I still read the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday paper. Even as it gets thinner and filled more with advertising circulars than news, I enjoy reading a few sections over breakfast. Yesterday, a story in the Currents section caught my eye.
The story was about a 34-year tenured employee with Acme being fired over an incident at the store where he was taking inventory.
Having forgotten his glasses, the veteran produce manager took one pair that was in display. To use them in the back (the glasses never left the store), he removed the price tag.
A customer, who had shopped at that particular store and got to him over time, wrote an email to the paper to share his dismay at the recent finding that one of his friends, a manager at the produce department, was fired recently.
According to the Inquirer, Acme fired the employee who an impeccable record at the company for violating its employee purchase policy - a move the company has declined to discuss. The delicate matter, which is headed for arbitration, hit this customer particularly hard, as illustrated in his deeply felt e-mail.
The story by staff writer Maria Panaritis is very balanced - it takes into account the issues retail chains face over employee thefts, and gives both the fired employee and the concerned customer a fair hearing. Not surprisingly, the statement issued by Acme sounds very official:
"ACME Markets has a long-standing tradition of building positive relationships with its associates, customers and the community-at-large," the statement said. "While we cannot comment about the specifics of an individual associate due to confidentiality reasons, we can say that it is our policy to diligently investigate serious matters, weigh all factors under consideration, and act accordingly." more here
What interested me was the story narrated by the customer. Apparently many other readers thought so as well. The poll tallied 655 votes by people who took the time to read. At the time when I looked at the poll results last night, the story also had 122 comments.
While the company's president Judith Spires long-term view on customer needs is refreshing, especially in retail, this employee risks losing his house. As the customer writes:
"It was wrong. It was dumb. But, particularly in this economic environment, should it cost him his job? He has young children. He has 30 years with the company. Working produce is the only job he ever had."
Employees can form strong bonds with customers. Those are the relationships your company has in the marketplace - they define your brand. How do you respond to them? Do you? I realize that this is a complex situation, and see everyone's point of view.
The company doesn't want to create a precedent - a policy was in place. Would the business have responded differently had the company been smaller? What do you think? Today at Fast Company expert blog we answer the question - are you prepared for the @reply?
[image of poll offered by The Inquirer]