Thursday 22 February 2018

Safeguard against workplace theft by removing temptation

Review things and see if there are enough systems in place to deter people. Photo: Andrey Popov
Review things and see if there are enough systems in place to deter people. Photo: Andrey Popov

Feargal Quinn

QI have just experienced a really distressing phase in my business, where I had to let go a member of staff who had been taking cash from the till over a prolonged period of time, which amounted to a very large amount of money. I feel foolish. What steps do I need to take?

AI am sorry to hear that and certainly, foolish shouldn't be one of the emotions that you are feeling.

Life has a habit of throwing up things that you don't expect, and sometimes there is little you can do about them. I had a similar experience back in my early days in Superquinn, and I was genuinely upset that it had happened.

The individual involved taught me a really good lesson, which stood me throughout the rest of my career. The staff member in question said to me, among a number of other things, that it was really easy for her to take money without being noticed.

From that day forward, the culture within Superquinn was about putting deterrents into place so that nobody became tempted. That is the way any business that deals in cash should look at this topic. When I appointed new managers, I always had a conversation with them to say that part of their responsibility was not to put temptation in anybody's way and to make sure that we had procedures and processes that deterred anyone from doing so.

My advice to you now is to review every single system you have and ask the question: "Are there enough systems and processes to deter someone from being dishonest?"

Look at every aspect of the job under this microscope and you will find that there are lots of simple steps you can put into place that will ensure that neither your staff, nor you, are in this position again in the future.

QDo customers care any more if products or businesses are Irish?

ACertainly a lot of the research conducted at the height of the recession suggested customers were embracing Irish provenance in a greater way. People recognised that if they could support more Irish products, it would help the economy. That may be changing somewhat with increasing affluence. However, I think 'Irishness' will always have a role.

For some products, being Irish means it is fresher, has fewer food miles and might even have local credentials that appeal to the customer.

For other categories, being Irish might be a mandatory requirement for some customers for products such as beef or milk. The notion of imported products in these categories might incense many customers. There are, however, contradictions and if you look at the restaurant sector and the use of chicken, you will find that the vast majority of chicken is imported, and very few customers seem to care. I do see operators like Supermac's shouting loudly that they only use Irish chicken, and this obviously creates a point of difference.

I think putting 'Irish' on a product, and expecting it to sell on that basis alone, is not going to work. If, however, it happens to be a great product with some unique selling points and happens to be Irish, then it is important that the business calls this out, as for many customers, it is a nice bonus.

Back in the day, Superquinn was the first retailer to flag up on the checkout receipt which products from its shopping were Irish, and what percentage of the overall bill was spent on Irish goods. By doing this, we started to focus customers on the way that they behaved and this small step helped to focus many on increasing their Irish spend.

QHow do I handle customer complaints that appear on TripAdvisor or Facebook?

AThe landscape for customers expressing frustration has changed dramatically. It is now possible, within one hour of something going wrong, for dozens of people to be involved in the debate about the problem, and if not handled properly, the issue can become damaging to the business's reputation.

Responding is all about speed and being seen as a caring business that wants to deal with the problem quickly. Issues will arise, and even the best of businesses get things wrong.

You need to be monitoring social media and digital platforms well, so that if a complaint does appear, you respond as quickly as possible. My advice is not to engage with any conversation with the customer online, as this could turn into a bigger problem, with you trying to defend the business and other customers joining in.

The best advice is to apologise online and give the customer a phone number to contact you and private message them in parallel. By doing this, it allows you to move the conversation offline and on to a phone dialogue between you and the customer, without dozens of commentators involved. It will be important that your initial contact message is sympathetic and gives a sense that you want to solve the problem immediately.

When it comes to solving the problem itself, my experience from Superquinn was that we never questioned a customer. We had the rare occasion when the customer brought back the wing of a chicken and said the chicken had gone off and we never even questioned it. The ethos should always be to resolve the problem and have the customer happy with the outcome.

There are some great case studies online where businesses did such a good job at resolving complaints, they ended up getting praise from other customers. The damage that can be done by not resolving a complaint satisfactorily is enormous.

QSadly, I had to wind up my business last year as tough times over the past eight years have taken their toll. I feel like a failure and am at a crossroads.

ASorry to hear that things have not gone according to plan, but you need to separate the words 'failed' and 'failure' as they are two entirely different things. You are certainly not a failure. You have successfully run a business for quite a long period from what you have said, and just because the business failed during a difficult trading period, does not make you a failure.

Someone was telling me they heard 'Mattress Mick' giving a talk and that he was inspiring. He made the very same point and went on to tell his audience that he "dusted himself down" when one of his businesses had to close and reinvented his business model. He now has a hugely successful business.

My advice would be to do the same. It would be easy to focus on the stress that the recent months have brought about, but that will serve no purpose. Take some time to stand back and look at new business models, applying the experience and expertise you have gained over the past decade to pinpoint opportunity areas. I listened to Brody Sweeney on the radio describing when he lost the O'Brien's Sandwich Bar chain but reinvented himself and opened a new successful business called Camile Thai.

Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. Look forward to your next chapter.

Send your small business questions to himself@feargalquinn.ie

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