I Wanted FREE ICE CREAM… But All I Got Was Bagels

Not long ago I stopped at a new local business to pick up one of my go-to breakfast feasts: bagels. At first glance, the small shop looked closed. The sign was off and everything was dark, but there were people inside so I ventured in.

Turns out, they’d lost power. The staff were happy to sell me fresh bagels and cream cheese, but since they had no electricity, they wouldn’t be able to toast a sandwich or make anything hot. That wasn’t a problem for me, so I went ahead with my order. It was only after they were bagged and handed to me that the staff member said: “We have no way of accepting payment. I’ll just take your phone number and call you when we have power.” A bit confused, I told her I was paying with cash, but I soon learned… they do not accept cash. So, instead of my cash, she took my phone number and off I went with my bagels.

They never called, I never paid. Not a great way to do business. I was not the only person buying bagels during the outage, and whether or not the “sales” made during the outage amounted to much, it was still lost revenue. And a stark reminder that all businesses SHOULD be prepared for a power outage. Most importantly, all businesses should have multiple backup plans when it comes to accepting forms of payment. These plans should be well documented , and all team members should be trained (and re-trained) on them regularly.

A few days later, I was out to dinner with friends and planned to treat them all to ice cream. We were nearby a fancy ice cream place in town, and I’d be sitting on a gift card for that location, waiting for the best time to take advantage of it. But what was supposed to be an exciting treat for our large group (on me!), turned into a confusing and disappointing experience that really soured my evening.

After we all placed our orders I presented with my gift card, but of the FIVE people working, none of them knew how to process it. Apparently, it was their “old version”. After a bunch of back and forth, I paid with my credit card. Their solution? They wanted ME to call the head office the next day. What?! Although I was very frustrated to pay for something I had a gift card for, I ultimately sympathized with the young team members and blame the business’ management. They failed in a few places here. First, their plan to transition from one gift card provider to another had holes in it. But it all really comes down to staff training and empowerment. The staff weren’t given the tools they needed to solve this problem on their own, and/or didn’t feel empowered enough to deliver customer service appropriate to the situation. When they told me to call head office, I just about fell over.

How would your staff handle these situations? The bagel team had it right… sort of. They had a problem they couldn’t solve, so I got my bagels for free. It wasn’t MY problem to solve. And coming from a strong customer service background, I would have done the same thing. THAT is also what I’d expect from the Ice Cream team. It’s not hard to check the balance on a gift card, whether it’s their “old version” or not. Our group didn’t exactly present as a group of scammers looking for free ice cream. The gift card problem? THEIR problem to solve, not mine. 

“When they told me to call head office, I just about fell over.”

Big, unexpected glitches like these are inevitable in every business. When they occur, your team needs to able to get back up and running quickly and easily. Because what if they can’t? What if you DON’T have a backup plan they can follow? What typically happens next? They call YOU. But what happens if you are at your kid’s baseball game? Or if you are on vacation? How are they going to problem solve without involving you? Who can they call – what if the Ghostbusters aren’t available?


Platinum Elite Member Scott Stanley recently shared a brilliant idea at our last meeting. He called it the, “What to Do When” List. A big list of all the problem situations imaginable and how they could be solved, WITHOUT calling him. Genius, but simple. For some problems, the action was simply to note it in the owner’s logbook. For others, he asked for a text message with details so he could gauge the seriousness of the issue and get involved only if it was warranted. Some required an immediate phone call, and some fell into a “wait until you see me” column.


Remember you do not need to be the solution to every problem. The more documented backup plans you have in place, the more you can empower your staff and remove yourself from these situations.