By Ricardo Tondowski, Dog Walker
A Quality Nightmare
I found myself headed to the local brick and mortar of a big national chain of pet stores.
My mission was to get a replacement for a “premium” dog leash that had malfunctioned after several short weeks. You know the kind – it’s got a big handle where a cord rolls in and out giving your dog freedom to roam up to 16 feet. They call it a flexible leash.
My leash had lost all flexibility when some internal plastic part broke and the leash stuck at 16 feet. I now had a tangled mess of cord wrapped around the handle – totally worthless!
I approached the counter with my mess and could see a look of “here we go again” on the face of Wes, the clerk.
A Call For Help
Wes promptly called Jim, the store manager, to come to his rescue.
Jim looked over my jumble of cord wrapped around non-functioning handle. He pointed to a piece of paper taped to the cash register that listed 8 products – including “retractable dog leashes”.
Jim asked “don’t you know retractable dog leashes are no longer part of our normal return process?”
Seems there had been too many returns of broken products. Jim explained how the quality folks at HQ had determined that customers or dogs were abusing the handles and claiming the product was defective when it broke.
Jim explained how he had been ordered not to accept returns.
Can’t Believe My Ears
I rarely return things to any store. It is almost always a fast and simple procedure. This time, it was looking like a disaster that would not go well.
I imagined the following:
- A purchasing clerk saved money on a 2 cent plastic part. They hit their performance measurement and might have gotten a bonus.
- The low priced parts came in and defects increased. The quality manager saw their precious six sigma charts go wacko. Customers must be stopped from returning these things.
- Some financial number cruncher came down hard on the product manager for increased costs. The numbers say you cannot accept customer returns.
- A low IQ VP at HQ saw bad reports and issued an order to fix the problem and fix it now. Don’t waste time on root cause; just fix the problem.
- Feeling the heat, the retail operations manager identified 8 products that had bad looking six sigma charts. An email to 100s of retail stores ordering a change to the return policy.
- Store Managers got the list and the order to change the return policy for the 8 items. 100s of store managers posted the list to their cash registers.
- Thousands of retail clerks found themselves in a no-win situation. Customers bringing back broken products and “management” has repealed the “customer first” core value.
Back to Reality
As my daydream wound down, I realized the store manager was talking to me. Something about “let’s go look at the retractable leashes and find a replacement”.
Jim was about to break the rules. He walked me over to the leash isle and explained that my “premium” brand had a reputation for failure.
Jim told me I could exchange my broken leash – only if I would take a different brand that was higher quality.
I compared my broken leash with the other brand and could see the difference in quality. For some bizarre reason, the two products were priced exactly the same. I went back to my dream and thought about some lazy pricing manager back at HQ; why would you stock two similar items with a huge quality variance and price them the same?
Product Exchange Complete
I selected a blue handled leash and waved goodbye to Wes as I left the store.
For me, Jim is the hero in the story. He is clearly stuck in a very broken process. Numerous process failures at HQ have led to unacceptable policy constraints at every retail store. Store employees are ordered to blame the customer for low quality products. The VP at HQ thinks they will soon see better looking charts and big bonus checks.
For Saboo, my dog, life is great. The new leash works like a charm. Let’s go for a walk.
I end with a final thought. Will Jim, the hero, remain working at this company? I would place my bet on Jim leaving for a better organization that understands what “customer first” means. You can add employee turnover to the long list of costs associated with poor quality.