Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Thinking Differently about Heroes

On an otherwise uninspiring Monday evening in early December, I went to a local grocery store to pick up a package of frozen puff pastry my wife needed.  I knew where it was but didn’t see it in its usual place in the row of freezers.   I asked a nearby store employee if perhaps it had moved.   He helpfully looked but could see from the label on the empty shelf they were out.  “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.  “Hey, supply chain issues even impact puff pastry!” I added, lamely attempting humor.   I moved on to pick up a couple other items. 
A few minutes later, as I was walking to the checkout line, the same employee came trotting down the main aisle, a package in hand.   He caught my eye and excitedly handed me a box of the frozen pastry.  “We had one more but it had fallen to the floor of the freezer!”   
This was excellent customer service...I thanked him profusely and emailed the store the next day to tell them about it.   He was a hero, going above and beyond normal expectations.   
We celebrate such heroes and love these stories.   But is there more we can learn? 
What if that last package had NOT fallen to the floor of the freezer?   What if the shelf design made it harder for a package to slip and fall?   What if a daily routine for the frozen food folks included shelving anything that had fallen?   What if there was a simple light sensor on the bottom of the freezer to alert staff something had fallen?  
What if the hero wasn’t necessary at all?   
A hero is one who performs a workaround which corrects a system failure.   It’s the rep who drives four hours out of her way on a weekend to deliver a needed back order.   It’s the mechanic who comes in at 4am to get a crucial machine running again.   It’s the entry-level high school kid who realizes the customer who wanted puff pastry might still be in the store and tracks him down. 
While thanking the hero, might we be wise to not stop there?   And then say “how do we improve our system to make this workaround irrelevant in the future?”   

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