sliced his meat before taking the rest of my order.

I wanted to tell her that yes I minded. I had company coming for dinner in a few hours and still had errands to run. However, I live in a small town and didn't want to make a mountain out of a mound of turkey so I reluctantly smiled and she proceeded. A part of me wanted to pull her aside to let her know that she had put me in an incomfortable position. The other part of me wanted to let the store manager know that having one person in the deli department on a Saturday was doing nothing to increase customer satisfaction. But instead, I left and I'm not sure when or if I will return.

I often hear small businesses complain how they are unable to compete with the big guys. I believe this is often used as an excuse for poor execution. Small business can compete by taking a different approach. Here's how you can do this.

You can cross train your people so that someone can step in when it appears there is a bottleneck in your service. Heck, you can even step in if it means it is easier for your customers to do business with you.

You can empower your people to make the right decision on behalf of your customers. This is clearly something most organizations fail to do. I witnessed this first hand yesterday when I visited a major bookstore. I was returning a children's book that was clearly never opened. I say clearly because the book was in a game and the seal was still in tact. The first clerk I encountered told me she did not have the authority to accept the book without a receipt, even though she could slide my credit card through their system and see it had been purchased there. She then called her manager who told me she was not authorized to accept this return without calling someone else. Finally the transaction was completed and I received a gift card back. I then proceeded to go to the back of the store and select an additional $25 worth of books. I would have purchased even more books had I not waited so long for a higher authority to approve my $15 return.

Stock inventory. I'm in search of a video camera with HD for an upcoming trip so I decided to go to a camera shop where I thought I could speak with an expert. Turns out the camera shop only had one video camera in their entire inventory to show me. Huh? Now before you start sending me nasty notes, I understand all about cash flow and the cost of holding inventory. But for Pete's sake, this is a camera shop. Why aren't there any cameras in there?

I'm thinking many organizations have cut too close to the bone. If you aren't in the business of service then I have to ask you what business you think you are really in. It's time to put some meat back on those bones, before your business starves to death.

I welcome your comments.


Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Human Resource Solutions

Author of the forthcoming book, Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011)

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