Saturday, August 9, 2014

Failure Opportunities (Tradecraft)

My real job is process management. That means I create policies, procedures and work flows that maximize customer satisfaction, reduce errors, increase efficiency and allow for increased "mind-space" for additional processes to feed back into this system. I'm no expert at it. In fact, I've got a management style that's looser, more egalitarian and less ordered than most, which makes my job a little bit harder. The longer I stay in this business, the more process management will be my focus.

In stock Tuesday
I really hate when our processes break down, when we fail to perform. Hopefully, we've built in enough safeguards to counter a process failure, but sometimes we just can't win. Our job inevitably comes down to having stuff, having customers to sell that stuff to, and having the facility to make that sale. Any break down in that multi faceted process and everything comes to a halt. That's what happened yesterday with the release of the new D&D Next Player's Handbook.

That failure looked like this. Someone sitting in their living room last Sunday afternoon used my stolen business credit card number to buy airline tickets at an online travel site. The $1,300 sale instantly set off alarms at the credit card company. They texted me alarm. I texted back my denial. The sale was declined and a few minutes later, the card canceled, another card promised in a few days. This happens about once a year, but that's another story about the American credit card industry.  Monday morning our D&D order should have auto shipped from Wizards of the Coast with my credit card on file.

The card was obviously declined. Wizards let me know later on Monday. I called early Tuesday morning with a new card. The order was confirmed and it normally would have shipped that day. A Tuesday ship means a Friday delivery for me, so I hedged by buying a bunch of product through our local distributor, just in case.

This exception at Wizards didn't go well, with a process flaw on their end, since my order was now an exception to their process.  The order never actually shipped. Our local distributor order didn't cover all the pre-orders, mostly because I was hedging, knowing I had 40 copies of the book arriving that afternoon. Big mistake. The whole system collapsed after our Fedex order arrived with no books and that uncomfortable phone call to WOTC was made. Failure.

Not only would I lose sales over the weekend, but I had promised people this book, people who had given me money and trusted me. This is an opportunity of sorts. Before I talk about that, let me say I truly am sorry about what happened. I don't want to make light of a broken promise or a process failure in all its complexity. It sucks. I'll do what I can to make it right. I've contacted each of them. I'll pay a price for sure. But here's how failure opportunities work:

It's generally believed that good customer service should be the norm. Not being a screw up, besides what others might tell you, is expected. Nobody talks about how they didn't get their coffee order screwed up today. However, they will tell, on average, about ten people, if their coffee order was screwed up  (mine was messed up last night at the Barnes & Noble cafe in Emeryville). People like to talk about their drama. Everyone does it. So screwing up and not fixing it is an enormous negative hit, essentially anti advertising.

Now, what would it take to fix it? Make me another cup of coffee and you've inconvenienced me further and made the experience less than great. Could you take an extra step to fix the problem? You tell your friends your coffee order was screwed up and they make you a new coffee, and give you a free muffin? That's conversation worthy, although, I'll admit, the corporatization of this process will take the sincerity out of the equation. Manager on register four! Muffin compensation override!

How about an apology song sung by the manager? Just change the words to Happy Birthday. You can't really overdo this. I read a business book about a very successful bicycle shop. They screwed up an order for a kids birthday. The owner took that bike, adorned with streamers and birthday wrappings, and drove it thirty miles to hand deliver it to the customers door. I might have made up the streamers bit, but you get the idea. You're not trying to pacify your customers, you're trying to win them over. Wizards shipped our books Fedex Air to get them in ASAP, which is a personal bicycle delivery of sorts.

Make it better. Fix it for the customer and it's just an extension of your process management. It's an opportunity to show you care. It's an opportunity to spread the word that this business is not just about making a buck. They go the extra mile. It feels good too. If you're concerned about cost, try to think about what that customer is worth to you. I once figured ours spends an average of $600 over their lifetime sales with us. Or put "screw ups" as a line item in your marketing budget. Whatever it takes. Seize that failure opportunity.

And I truly am sorry.


  1. FYI, you can have a backup cards on-file with Wizards. For years, the card I wanted to use with them would throw up a fraud alert for about 1/3 of Wizards charged ("Did you make a purchase for $xxxx at a hobby shop in Seattle?"), so I had to put a second card on file so Wizards could just roll over and charge the backup, getting the stuff on a truck.

  2. Thanks. Didn't know that was an option.

  3. Came to the website today to see if there was mention of this book, and found this. Kudos to your transparency in what must have been a difficult situation. I'll be buying mine at your store.

