Sunday, November 29, 2015

Is employee right to pocket 'free' items her company earns?

A reader, P.S., from the Midwest works for a small business. Part of her job involves keeping the supply closet stocked. She typically creates a list of items needed and then makes a trip to the closest office supply store to purchase the goods needed. P.S. uses her own credit card and then gets reimbursed by the company for the purchases.

Occasionally, the office supply store will be running a special sale on items where customers can buy one and get one free or buy several of the same items and get one free.

As a result of these regular special offers, P.S. wonders if it is OK for her to buy several items for the company and then, because they're "free," keep the bonus items for herself. She also wonders if it is OK that she regularly racks up points on her credit cards toward airline ticket purchases, even though the purchases were made for the small business that reimburses her for her expenses.

For years, there's been a parallel discussion about who owns the airline travel miles or points that employees might earn when they fly on business-related travel. Technically, those miles or points should belong to whoever is purchasing the tickets. Since the business pays for the ticket, it has a right to claim ownership of the miles. But many, if not most, businesses let their employees keep the miles they accumulate on business travel. Sometimes it's justified as a way to offset the time the employee has to spend away from home. Other times, it simply perceived as a perquisite of the job. I would guess that often it is simply seen as too much of a hassle to keep track of all of the miles and then transfer them to the company. But in every case, businesses should be clear with their employees on their policies. If a business' policy is for the company to keep the miles or points, then the employee should follow that policy.

In P.S.'s case, the small business for which she works has no set policy on how to handle points that might be earned from special purchases. The right thing is for the company to make its policy clear or to simply ask P.S. to make those purchases with a company credit card rather than with her own. If the company doesn't care about her accumulating points for these reimbursed purchases, it should make that clear to P.S. and other employees.

The bonus item question strikes me as a different kettle of fish, although P.S. has never found herself buying kettles or fish for her company.

It would never be right for P.S. to purchase an item solely so she could get a free item as a result of the purchase. But P.S. should not consider those "free" items hers to keep.

By getting a couple of items for free from purchasing a certain amount, the net price of each item effectively is lowered for P.S.'s company. The company should reap these cost-savings rewards since they resulted from purchases made with company money.

The right thing is for P.S. to stock her business with all of the items she purchases on such shopping trips, even those that she might be tempted to see as a little something extra for herself. 

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

A delivery mishaps blooms into good customer service

"They were beautiful," N.L. writes. She was referring to a bouquet of flowers that she received from her partner in the late afternoon on a day off from work. The flowers weren't for any special occasion, just an effort to make the day a bit brighter.

When N.L. read the note that accompanied the flowers, she saw that not only was there a note from her partner, but a note from the florist apologizing for the original delivery not arriving at the time it was promised. N.L. texted her partner to let him know how much she loved the flowers and sent him a photo so he could get a sense of how beautiful they were.

He told her that when they had spoken earlier, he knew she hadn't received the flowers since she didn't say anything, so he called the florist. The florist apologized and promised to get another bouquet out right away -- which it did.

Then N.L.'s doorbell rang. It was her next door neighbor to whose house the original bouquet had been delivered.

So now, N.L. had two beautiful bouquets. She texted her partner to tell him and to ask if she should call the florist. He texted back that when he asked the florist what he should do if the original bouquet eventually showed up, the florist had told him to keep both and enjoy the flowers.

Now, N.L. wanted to let her friends know not just how beautiful the flowers were, but also how responsive the florist had been to get the order right. "But I'll be telling friends that the florist screwed up the first order," she says. In her effort to praise the florist, she worried she'd be making her look bad over the mistake delivery.

Nevertheless, N.L. thought it important to sing the praises of the florist for making good on its promise. You hear so many stories of poor customer service, she said. Now, she wanted to make sure to spread a story about good customer service on her Facebook page and other social media.

"What's the right thing to do?" she asks.

It wouldn't be wrong to spread the word if she really wanted to. After all, the florist did make good on an error.

But N.L. might want to figure out what her ultimate goal would be in spreading the misdelivery made good story. If the intention is to drive other people to use the florist because of the service and the quality of the flowers, then perhaps there's a way to do that without having to worry about a potential delivery mishap.

N.L. could simply tell her friends how beautiful the flowers were, and then post a photo of them with the name of the florist (and perhaps the partner who ordered them) on her Facebook page and other social media accounts. Doing so would let friends know how pleased she was with the service.

The right thing is to figure out what she really wants to accomplish by spreading the word about the florist. If she can do that in a way that doesn't result in potentially having the opposite result of giving prospective customers pause, then that's the choice she should make. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

References should honor privacy, but be forthright if they screw up

Questions revolving around writing references seem toarise frequently. More than once I've received questions about whether it's OK for recommenders to ask you to write your own recommendation to which they will simply affix their name (it's not).

Now, the question arises of what the right thing to do is when someone writing a reference for a former colleague is not as careful with keeping that colleague's decision to apply for a job elsewhere confidential.

Here's what happened.

A reader, let's call him Reed, received an email from a former colleague, Colleen, telling him that she was planning to apply for a new job and wondering if he would be willing to write her a letter of recommendation. He emailed back indicating he'd be glad to write the letter. Colleen sent Reed some details and he subsequently set aside some time to write the letter.

A few days later, after Reed had written the letter, a copy of it was sitting on his office desk, waiting for him to sign it, stick it in an envelope, and send it off. (Reed is very efficient at getting recommendation letters out in a timely fashion.)

That day, however, Bart, another former colleague who had worked with Reed and still worked with Colleen arrived at Reed's office door. Reed had forgotten that he and Bart had agreed to meet for coffee and to catch up. But there Bart was at Reed's door ready to go -- and there sat the letter for Colleen in open view on Reed's desk.

Bart plopped down on the seat next to Reed's desk and they began chatting before taking off for coffee. Well into the conversation, Reed realized that Colleen's letter was sitting in open view. He reached for it, turned it over, and made a comment to Bart to the effect of, "Sorry, I shouldn't have left that out."

"That's OK," Bart joked. "I learned to read upside down a long time ago." At least, Reed hoped that Bart was joking.

Now, Reed was concerned. He promised to keep Colleen's job application confidential. He didn't think Bart had seen anything or that he would say anything even if he did, but he wasn't sure whether he owed it to Colleen to give her a heads up.

Reed should have been more careful with Colleen's letter once he printed it out. Granted, she didn't work at Reed's new place and no one there knew Colleen, but given that it was a confidential letter, he should have taken a bit more care.

But Reed slipped up, and he wanted to do right by Colleen since he had written her a strong letter.

If Bart did see anything, he should have told Reed that he did. And even if he didn't tell Reed, he should not disclose to anyone what he saw. Friends should not betray friends.

Reed isn't obligated to do anything. He is, after all, doing Colleen a favor by writing her a letter. But Reed chose to do the right thing by emailing Colleen and letting her know what happened. As far as either of them know, Bart either never saw a thing or, if he did, kept it to himself. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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