Hey, You're Human

Everyone makes mistakes. Here’s how to learn from them.

“There Was An Explosion … Flip-Flops Were Everywhere”

The Problem:
    An alleged explosion at a Chinese port sent an aftershock around the world that knocked the wind out of Lauchlin Burnett. The director at Rightsleeve (asi/308922) can explain.      He had partnered with a manufacturer to have upwards of 200 pairs of custom flip-flops produced overseas. The footwear was to serve as a gift from administrators at a summer camp to their dedicated staffers. Burnett had done everything he could to ensure the order was produced without a hitch. This included pitching cool design concepts, getting necessary approvals and having the order ready for production with ample lead time to meet the end-of-summer in-hands date.     But then the snags started: A phone call to say the original ship-date was being pushed back. Then another delay. Still, nothing prepared him for what came next. “I got a call that there was an explosion at the port where our stuff was being loaded onto a boat,” says Burnett. “They said flip-flops were everywhere. How true that was I don’t know. But the point was that we were not going to have the flip-flops on time.”

The Solution:
    Floored, Burnett called his client to explain. But before he did so, he came up with a number of alternative solutions he could present so that the camp’s staffers would still receive a gift. “We had a good working relationship, and with the word ‘explosion’ in the excuse – they were understanding,” says Burnett. Pivotally, the client appreciated that Burnett pitched other product options. The camp eventually decided to invest in long-sleeve shirts, which were delivered to staffers without incident. Furthermore, Burnett was able to salvage the flip-flop order. After discussions with the camp, he arranged to have the custom footwear produced so that the camp could distribute it to staffers the following summer.

The Lesson:
    The ordeal taught Burnett a number of lessons. He took to heart the importance of educating clients about the overseas ordering process, including its risks. “It’s also smart to put an extra month on top of whatever the vendor gives for a timetable when you’re going overseas,” he says. Additionally, it was re-emphasized to Burnett how valuable building a good relationship with a client can be. Having that firm foundation helps earn reps the benefit of the doubt when things go awry.  “It would have been a lot trickier if this was a first order,” says Burnett. Finally, the scenario shows that even when an order veers wildly off course, there are often workable solutions you can present to salvage the situation or at least mollify the client. “It helps,” says Burnett, “to come to them with solutions rather than just a big problem.”