Favorite Firing: Store Manager Shoots Customer With Febreze

downloadHere is a situation where I was sympathetic to the employee who got fired, but agreed completely with the employer who fired him. No matter how poorly a customer behaves, an employer cannot tolerate its employees overreacting the way this employee did.

The Facts: Gavyn Edlinger, was a manager at a Family Dollar store in Michigan. He believed that some customers were stealing merchandise from the store.

Theft is a real problem in many retail establishments, and as a manager of this store, he was right to be concerned. But there are limits to how far store employees can go in trying to stop thefts.

Mr. Edlinger called 911—what Family Dollar’s policy instructed him to do, and a perfectly appropriate response to his suspicion. He then followed the alleged shoplifters out of his store to get their license plate number, as the 911 dispatcher requested.

Unfortunately, rather than backing away when the customer confronted him, Mr. Edlinger engaged in a heated exchange of words with one of the alleged shoplifters. It’s unclear who started it, but the argument was caught on a third party’s cell phone, was later posted to YouTube, and went viral.

It is indisputable in the video that Mr. Edlinger cursed at the customer and sprayed her with a can of Febreze (one of the items she allegedly pilfered).

He later admitted to a local new station, “I just lost it. In a bad way.”

The Moral: No matter what a customer does, nor how badly a customer treats them, store employees must remain professional or risk discipline or termination.

In this situation, the video shows the customer behaving as inappropriately as the store manager.

While the old adage that “the customer is always right” may not apply in this case, it is nevertheless true that a store’s image and reputation demand that its employees respond professionally—particularly its managers.

In this case, Family Dollar states that it has a policy that employees who suspect customers of shoplifting should call police. Mr. Edlinger did so, but didn’t leave it up to the police to respond. He says that the police seldom respond where this store is located. Regardless, he should not have gone ballistic the way he did.

Thankfully for Family Dollar, Mr. Edlinger admits his conduct was inappropriate. He told the local news station, “Can’t really blame [Family Dollar], I understand the liability aspect of it.”

And so should we all.

When have you observed retail employees behave unprofessionally?


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How To Improve Customer Service at Emotional Times

crying-on-the-phone-300x225A close relative of mine recently died, and I have been helping the next-of-kin deal with the aftermath of death. We spent most of a week calling the funeral home, bank, church, insurance companies, and other businesses to inform them of our relative’s passing and to make the necessary arrangements.

Some of the organizations we dealt with were good at customer service, but many were not. I have several suggestions for how all businesses can improve their customer service when they are dealing with people in difficult emotional circumstances.

And don’t most businesses encounter emotional customers at one time or another?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Minimize the time the customer has to spend on hold, from the first contact to the final call. Grieving individuals will lose focus while you are away from the phone. Moreover, they will get annoyed and believe you don’t care about them.
  2. Don’t play the typical Muzak if you have to put customers on hold. It grates on the nerves of the bereaved to hear vapidly cheerful music. A soft classical selection would be a better fit, but nothing too common that they will remember later on, bringing the moment of their grief back to mind.
  3. If you have a call center that uses scripting, be sure your representatives are prepared to say “I’m sorry for your loss” if they hear of a death without having to look it up in the script. It is disconcerting for the bereaved to hear typing in the background, then for the representative to say he or she is sorry. A human response is more valued if it is genuine, so let your employees sound genuine. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be in a customer service job.
  4. Get back to your customer when you say you will. Even if you don’t have any new information to provide, if you promised an update by 10:00am Wednesday, then call them back to give a status report by 10:00am Wednesday.
  5. Be absolutely accurate in what you tell customers. And if you give them information orally, follow it up with an email or other written correspondence. People don’t think clearly and their short-term memories don’t work well when they are emotional. They will forget what you told them, which is only to be expected.
  6. Recognize that customers who get angry at you are often venting. Try not to take the situation personally. But also take accountability when the problem is your responsibility. If you have been slow to respond, or if you provided inaccurate information, apologize. Profusely. And don’t do it again.

Frankly, these suggestions aren’t rocket science. But it is surprising that so many businesses that deal with people in emotional states aren’t better at customer service.

Don’t let your business be insensitive to your customers’ grief. The goal of any contact with a customer should be to make the customer feel better, not worse, even if only for the moment of your interaction.

When have you encountered excellent customer service in a difficult situation?

