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The Case of the “Good Deed” Gone Wrong

When an employee takes it upon herself to send a security alert about a client’s bracelet, the store owner has to deal with the fallout.

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SCOTT BOCKMAN HAD taken over his family’s business, Bockman Jewelers, after his father’s untimely death just a year ago, though he’d been working in the store on and off since he was 12. He was always fascinated by watching the master jewelers at work in the shop and began his training as a polisher while in high school. Eight years of summers as an apprentice, learning from some of the best craftsmen in the industry had him well prepared to earn a bench of his own after college, but nothing he studied or read could have prepared him for managing the front-end team that had, for the most part, been with the company for longer than he’d been alive and that included a number of family members who seemed to be having a hard time accepting that he was now in charge.

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]

His aunt Jackie, his father’s youngest sister, was his biggest challenge. She’d started at the store back in 1999 and had become the sales floor manager, largely by default. She was “old school” by nature and was very resistant to any changes Scott tried to make in his efforts to update the store’s image and to attract more of the lucrative, younger fashion and bridal market in their upscale suburb. Though she really did have the best interests of the company at heart and was never rude or inappropriate with customers, Jackie was suspicious by nature, and Scott could often overhear her reiterating old stereotypes — especially about young people and what they could or couldn’t afford — to her co-workers.

Several weeks ago, Jaren Taylor, a 23-year-old man on his way home from work at the local community center, came in with an antique emerald-and-diamond platinum filigree bracelet for repair. He told Jackie that his now-deceased father had given it to his mother for their 25th anniversary several years ago, but that it had been sitting in her jewelry box with a broken clasp for the past five years. He wanted to get the clasp replaced as a surprise for her upcoming birthday. He said it was his first time in the store and he had learned that Bockman’s had a good reputation for handling antique pieces when he Googled “jewelry repair.” Jackie took the job in, quoting a price of $350 and promising a completion date of a week later, both of which were fine with Jaren.

Shortly after Jaren left (and without consulting Scott), Jackie used a photo and detailed description of the bracelet to create an email flyer that she circulated to the local jewelers’ security group. In the message, she repeated Jaren’s story and said that while he seemed to be a very nice young man, her gut instinct said that something just didn’t feel right, and she wanted to make sure that no one else had heard of a bracelet like this one being stolen from any of their customers.

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Scott knew nothing about Jackie’s effort until three days later, when an irate woman stormed into the store demanding to see the owner. She proceeded to tell him that she had never been so humiliated —nor had she ever seen a business treat a customer so badly — in her entire life. Evelyn Taylor told Scott that the manager of the store in the city with whom her husband had done business for many years called her to see if her antique bracelet had been stolen. He said a friend who worked in a store close to Bockman’s had forwarded a security alert message to his store asking about a bracelet that looked just like hers, raising his concern. Fortunately, her son Jaren was home when she looked in her jewelry box and saw that the bracelet was gone — and he confessed to his surprise birthday scheme.

Mrs. Taylor demanded that her bracelet be returned to her immediately (the job had already been started) and that Scott issue a public apology (reiterated in writing) to her son. Scott was mortified. He had been caught totally off guard by Mrs. Taylor’s story and was about to deny that anything like that could have come from his store before Jackie was able to pull him away long enough to explain what she had done. She said she’d just had a bad feeling about the situation and wanted to err on the side of caution. Furious, but knowing that sending Jackie out to deal with Mrs. Taylor would be like throwing gasoline on a fire, Scott went back to Mrs. Taylor with a sincere and heartfelt apology. He accepted full responsibility for the actions of his errant employee and promised to do whatever he needed to do to make things right with Mrs. Taylor and Jaren. Mrs. Taylor said again that he could start by returning her property immediately.

The Big Questions

  • What — if anything — can Scott do to fix things with Mrs. Taylor?
  • Is there any way to repair the damage done with Jaren (and his friends and co-workers) and to avert the potential disaster waiting with social media posts and reviews?
  • What should Scott do about his Aunt Jackie?
Tracy W.
San Gabriel, CA

Ideally, Scott would have had even his relatives recognizing his authority before now. Talk with Jackie and make sure she understands the seriousness of her actions. If she doesn’t, does Scott have authority to suspend or fire her? Call a meeting of all sales associates and stress that all security and customer issues must be run by Scott. No exceptions. Jackie must work on change. If she doesn’t, she’s a horrible example of nepotism to the sales team and she must go. No more “good heart, old school” who disrespects her manager. Have Jackie also write an apology to the customer. No excuses. Scott could offer to pay the new jewelry store for the work being done. If Jackie is fired over this, let the customer know that “extreme measures have been taken” to ensure the future protection of customers’ interests. If Scott is lucky, he’ll only lose one customer’s family and not all the people they will tell.

Beth B.
Cave Creek, AZ

I do feel strongly that the employee should take some responsibility for her actions by writing a heartfelt message to the customer and his mother explaining her reasons for her actions … only trying to protect her employer … and expressing her apologies. Also explaining that by making sure there is security in place, it protects the customer as well. Had her bracelet really been stolen, she would be able to get it back. Without a security system in place within the jewelry circle, we cannot catch the crook nor protect the customer. The owner could offer some sort of discount or free service as a way of showing the customer how much they are valued.

Patrisha C.
Lowell, MA

Fire Aunt Jackie on the spot, issue a public/social media apology as well as a written one to both mother and son. Explain that the job has been started and give her the option to either take the bracelet as it is and pay for someone else to repair (goodwill gesture) or allow Scott to finish the repair, again at no charge. Moving forward, implement a no social media posts policy or not unless approved by him. She virtually destroyed the store’s excellent reputation in two clicks.

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Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Man, Jackie put Scott in a real pickle. I would offer to repair the bracelet for no charge and see if that helps at all. Obviously, apologizing to Ms. Taylor and Jaren is the first step and reprimanding Jackie would be the next. Scott probably can’t fire Jackie without causing a major rift in the family, but he can certainly stress to her how badly she messed up and made the business look bad. If she cares at all about the family business and her reputation, then she’ll give a heartfelt apology, too.

Richard Y.
Asheville, NC

Bye-bye to Auntie Jackie. Seems she’s ongoing trouble and the store will run more smoothly with her gone. The customer should be told the truth. Explain that Jackie had not only had this one problem situation and that it was time for the separation because of her inability to adjust her thinking to a more contemporary mode. Again, offer your sincere apologies and return the customer’s goods properly repaired and at no charge.

Allan A.
Bradenton, FL

I would do the repair at no charge. And as to the two members of this family, I would give them each a gift card with sincere apologies. Also, I would send flowers as a birthday gift with well wishes. These things happen and it wasn’t done on purpose. I would have a store meeting and conclude if this happens again, there will be consequences. That way, everyone is on the same page.

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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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