Herb’s Concoction (and Martha’s Dilemma): The Case of the Deadly Fertilizer
Martha Wang worked in the consumer affairs department of a company called Herb’s Garden Products. Martha was a relatively new employee and had worked there only six months, while most employees at Herb’s had been with the company since its beginning back in 1958. She enjoyed her job and hoped to be promoted at her next performance appraisal. One especially exciting part of working at Herb’s was that they had made a public commitment to protecting the environment. There were regular meetings at work about the choice to brand the organization in this way, sell their products at “green” markets, and capture some of the growing consumer market for natural products. Martha’s values were closely aligned with this mentality, so she really loved her new job at Herb’s Garden Products. How quickly things change….
One day Martha received a call from a dissatisfied customer who complained that Herb’s Special Fertilizer Mix had killed her dog, an expensive and beloved toy poodle. Martha knew that the fertilizer was made mostly of fish byproducts and chicken manure but she had also heard there was a “secret ingredient” that had been revealed only to long-time employees. The company had advertised the product as “safe enough to eat for breakfast” and “able to work wonders on any plant.” However, Martha had used the product only once herself. Shortly after applying the fertilizer, Martha found several dead birds near the garden where she had spread the most fertilizer. At the time, she convinced herself this was just a coincidence. Listening now to this customer describe the death of her small dog after lying on the soil near the fertilizer, Martha began to wonder if those birds had perished for the same reason. Martha took the customer’s name and number and went immediately to her boss.
Martha’s boss was Herb’s nephew, Mac. Once Martha explained her story about her own experience with the fertilizer and the customer’s claim that it killed her dog, Mac began to smile. “Some people will complain about the littlest things,” Mac said. Martha protested that it was her job as a consumer affairs officer to address the serious concerns of this customer and follow company procedure to ensure the safety of future customers and their pets. Mac laughed and said, “You really believe that something is wrong with our product? We’ve been selling this fertilizer for thirty-five years. People love it! Now and again someone whines about finding dead animals but that’s just their imagination. After all, we use all natural ingredients!” Martha thanked Mac for his help and slowly headed back toward her cubicle. She felt extremely confused and torn about her role at this point. What should she tell the customer when she called her back? Was the fertilizer safe? Should she worry about working in a place with potentially dangerous products? What about quality issues for the company’s products in general? Were Herb’s other products unsafe or of poor quality? What might be the environmental impact of this product as it runs off into lakes and streams? As her head began to spin with the difficulty of the task ahead of her, the phone suddenly rang. It was Herb himself, the owner and founder of the company. “Martha,” the voice on the other line whispered, “Herb’s Special Fertilizer is our best seller! Don’t let us down.”
Now it is your turn:
What kind of decision does Martha face? What are some of her decision-making challenges?
What recommendations do you have for a company facing this situation? What should they do to deal with this customer complaint? From the perspective of the management at Herb’s Garden Products, what are some next steps that could be taken?
Source: Flatworld textbook (Chap. 11)
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