Please Make It Stop! How One Woman Spotted a Company Crisis

One day, in the middle of a call center, a very pregnant young lady (as opposed to being just a little bit pregnant) stood in the middle of the aisle that ran between dozens of cubicles and shouted at the top of her lungs: “Someone please listen to me! Something terrible is happening!” And it had nothing to do with being pregnant.

Company Crisis Solved by Laura Benjamin

THE STORY:

She was from Accounts Receivable. For days she’d been getting angry phone calls from customers saying the company had cleaned out their checking accounts. They’d placed a phone order for a few items and were charged for a whole lot more. One lady ordered 11 items and was charged for 110.

Customer Service had also gotten calls from folks who desperately begged, “Please, make it stop!” Delivery guys showed up at their doors and unloaded boxes upon boxes of product. One lady had asked that her items be delivered to her office. So there she was, holding the door open for the delivery guy, crying on the phone with boxes of product piling up all around her.

  • People who’d requested Express Delivery (like FedEx) were charged the $25 fee, multiplied by the quantity they’d never ordered.
  • Rapidly reduced inventory levels triggered purchasing, prompting automated requests to manufacturers to resupply depleted stock.
  • Shipping had to bring in extra trucks and add people to the packing line.
  • Phone reps didn’t know whether to ask for product to be returned or tell customers to keep it. 

It was totally out of control. And nobody had put the pieces together until this frustrated young lady from Accounts Receivable demanded attention.

Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers —Unknown

She’d tried to sound the alarm the nice way, the quiet way, the politically correct way. And nobody listened. Nobody took her seriously.

Till she made a spectacle of herself. They everybody noticed! And they hustled to pull together a team that worked late into the night trying to figure it all out.

HOW THE CRISIS WAS SOLVED

Turns out someone had worked on the phone order system a few days earlier. He’d removed the phone order audit filter, which allowed the computer system to add a “0” or “1” to the quantity of each order placed by phone. And he forgot to switch it back on.

It took a while, but the problem was solved. Protocols were created. Customers were made whole. And after a while, things returned to normal.

But nobody looked at that outspoken young lady quite the same way again.

She was a hero. She took a risk. She knew something was seriously wrong and took the bull by the horns. She put the pieces together.

And she had a healthy baby girl!

WHAT PEOPLE SAY THAT MAY SHUT US DOWN

People say lots of things that discourage us from stating concerns, frustrations, requests for action or change, including:   

  • You’re just too sensitive
  • You’re making a mountain out of a molehill
  • She’s such a troublemaker
  • He’s not a team player
  • You’re not open-minded OR you’re too open-minded
  • You’re being insensitive and might offend someone
  • She’s just too fussy
  • He’s always so negative
  • You’re not being strategic enough

And if we accept those labels and back down, it’s likely because it’s more about us than the issue at hand. We don’t want to rock the boat or appear uncooperative. Maybe we dislike conflict. We worry about our image and reputation.

Maybe more problems would be solved. Maybe we’d mentor more decisive and courageous leaders. Maybe confidence would grow and people would be willing to tackle more gnarly challenges.

Don’t let someone tell you that your issue or concerns are not important. Don’t let them shame you into becoming a mediocre player. Excellence is not always a popular place to be.

So, whatever happened to the guy who removed the audit filter? (People were placing bets.)

He kept his job. The leadership team knew that everyone makes mistakes, which often reveal vulnerabilities and creates an environment where problem solvers will shine!

Warning! Outspoken Woman Ahead

So I went and did it. I spent $30 to have a banner made, which I hung between two trees at the front of our property, on a main road, for all the world to see. Have you ever felt so strongly about something that you were willing to make a fool of yourself?

Confident Woman, Confident Leader

Yes, I could have been the person who kept my mouth shut. After all, much of my work comes from organizations that prefer people avoid picking sides in public.

But, it’s a risk I was willing to take.

Colorado Care Amendment 69

Some things are THAT important. (Colorado folks, read about A69 here. And yup, poor choice picking that number.)