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Retirement Planning: Start Saving Young, Keep Saving—How Employers Can Help

I recently had a conversation with a young professional woman around thirty years old. She bought a house in the past year and has found it difficult to save beyond her 401(k) plan at work while making her mortgage payment and furnishing the house.

But she hasn’t stopped her 401(k) contributions of ten percent of her income. I told her she was on the right track.

She explained how she planned to resume her deposits to her savings account, and I told her she was on an even better track.

I wish I saw more young employees with this mentality about the importance of savings.

That’s why I was interested to read “401(k)s With ‘Automatic’ Steering Drive Savings Success,” by Patty Kujawa, July 2, 2014, in Workforce Magazine online. Employers can do a lot for their employees’ future financial health by automatically deducting a portion of their wages and depositing it into a 401(k) account.

Most young workers don’t think about retirement. It’s not that they don’t want to save, it’s that they don’t spend any time worrying about what financial resources they will need thirty or more years out.

Employers can help by setting up automatic deductions. Inertia will keep most young workers in their 401(k) accounts, which means most employees will save without any effort on their parts, and will be better off in the future for doing so.

New York Life published an infographic showing how 401(k) plans can grow, based on a variety of assumptions about employee contributions and how automatic enrollment features can encourage employees to save.


Accounting Degree Review has another good infographic showing the power of compounding interest. (And, no, you don’t need an accounting degree to understand it.)


Employers committed to best practices will also educate their workers about the importance of savings and match a portion of their employees’ contributions.

The best thing that employers can do is provide a company match in 401(k) plans. But even those that cannot afford a match can talk to their employees about how participating in the 401(k) plan can jumpstart their retirement income.

One of my previous employers stressed during frequent employee discussions about retirement planning how (1) Social Security, (2) employee and employer contributions to 401(k) plans, and (3) outside savings provided three sources of income in retirement—and together these three sources could provide financial security.

Now that I’m almost ready to tap these retirement income sources, I appreciate the lessons I learned, and that is what I hope my young friend learns also.

How do you educate employees about retirement planning?


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A Fourth of July Sale on My Novel

PTG Rickover coverI’ve had the ebook version of my novel Playing the Game on sale recently for just 99 cents, but the sale ends on July 6. This holiday weekend is your last opportunity to buy the book at this reduced price, which is offered in both the Kindle and Nook stores.

Since its publication late last year, Playing the Game has become a bestseller, and even reached #1 in the Kindle store for financial thrillers. It also was in the Top 20 legal thrillers last week. So if you like John Grisham, take a peek at Playing the Game.

One Amazon reader described the book as follows:

When Rick Players (CEO of toy company Playland) suffers a tragic accident, Playland’s head of HR, Maura Rodriguez, must fight the corporate America fight to keep the company afloat. This has all the trappings of a great tale of corporate fiction, but throw murder into the mix and you have a thriller. The story was so well written, I sailed through it in just one day. A brilliant story wrapped around reality, with believable characters and a plausible plot makes this novel one of the best choices of 2014.

I couldn’t ask for better praise than this.

Buy the book and take it on vacation with you this summer. As this reviewer said, it’s a fast read. Then let me know what you think. Click here to buy on Kindle, and here for Nook.

I hope you enjoy reading Playing the Game as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Remember, this sale ends July 6. Happy Independence Day!


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Mid-Year Self-Assessment (It’s Not Just About Performance Objectives)

R&O book coverI urged you at the beginning of June to assess your performance against your objectives. But self-assessment is far broader than just looking at your work objectives. Every so often I return to books that have been influential in my life. One of those is Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women, by Marian N. Ruderman and Patricia J. Ohlott. I’ve referenced that book before on this blog. Mid-year is a good time to review the Ruderman & Ohlott analysis of what high achievement requires, along with your performance objectives. Ruderman and Ohlott discuss five themes they found when researching high-achieving women (though I don’t believe the importance of these themes are limited to women). Their themes are:

  1. Acting authentically—keeping your daily actions congruent with your values and beliefs, and not in conflict with principles you hold dear
  2. Making connections—building relationships that matter, and and getting close to people who are important in your life
  3. Controlling your own destiny—acting with agency so that you take control of your life and your success
  4. Achieving wholeness—integrating all parts of your life into your personal sense of identity
  5. Gaining self-clarity—knowing who you are and how you fit into the world; you might call it gaining wisdom

Obviously, these themes are all integrated, and you can’t achieve success in one area without moving forward on others as well. But I have found this five-facet framework to be a usual tool for reviewing my life and determining where I need to focus most immediately. I’ve been returning to this book for around fifteen years now, and whenever I open it, I find something that I can work on. (Which makes sense, since none of us is ever perfect.) This summer, as I reflect on my life in all its facets, I feel good about the following:.

