Two weeks ago I got a disturbing email from a woman in Florida named Bonnie. After a lengthy and involved interview process, Bonnie was hired by 1-800-FLOWERS.COM (FLWS) for a temporary work-at-home customer service program to begin during the Valentine’s Day holiday season.
But when it came time to begin her online training program, Bonnie was unable to log in as instructed. When she contacted her supervisor, she was apparently told that her training had been cancelled and her services were not required after all – at least that’s what she wrote in her initial email to me.
The twist is that Bonnie is a handicapped woman in desperate need of a paycheck to keep her home out of foreclosure. And she had jumped through all kinds of hoops – purchasing phone equipment, downloading software, and completing and notarizing forms – to be prepared for this opportunity.
Looking for answers, Bonnie searched the web and found an interview I had conducted years ago with the company’s president, Chris McCann. So she reached out – not to complain or even ask me to do anything for her, but perhaps out of frustration and disappointment.
After a little back and forth and confirming that Bonnie had indeed been offered temporary employment, I contacted 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s vice president of public relations, Yanique Woodall. Even though it was on a Sunday, I received an immediate reply thanking me for bringing the situation to her attention and saying she would follow up immediately.
Within a few days, the company’s heads of customer service and training, Bibi Brown and Maria Bruno, had shepherded Bonnie through the training program and she’s now a member of the Long Island florist’s seasonal staff. Needless to say, she’s thankful beyond words.
Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking, especially all the jaded skeptics who believe corporations only do stuff like this for good PR. That’s not what happened here. While I did mention to Ms. Woodall that I was a columnist who had previously interviewed McCann, I gave no indication that I was even considering writing about this because, frankly, the thought had never crossed my mind.
In fact, once I actually read through all the information that had been sent to Bonnie, I came to realize that her employment in the program was contingent on a number of factors that, admittedly, I didn’t take the time to review carefully on Super Bowl Sunday.
The executives who jumped through hoops to bring Bonnie on board despite Valentine’s Day – the biggest business day of the year – looming large in front of them, did so because they felt it was the right thing to do. That’s what actually inspired me to write the story. Also, because, throughout the entire ordeal, Bonnie never asked for help or blamed a soul. She was nothing but gracious and professional.
And while 1-800-FLOWERS.COM is a publicly traded company, it bears mentioning that it is a relatively small firm that’s still run by Jim McCann, a social worker who founded his first flower shop and the company in 1976, and his brother Chris. Clearly, they’ve created an exceptional culture of service and empowerment at their company.
Besides that, I think there are two big takeaways from this experience:
First, everyone involved in this story took the initiative – not in a demanding or entitled way, but in a professional way. That’s why they got results. Those who help themselves do get ahead.
Second, I’ll never forget one of the drumbeats from the Occupy Wall Street movement: “corporations are not people.” Yes they are. Their names are Yanique, Bibi, and Maria. These three women climbed their way up the corporate ladder and became executives because they work hard (even on a Sunday), excel at their jobs, and care enough to roll up their sleeves and do the right thing.
I hope you find the story as inspiring and heartening as I did. Oh yeah -- Happy Valentine’s Day.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.