Ask INVISION: June 2016

How do I get better service from big vendors? Some companies will put me on hold for 20 minutes or ignore my requests for help.

Size matters, and it’s all about who you know. “The best way I know to get great service, no matter how large the company, is to make a friend on the inside,” advises Kate Peterson, the president of business consultancy Performance Concepts. “When you finally do make contact with that clerk, rep, service specialist, etc., take a few extra minutes and have a brief conversation. Listen, learn all you can, and keep notes. End your conversation with ‘You really have been terrific. Do you have a direct extension I can call next time? I would really rather deal with you.’” The next time you contact the company, Peterson advises, start with a friendly chat — not your issue. “You’ll be amazed at how quickly that person can get things done for you!” she says.

When dispensing an order, is it better to give a specific date or a time range it will be ready to avoid disappointing the customers?

A specific time is always preferable, but only if you can meet that deadline every single time. One of the things every business owner eventually learns is the importance of managing expectations. Promise 90-minute turnaround — even when everyone else in your market is doing three days — and your customers will be unhappy if they have to wait an extra 15 minutes. Several years ago, Zappos stopped promising free overnight shipping. The reason wasn’t cost or an inability to meet that promise. In fact, the company still ships almost every order overnight, but CEO Tony Hsieh wanted customers to be surprised when they got it the next day. As the saying goes, under promise and over deliver.

If an employee is consistently late for work (usually 30 minutes at a time), can I dock his pay?

From a legal standpoint, it typically depends whether he is a salaried or an hourly employee. If it’s the latter, he should be punching a clock, which will automatically deduct his time. If he is a salaried employee, you have to pay him, late or not, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, adding that you should, however, have the issue — and the consequences — covered in your employee manual. “If the employee’s tardiness is as constant as you say, you may need to make some tough and important decisions — such as “three strikes and you are out,” DeVries says. “It is never a good idea to let any one employee get away with such behavior. It sets a very bad example for those who are always on time — and you are setting yourself up to be accused of favoritism.”

I’ve discovered a shrinkage problem in my shop, but when I contacted the local police they didn’t seem interested.

When it comes to offenses that spur urgent police action, retail crime lags a long way behind murder, drugs or car theft. This means you’re going to have to show the police you have a good 60 56 case and, as Detective Richard Milburn of the Mesa Police Department in Arizona told the crowd at a recent National Retail Federation event, that you understand the difference between “probable cause” and “probably cuz.” Be sure you contact the right agency and that you can provide evidence, Milburn said. Be aware too that you may have to “re-sell” the case to another law enforcement agency if the first one declines. The key takeaway? Never forget that protecting your inventory starts with you and the processes you use to track and safeguard merchandise.

I carry two competing brands in a similar price range. Now one of them is implying I should drop the other slightly less popular brand or it will cut off supply. Is this legal?

There are some instances when you could take such a case to court and expect to win — such as when an unreasonable restraint of trade or similar antitrust violation can be established, or when a store’s ability to conduct business is damaged, for example, supply is cut off after you’ve invested heavily in marketing and training, and the brand accounts for a big portion of sales. But for the most part, these are exceptions; the law allows a miffed vendor to cut you off cold. “In general, companies in the U.S. are free to decide when to do business and when to stop doing business with another company,” says attorney Barbara Mandell, a member of Dykema Gossett PLLC, which focuses on antitrust law.

One of my salespeople has asked me to take on her 16-year-old son as an unpaid intern/sales assistant this summer. What are the legal ramifications of this?

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has specific criteria governing unpaid intern programs. Among them:

  • The internship is for the benefit of the student.
  • The employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.
  • The intern cannot be guaranteed a job at the end of the training period.

If those conditions are not met, the intern is considered an employee and is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.