  • Authenticity: I am living my life in accordance with my values.
  • Wholeness: I like how the multiple parts of my life today—family, writing, consulting, mediating—combine to give me a sense of wholeness (though from day to day one aspect or another seems to be taking too much time). I’m not entirely where I want to be in designing my life, but I’m in better shape than at many points in my past.
  • Self-clarity: And after so many years of working on self-awareness, I hope I have some clarity about myself (though some of my family might differ).

However, I do have some things I am working on:

  • Connections: As an introvert, I struggle constantly with making connections. Who do I want in my life, beyond my family and closest friends?
  • Control: Because I am too likely to comply with others’ requests of me, I also have a hard time with controlling my own destiny—I let other people take my time and define my success too easily. I do pretty well, but I must constantly reassess how I am spending my time and what to do about where I’m out of balance.

This brief post is not sufficient to fully describe the five themes that Ruderman and Ohlott offer for those seeking success. But perhaps you can get the sense of how my self-assessment exercise works. At this point in your life and your year, you might take an hour to reflect on each of these five themes. Or use another reference to define areas for self-assessment. The importance is to spend the time in reflection. Where in your life are you going strong? Where do you need to rebalance? Find Standing at the Crossroads at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And for other posts on my blog about self-awareness, click here

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Pending Supreme Court Cases That Will Impact the Workplace

Supreme Court building, from Wikipedia

Supreme Court building, from Wikipedia

Two major employment issues are still pending before the Supreme Court this term. The first are the Affordable Care Act cases (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Sebelius). The second involves the constitutionality of President Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB and the validity of decisions made by those appointments (National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning).

Both questions could have huge impacts on the workplace. Given the complexity and contentiousness of these decisions, we may not see either of them until June 30. Or they could be issued today.

  1. The Affordable Care Act Mandates

The employers in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases are both privately held corporations, their stock shares controlled by their founding families. The employers argue that their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. Sections 2000bb et seq., are violated if they are forced to pay for certain forms of birth control, as mandated by the HHS regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act. The owners of these corporations argue that they have longstanding beliefs that these forms of birth control are immoral.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties state that they should not have to pay for insurance coverage subsidizing their employees’ purchase of these forms of birth control, nor should they be forced to pay the financial penalties in the ACA for employers that don’t provide health insurance coverage meeting the HHS requirements.

Although these are statutory cases under RFRA, there is an underlying constitutional question. The First Amendment provides, among other things, that “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. The issue is whether a law that applies generally (like the ACA), which says nothing directly about religion, but which does in fact impact the religious beliefs of some people, can violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Congress, when passing RFRA, ruled that the federal government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless the burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest. So the issues before the Supreme Court are (1) whether the ACA mandate furthers a compelling governmental interest and (2) whether the ACA mandate is the least restrictive means to do so.

While it seems odd to think that corporations could have rights to exercise religion, privately held corporations are often seen as extensions of their owners. Moreover, under the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United, if corporations have freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment, why wouldn’t they also have freedom of religion rights under the same amendment?

During the Supreme Court arguments in March, it appeared that the justices would split 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. But we won’t know until the opinion is issued.

Moreover, we don’t know how broadly the Court will rule.

  • Will the decision be limited to privately held corporations?
  • Will it cover other aspects of the ACA than the mandated coverage of certain classes of birth control, such as blood transfusions and other types of medical treatments that some religious groups object to?
  • Might it be read to cover far more than the ACA, such as statutes and regulations mandating equal treatment of women and homosexuals, contrary to some religious beliefs?

It will probably take years of litigation to resolve the unanswered questions from the Court’s coming ruling.

  1. Recess Appointments to the NLRB

In National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the issues are at least as far-reaching as those in the ACA cases. The Supreme Court will decide whether President Obama’s recess appointments of three NLRB members were appropriate.

