From Ruby Tuesdays to Wells Fargo, lessons to learn

Bill Packard: The stupid things big business does

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 8:45am

Well, there's a lot going on in the world. I've been traveling a little and then the holidays; but when I need inspiration to write all I need to do is go to the news.

It's difficult to break through to small businesses about the immense value of customer service when big businesses are setting such a bad example. The other interesting thing with big business is that when they do something stupid, they immediately go to some sort of excuse, which makes it even worse. We're not talking a small micro-entrepreneur who’s calling all the shots. I'm talking about public relations departments, and marketing departments and multi-million dollar budgets.

Here's two examples of lost opportunity. I usually don't name businesses that could do better but in these cases, the stories are out there, so here goes. Cedric and Polly Long of Camden. They are in a difficult situation. They take responsibility for trusting when they probably shouldn't have, but nonetheless, they had no intent to harm anyone; in fact, it's just the opposite. They felt they were helping one of their family.

Wells Fargo is the mortgage company. Rules are rules. The Longs are responsible for the debt.

I've had enough experience in corporate America to know that some bean counter somewhere said: "We have quotas to meet. Our stockholders are depending on us."

At the same time their marketers, with a substantial budget, are trying to figure out which million dollar TV campaign will bring them more customers. This hardly ever happens in corporate America, but if the two departments could get together they would see that forgiving a $168,000 note that was not instituted by the Longs but only guaranteed by them would be a marketing genius! People would see that they did the right thing.

In today's social media world, news of their act would go viral and people would be lined up to deposit their money with them. They could still go after the son and daughter in-law, who they should go after, anyway. Instead, for what to them is a drop in the bucket, they are now seen as the corporate bad guys, ruining a nice couple’s golden years. Brilliant! I could have turned this around if they had only asked. In fact I did contact someone who is connected with the company, but never heard back.

This story will continue to grow and the negative publicity will continue. That's just the way it works. Let me just say before moving on that I understand that documents were signed and obligations were made. I get all that. I'm talking about how doing the right thing will benefit the bottom line.

Now we come to Ruby Tuesdays. Yes, the Augusta restaurant had stopped serving on Christmas Eve when five or six line crew trucks from out-of-state working here to restore power stopped in for supper. They were told the restaurant was no longer serving. They pleaded to be able to eat as very few things were open on Christmas Eve. The answer was no.

A lady was finishing her meal, saw the whole thing and posted it on a business review site. From there it went to Facebook. Ruby Tuesdays is a franchise and I doubt the owner of the Augusta restaurant will get franchise of the year at the annual meeting, but more importantly, their name is tarnished. Everywhere. Even if the lady hadn't posted her account, those linemen would tell all the others working here in this ice storm. They will go back to where they live with a bad taste for Ruby Tuesdays and tell all their friends, family and co-workers about what happened in Augusta, Maine.

Across the river in Augusta is the Red Barn. They are inviting line workers to come in and eat anytime. It looks like they're comping a lot of the food. If the Red Barn had done what Ruby Tuesday's did, it would only negatively affect their restaurant. (By the way, they would never do that.) The Ruby Tuesday's in Augusta has had a negative impact on Ruby Tuesday's franchises all over. Despite being a franchise, it's still a local business with local owners and employees, and a decision was made that will have an enormous negative impact.

Things happen. Businesses struggle and sometimes go under. Most of the time they blame outside circumstances, things that are out of their control. That's rarely the case. If you do the right thing and pay attention to your business, you'll probably do OK. If you look to blame others, ignore the big picture and follow the examples of stupid things big business does, you've got a tough row to hoe.


 Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of  He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.