When A Communication Problem Takes The Cake for A Costly Mistake!

Strategically Speaking: A Blog by Denha Media Group

My husband, daughter and I went to a very popular Michigan-based supermarket to pick up her birthday cake. When we arrived to the bakery, the woman behind the counter handed us over two half sheet cakes almost identical.

“What’s this?” I asked. “I didn’t order two cakes.”

“I think one was butter cream and one was frosting; we weren’t sure what you wanted?”

“Why didn’t you call me? Two different women called me yesterday to ask me the same question. Why wouldn’t you call me to ask about the frosting? I did say I wanted butter cream.”

Another employee came to assist. Eventually three women were standing in front of us politely apologizing for the confusion.

They finally realized that they were the same cake with the same butter cream topping but two different women made the same cake because of a miscommunication.

“I guess one of the women did not realize someone already made the cake,” said one of the employees. “It’s your pick,” she said. “Pick whichever you want.”

“What will you do with the other cake?” My husband asked. “Can you take it home or give it away?”

“Oh no, we have to throw it out?”

“Really?” I asked that seems so wasteful. Please give it to someone.”

“Oh, we waste stuff back here all the time,” another employee chimed in.

My husband and I both grew up in the grocery business with our respective families. That statement didn’t sit well with either of us especially since we know the small profit margins made in the grocery business.

At first,  I felt bad for the owners and then the communication side of my brain was ignited and I realized it was the fault of management. Where is the breakdown of communication? I was at first weary when I ordered the cake a week early when the woman who took my order wrote it down on a scrap piece of paper.

I thought it was strange that a business of this size and caliber didn’t have a more sophisticated system to take bakery orders.  Then when we picked up the cake the excuse one employee gave for the mistake was that the person who took the order was not the same person who made the cake.

I was thinking:  what does that have to do with anything? You don’t have a system in place that shows orders and when a cake is scheduled for pick up?  What if the woman who took my order was off on the day the cake was scheduled to be made?

The reality is that communication mistakes are quiet costly especially in an industry where pennies on the dollar can drastically impact the bottom line.

In addition, why throw out the cake? You made the mistake and it will definitely cost the business but why waste edible food? What about all the food rescue programs in the region? Why isn’t there a relationship with a local soup kitchen or regional program like Forgotten Harvest in place where items such as my extra cake could be donated?

This is not just a business problem; this is a human interest issue.  We have a hunger issue in this country and yes, I realize a birthday cake is not a nutritional item but by no means should it be thrown out.

I left that store with both the cakes I got for the price of one. I froze the other to eat at a 4th of July party just a few days later.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money is lost at each of these locations because of the lack of communication.

Vanessa Denha Garmo is a communications strategist and the founder of Denha Media Group.

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