The Recess Appointments Clause of the Constitution authorizes the president “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

The issue in the Noel Canning case is whether the president can only make recess appointments if the vacancy is created during the recess, or whether he can fill any vacancies that existed at the beginning of the recess—which is how modern presidents have interpreted it. While the text of the Constitution seems to indicate the former interpretation, there is clear practice supporting the latter interpretation.

If the justices use a strict constructionist interpretation, then far more than the Noel Canning decision—or even NLRB decisions for the last couple of years—are at stake. President Obama has made many recess appointments beyond those to the NLRB, as have other recent presidents. Many administrative decisions could be subject to challenge if the Supreme Court narrowly interprets the Recess Appointments Clause.

More Perspectives on Health Care ReformI think it is likely that President Obama will lose on these specific appointments, which were made when the Senate was still in pro forma sessions. However, the fact that the Court has not yet ruled probably means that there is a debate over how broad the opinion should be.

In other situations, Chief Justice Roberts has tried to find a minimally disruptive way to rule on major cases. We shall see if he attempts to do so in this case.

So, stay tuned! The next week should be interesting for SCOTUS watchers.

Any guesses as to what the Court might decide?

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Whose Side Am I on in the Publishing Debate? Mine

Amazon-logoThe Amazon/Hachette war in the publishing world has been raging in the writing blogosphere. Because I believe that the marketplace usually sorts out these problems over time, I don’t see the dispute as a moral problem, as some commentators do, but the fallout is important for writers, editors, publishers, and book sellers.

As a recap for readers who don’t follow publishing: Amazon and Hatchette (one of the Big 5 traditional publishing houses) have been unable to come to terms over how much Amazon will pay Hachette for books published by Hachette and offered on Amazon’s site. Because Hachette won’t agree to Amazon’s terms, Amazon has refused to permit pre-orders of Hachette books, not listed some Hachette authors, and lengthened delivery times on orders of Hachette books.

Hachette-Book-Group-LARGE111First of all, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. Yet.

As a self-published author, I don’t care that much what happens to the big publishers like Hachette. The Big 5 do very little to find or nurture new authors, and don’t provide much marketing help if they do buy a new author’s book. They spend most of their resources promoting blockbuster authors.

I have chosen to self-publish—so far—because I want to maintain control over my writing at all stages, from editing through cover design through marketing. I control the content of my intellectual property and the timeline of its release. I am satisfied with surviving on my own efforts, to reap my own successes and failures.

The time spent finding a literary agent, then a publisher, then working through their in-house systems is largely wasted time for authors, in my opinion. But the power of the marketplace is that others can disagree, and pursue their own route.

In contrast to the large publishing houses, Amazon has been very hospitable to new authors. Amazon provides largely free resources for both ebook production (Kindle Direct Publishing) and print on demand (CreateSpace) books. With these resources, an author with just a little technical ability can take a finished work and have it on sale within a day or two.

And Amazon offers authors a 70% royalty on ebooks sold at price points between $2.99 and $9.99—far more than what traditional publishers offer.

So why do I say I don’t have a dog in this fight . . . yet?

Because Amazon is the behemoth of the publishing world. At this point, Amazon sells over 40% of all books sold in the U.S., and 65% of all ebooks. Yes, there are many other suppliers of books, from physical book stores to other online marketers. But for the most part, authors have to figure out how to deal with Amazon to be successful.

For more on the state of the market, see Can Anyone Compete with Amazon?, by Jim Milliot, May 28, 2014, on Publishers Weekly.

Mr. Milliot states:

“Research conducted in March by the Codex Group found that in the month Amazon’s share of new book unit purchases was 41%, dominating 65% of all online new book units, print and digital. The company achieved that percentage by not only being the largest channel for e-books, where it had a 67% market share in March, but also by having a commanding slice of the sale of print books online, where its share in March was estimated at 64%.”

Other articles on Amazon’s dominance of the publishing market can be found here and here.

So writers are left with questions such as:

  • Will Amazon reduce the royalties it pays to authors?
  • Will Amazon stop carrying self-published books that don’t sell a certain number of copies?
  • Will Amazon start charging for its KDP and CreateSpace services?.

No one know the answers to these questions, and the answers could change at any time.

All authors can do is follow the industry news and do what makes sense for their work at each point in their careers.

Just as any supplier of any product must do. Authors are suppliers of content for the reading marketplace. No more and no less.

How do you prepare for market upheavals that could impact your work?


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