FACTORS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU SPEAK UP

There are lots of pros and cons when deciding whether to speak up or play it safe. I believe I’ve pondered them all, including the following:

1. There is a time and place for everything. You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed (fill in the blank.)” And I’m sure you’ve known people who are so enthusiastic about their latest cause, lifestyle or product that you hide when you see ‘em comin’. So think carefully about when, where and under what circumstances you’ll get the best reception for your message.

2. You may lose friends. It’s sad when people who have known you forever will break off a friendship over one issue, but it does happen. (Have you discussed politics on Facebook lately?) Relationships we have spent years or decades building should not be put at risk because of a difference of opinion. Nobody can agree 100 percent of the time and it takes two to tango, so try to be the person who maintains the friendship. You can have both.

3. People are fragile. They may have experienced trauma, so they feel vulnerable and fearful. They can only take so much controversy or upset in their lives at this point. This is especially true for folks who struggle with depression and anxiety. They are the best judge of how much they can handle. Respect their wishes, no matter how important your issue might seem.

4. Show them they’re not alone. It’s amazing what happens when you freely admit you’ve struggled with something – a health issue, a moral quandary, significant loss, doubts or indecision, etc. People who have experienced something similar will be SO relieved they’re not the only ones! You may give them courage by sharing your story. They will be thankful someone finally said what they’ve been thinking (or experiencing) all along.

5. Pick your battles. (You’ve heard this before.) We don’t have to weigh in on every issue. Figure out what’s worth “going to the mat” for and let someone else take the lead on other issues.

6. Become informed. There are so many GOOD sources for information available these days. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by spin doctors, and I think you know who they are. Dig deeper. Listen to folks you respect, who have a head on their shoulders. Too many people buy into the drama and disregard the backstory. Look at the bigger picture. Remember that history does tend to repeat itself.

7. Give them time. People who are naturally more skeptical or cautious may need time to digest your information. They are good poker players and won’t divulge their opinion right away, while others will light up immediately like a neon sign. Be satisfied you’ve planted a seed.

8. Be transparent – it’s refreshing. Jerri Marr, forest supervisor and face of Colorado’s 2012 Waldo Canyon Wildfire communication efforts said, “The words ‘I don’t know’ will set you free” as she spoke about leading through crisis. People are hungering for someone to be straight with them – who will tell them the truth without a hidden agenda. They may not agree with you, but they sure will respect you.

In summary: I believe that when we step forward and speak up, we hope it will count for something. Someone’s life will be better off. A problem will be solved. But if not, at least you build skills that may be useful in the future. And ya never know, you may inspire someone to become more of a leader than they’d ever imagined, just because they saw you in action! 

You Have Every Right Not to Talk to Them

monsterI’m a very polite person. This has been my downfall. When someone asks me a question, I answer. When the phone rings, I pick it up. (A bad habit I learned when I worked at a call center!)

But years ago answering the phone from one particular person increasingly caused me nothing but pain. They’d tell me what I should do and how I should do it. They’d rant. I’d listen. I would get frustrated. It felt like I was being held hostage.

Nothing I said made any difference.

Until one day I decided I could no longer handle the discussion. I’d had enough. However, for reasons I can’t go into publicly, it was important I still communicated with them. I couldn’t afford to cut off all contact.

So the next time they called, I made my big announcement. “I will no longer accept phone calls from you. You aren’t able to be respectful. We can’t engage in a civil discussion. I no longer wish to communicate with you by phone.”

Well, there was a lot of spittin’ and sputterin’ on the other end of that line! “Well, you HAVE to talk to me,” they said.

I said, “No, I don’t. I don’t have to accept your phone calls any more. I will accept a letter. You can write to me as often as you wish. But no more phone calls until you learn how to be respectful.”

So that’s the way it went. I took control. The weight lifted off my shoulders was enormous. ENORMOUS! It was a huge relief to set boundaries I could live with – to clearly state what I would accept and what I wouldn’t.

Over time, this person simmered down. I began to look around for other situations I could regain control over. (Bwahahaha!)

Life became a little bit brighter in my corner of the world!

Is there someone in your world who’s disrespectful? How have you handled it?