  4. It is a shame in my mind that your store is no where near where I live at. Because if you explained this is what happened to my pre-order I would have laughed and said no problem let me know when it comes in. Kudos to you.

  5. "the corporatization of this process will take the sincerity out of the equation"

    Not sure I agree with this. Has any customer ever complained, "they screwed up and gave me a free muffin, but they do that for EVERYBODY"?

  6. I think the key is how it's done at the corporate level. You have to empower individual employees, the folks in the trenches, the authority to make things right. They need to have the ability to comp a coffee, give the occasional free muffin or coupon when there's an issue, no questions asked (within reason). They need to be trained in failure management so they own the entire beginning to end transaction with the customer. Employees WANT to serve the customer but rarely have the power to do so. For coffee it's pretty easy. Trusting an employee with a bicycle is a higher order of magnitude.

    The wrong way is the typical top down policy with a feedback dynamic. The "muffin problem" begins to be measured and when it's measured, the process gets warped and extra criteria are put in place for that free muffin. There's now a free muffin meeting in a board room somewhere with a guy in a tie talking muffin costs and pointing to a line chart. Next we have an adversarial relationship, where the employee is now penalized for that free muffin, since they clearly are at fault, Or there's a designated free muffin (bran is my guess). Because it's mechanistic, the custom is then enticed to attempt to acquire this mythical screw up muffin, since it's a well known corporate policy. This might sound fanciful, but it's what happens.

  7. Yes, I agree that there will be problems with it for the seller. But I don't think sincerity, or lack thereof, is the issue. Speaking for myself as a consumer, sincerity never crosses my mind: if I get something extra for a screw-up, I'm usually happy.

  8. Sure, you're pacified. I want you to be won over. Or maybe it doesn't take as much as I'm thinking.

  9. Your business savvy makes me want to work for you.

  10. I spent $40 at the Chessex booth at Gencon for a beer pitcher full of dice and that's it for me, basically. I guess I did buy a set of overzied dice when I was running PFS so people could see more easily see my rolls at the table, but that's it. I'm an outlier I guess.

  11. You might be. There are a couple types of people when it comes to dice. The functional folks who have the correct number of correct sized dice and anything else is unnecessary. Most wargamers are in this camp, which is why we sell vastly more polyhedral sets than D6 sets.

    The second type of customer sees dice as another form of gaming expression. They buy a set of dice, and usually a matching dice bag, for each character or campaign they're running. I'll admit to being in that camp. A new game is an excuse to buy a new set of dice and bag.

    Whether you or I are the outlier is hard to say.

  12. You wouldn't see a lot of that on display, believe me.

  13. CategoryOneGames.comAugust 14, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    I find the same thing with card sleeves, the more options you have the better they sell. With older CCG's that I sell, having the full line helps me sell it vs. having 1 or 2 sets out of 5 or whatever is in the line.

  14. Definitely. That was my recent advice too. Get ALL the card sleeves. Can't have too many. We carry half a dozen different brands, often just a few packs deep. CCG customers shop where they find their sleeves.

  15. CategoryOneGames.comAugust 14, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    Yup, I also try to buy something every time I game/play at a store and sleeves are usually my normal purchase.

  16. Lol its okay I have a good job but I appreciate reading your posts about marketing and whatnot as I've always had an interest in this sort of thing. Your business sense is much more calculated than my employers seems to be. Anyway I'm happy for your success and wish you more in the years to come, thanks for the wonderful shop in my neighborhood.

  17. You can find wargamers who fit both camps actually. I've got a terrible knack of losing my polyhedrals somewhere between my house and the FLGS whenever playing Force on Force is the plan for the evening, and with my favoured mechs in Battletech being bucket o' dice monsters I tend to always take the chance to grab a matched pair of D6 that I don't already have.

    It suddenly occurs to me that I have done exactly as you described in the past though. If there's lots of choice I am likely to pick up some new dice just for the hell of it, however if there's only the picked over remains of what was a fully stocked shelf of sets and individuals to choose from I will often pass.

  18. That is very sweet :)

    I am all about big dice. Fed up with those small dice packaged with games I have lots of nice big dice.

    Though I would love some casino dice that haven't been drilled. You know the square corners, translucent material to check for bubbles, etc. Why isn't there a dice manufacturer making these that I know about! (The casino dice ones all seem to only sell to businesses.)

    Less likely to roll 1's with casino dice you know :)