Humbly Failing Forward
April 20, 2018
Written By Mark Fenner
It wasn’t long after my last Momentum article titled “No Pain, No Gain” that we came to the realization perhaps we (I) underestimated the severity of some of the pain. You see, when you implement a new accounting system for the first time in 27 years, you expect to have difficulties. But what we thought initially was just resistance to change, we soon realized was more than that. Make no mistake about it, we had quite a bit of feedback from customers, employees and our board that said we had a lot of room for improvement.
Some of the things we heard about were simply decisions we made that were short-sighted. For example, the decision to not leave an invoice at the tank at delivery. The reasons behind that decision were solid. We didn’t want drivers having to wait around to be connected via cell service to our accounting system, as many locations where our drivers deliver have poor cell service. And even though our old system could leave an invoice as the system wasn’t live like it is today, we often had tax errors on the invoices. We rationalized that the customer receiving an email with the details within hours and eventually minutes of the delivery would suffice in place of the invoice at the tank. We were wrong. While most of our customers have email, many don’t check it daily. Also, many customers insist on paying for product at the time of delivery, which was problematic with the new system.
We failed. But I think it’s important to fail at times. As long as we fail forward. Failing forward means that, yes, we make mistakes, but at least we are making mistakes with the intent of making the company better. In many cases, our new system is a tremendous upgrade from the legacy system we recently exited. Real-time data like costing and margins will help us understand our business better.
But in several ways, our new system was a step backward. Something as simple as looking up a customer or reprinting an invoice became a much slower process. Additionally, our mapping and routing system and suggested-order system weren’t implemented properly, causing difficulty in the field for our plant personnel and customers.
If you experienced difficulty with our service this winter, I humbly apologize. I assure you we continue to have the best intentions of servicing your needs in a highly effective and efficient manner. The company’s brand has been built upon this philosophy for decades, and we are 100 percent committed to build on the trust you’ve placed in us. To ensure we follow through on this commitment, we’ve established five non-negotiable items we are committed to improving.
- Implement the ability to have a detailed invoice at the time of delivery.
- Improve our customer service representatives’ ability to navigate in the system.
- Improve our mapping and routing.
- Enhance our auto-fill system to re-establish customer trust.
- Upgrade our phone systems for peak demand and incorporate an ability to forward calls in order to provide backup for our customer service representatives.
We’ve assigned key leaders with proven performance to own each item listed above. These people and their teams have been called the RAD Team. RAD stands for Rapid Application Development, and we expect to have these five items completed before the end of our fiscal year on Aug. 31, 2018. I’m pleased to report this team has already made great progress and are committed to meeting their deadline.
Lastly, I want to thank you for your business. Even though we had several difficulties this winter, we also had record sales. I want to thank our field employees for their commitment and dedication. They are the life blood of our business. We can’t sell a thing if they aren’t here to deliver for us and help us create great customer relationships. They are the people representing us in a high-quality manner on a daily basis and handling customer concerns. The beauty of working for a farmer-owned co-op is we inherently care deeply for our customers. Unfortunately, it took some very difficult meetings with our delegates (who are also our customers) to fully grasp the frustrations they were feeling. We will continue to make changes that empower our field employees at the local level as they know our customers best.
At the very least, we hope you understand that all along our intentions were to only make the company better. While we made some mistakes in the process, our failures have moved the company forward, and we expect to be a better company for it in the future. Thanks again for your continued support. We are committed to fulfilling your energy expectations going forward!