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)

Visit our newly updated web site http://www.yourhrexperts.com/generation/
to learn how your organization can leverage generational workforce challenges into opportunities. 

Subscribe to our free monthly electronic newsletter, jammed with resources, articles, and tips by clicking:

Visit Generation Integration blog: http://generationintegration.typepad.com/matuson/

Join our Job Search Mentoring Program: http://www.yourhrexperts.com/job-search-programs.html


Add New Comment


  • Kent Stephan Jensen

    I agree completely. The solution to fighting online shops - or big chains - or the competition just across the street is not to cut down on service and supply. That's clearly a losing formula. More and more often the way I'm treated as a customer simply baffles me.

    On the other hand, the few times I experience great service (or a great product) I instantly turn into a powerful marketing tool - running around recommending shops, products and services to new potential customers. That's clearly worth a lot these days - and it gives me hope, that the good guys will win this game.


  • Roberta Matuson


    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I can certainly understand why your friend would feel frustrated. But just for a moment, perhaps he could put himself in the position of the buyer. I'm less likely to buy a product I cannot see. I am most certainly not going back to a store that has no inventory. When I said this store only had one video camera (that wasn't a Flip camera), I was not kidding. Makes me wonder if they will be there when and if I have a problem. And this store touts itself as, "New England's Largest Photography Retailer." Just for kicks, I'd like to see how many cameras New England's Smallest Photography Retailer carries.


  • Koos Overbeeke

    Hi Roberta,

    I think and believe that yoy are absolutely right. Too many business have been trying to transform customers into users of their limited services. In the process they forgot that users who al willing to pay are customers and should be treated this way. These service providers are missing the point of their possible added value against Walmart and the like. On the other hand there is a problem. A friend a mine is in the retail business and he finds it very frustrating to supply a customer with tons of information and then see the customer go to buy the stuff with 10-20 % discount somewhere in a discount center. Of course he can lower his prices but then he cannot serve the way he wants to.
    So what is wisdom? To be frankly, I don’t know.