The occasional “we’re out of that” happens and most customers are understanding. But sometimes, shame on you if you own or run a business and “run out of” something. It can be a make or break for your business. It can tell the world what to expect of you going forward even if it’s just a fluke. You’ve heard the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression”, right? Sometimes you get one chance to “wow” (or scare) a customer.
The worst and best example of this is the opening of a new business, especially a restaurant. I’ve worked in the hospitality industry most of my career. And I was part of many “opening teams” for new restaurants, theatrical shows and attractions. It’s expected that things will go wrong, thus the term “soft opening” (working out the kinks before a lot of marketing to announce “we’re open”). Then there are the businesses that have been around a way but maybe they’ve become to big for their britches or just complacent. And because hiccups are expected in any kind of business, management teams need to plan for problems to minimize bad PR and business loss.
Two examples of “running out” of products that recently irked me:
- The new restaurant – I recently patronized a new restaurant that was seemingly out of EVERYTHING. I thought I was being punked the THREE times I tried to place my dinner order. No chicken, no shrimp, no salmon. I just wanted to say, “just tell me what you actually have”. Eventually I did say “Can someone run to Costco and pick up some inventory to cook?” Actually, someone in my party offered to go to Costco for them. Seriously people. Think outside of the box. You have customers who have showed up, money in hand, ready to buy what you’re selling. They are literally saying, “I’ll buy that.” And chances are they showed up because someone told them to. You probably didn’t even need to spend money to attract them. Shame on you for “running out” of menu items, especially when there was a way to avoid it.
- The Skinny Mocha Problem – I’m addicted to skinny (sugar free mocha) at Starbucks but it’s not always available. That sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear “we’re out of skinny mocha” is like telling a child that you’re not celebrating his or her birthday. It’s a treat for me. I trust it will be there for me when I want it and money is never an issue. One day a barista taught me, “We didn’t make it today, so we’re not really out. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll make it for you. It will take two to minutes.” That barista continued to let me peek behind the curtain by telling me “making the mocha” is supposed to happen first thing in the morning. Some baristas “wait until someone orders it” before they make it. Understandable to some extent. I’ve literally (and still do) say, “Are you out or did you just not make it yet because I can wait?” This has proven to annoy many of them. This was a big eye opener for me. All of a sudden, I no longer trusted any barista who said “we’re out” and assume they’re either lazy or apathetic. The bottom line is there are certain locations I now avoid in order to avoid the possible disappointment of not getting what I want.
While these sound like “high class problems”, they share some fundamentals in common that relate to your business and sales – disappointing the customer by not selling them what you say you sell. More importantly, you squash their ability to trust you and that kills the relationship you’ve worked hard to build.
The same holds true about service businesses where your “widget” are the people who fulfill services. Not having the talent to deliver the business is also a way to hurt your business.
“Running out” of something says this about your business:
- You suck at planning to service your customers the way need and want
- You don’t care enough about your customers
- Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are not a strength for you
- Cash flow is a problem and this prevents you from fulfilling your promises
- You haven’t empowered your team to make things happen and have ultimately set them up to fail, which makes you a jerk
Instead of running out of product (or services), run out to the “store” and get the inventory you need to keep the cash coming in. If you feel this is easier said than done, it might be time to make some tough decisions.
Customer Service = Sales. Everyone in your organization needs to realize they’re in sales, including you as the leader.