I used to work for a drug store chain and was in charge of ordering sodas. Once a week, a rep from each of the major companies would show up, check our inventory, ask if we had any sales coming up, place an order, and then a day or so later a truck would appear with our order.

Once, a rep from one company (let’s call it Dyspepsia) had not appeared on his usual day. I wasn’t overly concerned; we had plenty of stock and no sales coming up for Dyspepsia products. But on his regularly scheduled day the following week, he did not show up again. I called his number and spoke to the company operator, who put me through to his voice mail. I left a message.

The next day, I hadn’t received a response, so I called again. Spoke again to the operator, who put me through to his voice mail again. I left another message.

And the same thing the next day.

And the same thing the day after that, only this time I was unable to leave a message because the voice mailbox was full. I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full. She sent me back to his voice mail.

Again, I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her again I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full, and please not to send me back there—was there someone else to whom I could speak? She said to hold on a minute, then sent me right back to my rep’s voice mail!

We were now running low on Dyspepsia stock—not only were we losing sales, Dyspepsia was also losing sales, though they were probably unaware of this.

I gave it one last try. I called Dyspepsia again, explained again to the operator that my rep’s voice mailbox was full, implored with her again to let me speak to someone else, but she sent me again to my rep’s voice mail, which was still full.

Not knowing what else to do, I called a Dyspepsia office in the nearest major city, which was Los Angeles. I explained what had happened and said I didn’t know whom else to call. The operator took my name and number and said she have someone contact me.

An hour later, I received a call from the secretary for the Dyspepsia VP of Marketing for the West Coast. She apologized profusely for what had happened and said she had gotten hold of my rep, and I should be hearing from him very soon. She gave me her direct number and said if I ever had problems like this again, to give her a call.

An hour after that, a Dyspepsia truck arrived, as did my rep. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Why didn’t you call me?”

I countered, “Why weren’t you checking your messages? Why haven’t you been coming to check my inventory? Didn’t you think it was odd that you hadn’t heard from me?”  He merely shrugged and walked away to supervise the delivery.

This rep had, until now, always done a pretty good job. I have no idea why he stopped visiting our store and wasn’t checking his voicemail. Even if he’d been in some debilitating accident or had been abducted by aliens, never to be seen again, didn’t anyone at Dyspepsia think someone should be handling his accounts? What if I hadn’t called the Los Angeles office? How much time would’ve passed before I heard from my rep? I bet Dyspepsia’s competitors would’ve been more than happy to fill those empty shelves with their product.

Though an iconic, major company like Dyspepsia is in no danger of going under any time soon, other companies may not be so fortunate. Even in times of optimal demand, a company can lose sales and customer loyalty through a series of easily preventable circumstances: in this case, a combination of an experienced sales rep having a major lapse of attention and a poorly trained operator. But both can be traced to apathetic, incompetent, or even arrogant management.

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