Tuesday 12 December 2017

Problem solver: One of our best customers has been stealing from us

People engage in shoplifting for a variety of reasons, ranging from need through illness to addiction, but ultimately the problem cannot be ignored by a business. Stock image
People engage in shoplifting for a variety of reasons, ranging from need through illness to addiction, but ultimately the problem cannot be ignored by a business. Stock image

Q: One of my staff approached me to say that they had noticed one of our very good customers stealing stock on a number of occasions. How should I handle this?

A: Sadly, over the years this was a problem some of my managers in Superquinn had to deal with. There isn't a black-and-white answer that I can give you, but here are some thoughts for you to reflect on.

People shoplift for many different reasons. Sometimes it is out of pure necessity in order for them to survive, sometimes there is a criminal element to it and on other occasions it can be a form of illness.

Obviously, you need to be 100pc certain that what the staff member has said to you is correct and you might choose to observe further before taking any action. You could make it blatantly obvious that you know by getting your security staff to observe in a rather overt fashion. This may frighten the customer off; however there will always be an ongoing trust issue.

You could take legal advice and I am sure there would be grounds for barring the customer without having to give them a reason.

However, my experience in this situation is that the customer you barred has to find an excuse as to why they are not shopping with you and sometimes they can cause even more problems for you by bad-mouthing the service levels at your business, so that route is also not without its risks.

Of course, you could also have your security staff observe quietly and if they are absolutely certain, they could apprehend the customer once he or she has left the shop and call the gardaí with the aim of a prosecution.

One of the most unusual approaches I saw one of my managers take was to start chatting to a well-known customer in the car park, who he knew had a bottle of wine hidden in her handbag. He instigated a conversation with the customer, supposedly about another anonymous customer who had just stolen meat. The result was that we never saw the customer again.

Do think about the possible options you will take as there are implications to each one.

Q: One of my staff is using recreational drugs. Initially it wasn't evident in their work, but more recently their work has been falling. What are my rights as an employer in this situation?

A: Your rights are a legal issue and I will leave that to others to advise you on what you can and can't do within the rules of the law. As an employer, I can advise you to look at other possible solutions, assuming that this person was once a good employee, who might now be in a difficult position.

There are now many third-party companies who provide supports for employees in difficulty; for example, counselling services, doctors, etc. It might be worth your while to sit down with one of these companies and see what supports they could provide your employee in this situation and if you're able to fund a number of sessions for them, then it would be a good thing to do.

Employees are human and sometimes people go in the wrong direction. I realise that it will be awkward for you to raise this conversation but if it has become as evident as you say, then I think it will be no shock to the employee that you are having this conversation with them. At the very least, be seen to offer support before you have to take some other, more formal route.

Q: I have a small business that has grown rapidly over the last number of years. We now have 15 staff but I have no HR experience and I am now finding problems occurring. Is there any advice you can give me?

A:  Human resource management has become complex over the last decade. There are now far more rules and laws in place then there would have been and there is an obligation in your business to be legally compliant with these regulations.

As well as legal compliance, there are also surrounding issues like staff motivation, recruitment and retention to be considered. In the short, a topic of HR deserves strong focus of any growing business.

It is unlikely that either you or any of your current team will have any of the expertise that is necessary and therefore I would recommend that you explore the possibility of contracting an external specialist, for an agreed number of hours per year, to provide you with expertise and input as and when required.

Many of the local enterprise offices throughout the country would have mentors who would specialise in HR and it could be good to start at this point, as these mentors would be able to guide you on the process of selecting a suitable external HR company to work on an ongoing basis.

I also think that it would be a good idea if you or one of your fellow directors would specialise in the top-level subjects within HR, so you could get best value from your external provider.

Send your small business questions to himself@feargalquinn.ie

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