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The Case of the Costly Leak

The details of a client’s purchase somehow 
slip out to his angry ex-employee.

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IT WAS MID-JANUARY, and Tom Bender and his team at Bender’s Diamond Source were beginning to wonder if they would even see the 2022 version of the usual “post-Christmas lull” they’d experienced every other year for as long as they could remember. The season — and really, all of 2021 — had been amazing for the second-generation business. Their big city in the Southeast was coming back to life, and it seemed like both locals and returning visitors were excited about shopping for special and lasting gifts again.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

James Grieve was one of those customers. He was the owner of a major construction company that employed a significant number of people, and like Tom Bender, served on the city’s Business Development Board. The pandemic had a major impact on Grieve Construction through 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, forcing James to scale back and to lay off a good number of employees. Like many companies, James and his management team were able to use the slow time to examine their operation and to implement new strategies and technologies to tighten expenses and sharpen productivity. When things began to turn around last summer, James was once again feeling comfortable and more optimistic than ever about business and life in general, and he found himself looking forward to what the coming years would bring.

Several weeks after Christmas, James got to thinking that he really needed an exceptional gift for his wife Janet’s 60th birthday in late February. They’d been married for 33 years, and she had seen him through not only the past two years, but all the lean times and rough spots associated with owning a big and challenging business. He decided to pay a visit to Ajay Mehta, a gemologist and salesman at Bender’s Diamond Source, who had taken good care of all of his jewelry needs in the past. When James explained his interest in something very symbolic and impressive, Ajay helped him settle on a fabulous three-diamond ring that would feature a stunning E, VVS1, 1.5-carat oval center and another 1.5 carats in matching half-moon sides, all set in platinum, for a total of just under $40,000.

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As James was looking at the diamonds and chatting with Ajay, Mandy Abrams, a part-time sales associate and office assistant at Bender’s, stopped by the counter and, recognizing James from his previous visits to the store, said “hello” and commented on the dazzling diamonds in front of him. James, pleased with the selection, the price and the service, then asked Ajay for a little time to think about the purchase and to arrange his finances and promised to get back to him within 48 hours.

After James left the store, Mandy got into a conversation with Ajay and Tom Bender about James and his purchase. She congratulated Ajay on the pending sale and commented that things must be going pretty well for James and his company. She also noted that it was too bad that James’s success had to be at the expense of all the people who had lost their jobs during the pandemic, which included her fiancé’s father. Tom and Ajay paid little attention to the conversation and continued discussing plans for having the ring made to James’ specifications.

Late the next morning, Tom got a call from James Grieve, telling him that he would not, in fact, be buying a ring from Bender’s — not then nor ever again. He was struggling to contain his anger as he explained that he had just spoken to his secretary, who told him about getting an email from a former employee of the company asking if he would be getting his job back soon, since the company was doing well enough for James to be able to afford a $40,000 ring for his wife. James knew that he did not tell anyone about his planned purchase, so he was certain that the breach of confidentiality came from within the Bender organization. He made it clear to Tom that he found the intrusion into his privacy positively inexcusable.

Tom immediately called Mandy and Ajay into his office and explained the situation. Ajay was furious, and Mandy flatly denied telling anyone about the purchase, including her fiancé.

The Big Questions

  • What, if anything, can be done to save the customer and the sale?
  • While it seemed obvious to Tom that Mandy must have discussed the purchase with her fiancé, is there any way he can find out what really happened?
  • Without any solid proof, how should he handle Mandy?
Ursula P.
Naples, FL

If I were James, I would email the customer with a profound apology for what has happened and promise to find out how this breach of confidence could have happened. I would then ask the customer to kindly forward the original email, because it would indicate the sender. If the customer forwards the email, James can take the appropriate action with the offending employee. If he does not, James will have done what was possible in this regrettable situation.

Naomi V.
Haines City, FL

At this point, there is no way to reprimand Mandy. Going forward, I would have an NDA signed by all employees about customers as well as company information. Then if there is ever another situation like this, it is a termination with no unemployment benefits or legal issues.

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Elie S.
Salem, NH

This is a complicated scenario because nothing can actually be proven. We know the customer is not lying in this case because he tells the details of the email. He himself never discussed his employees losing their jobs. That came from Mandy. If the customer is willing to say who the former employee that emailed him was, and it turns out to be Mandy’s father-in-law, then she needs to be fired. If not, then there needs to be a clear conversation about customer confidentiality and maybe even an NDA signed by the employees for future diarrhea of the mouth.

Donna Y.
Somerset, NJ

Not only is this an egregious breach of confidentiality for the client, it’s a matter of rooting out an employee that lacks integrity. Tom should reach out to James to apologize and to make clear his stance of zero tolerance for the situation. Hopefully, James will share the identity of the ex-employee and the rest will be apparent. Even without that info, I imagine an employee like that would exhibit character traits and political/social tendencies that would point to them anyway.

Amy C.
Grove, OK

There is not any room in my organization for a liar. Mandy is the only one who could’ve done this. She should have known what her knowledge of the situation would do if she shared with anyone. Her behavior is inexcusable. She should be let go or at the very least she should be given a warning that another misjudgment will be grounds for dismissal. Everyone in the jewelry business should keep their mouth shut about their customers and their purchases at all times (unless the customer has given permission to share).

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Fire her!!! She’s a conniving liar! Tom should tell James that he knows it was Mandy, that she will be fired immediately and then he needs to apologize profusely. I don’t think this will save the sale, but it’s about his only chance. Mandy is clearly the guilty culprit, especially knowing that her future father-in-law was one of the employees laid off. What a scummy thing to do. It’s unfortunate that some people lost their jobs when his business was slow, but he shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because he climbed out of a bad time and found success again. Some people just can’t mind their own damn business or keep their yapper shut.

Peter T.
Show Low, AZ

Mandy is lying. She should be fired. All that can be done with the customer is offer a sincere apology and hope for the best.

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Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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