A complaint is a gift, if you are not the one it is aimed at. Agile teams just love complaints. Feedback provided by users is instrumental for fine tuning new products. However, mistakes occur in business-as-usual as well, even if a big effort is being made to please customers. A round of applause should go to VkusVill, a Russian retailer selling food products without artificial ingredients. The company attentively listens to their customers, relentlessly looks for root causes of problems and quickly acts upon findings. I would like to share a fascinating story on a complaint investigation, told in a recent book by the VkusVill Communications Director*. The story touches upon the subject of wasps and reminds me of a conversation I once had with the general manager of a tourist attraction.

As good as it gets

“What do you do?” – “I am a management consultant working with business leaders. I look at financial statements and discuss strategic goals with owners and management. I try to extract grains of gold from company records, customers feedback and my personal experiences. What about you?” “I manage a tourist attraction, a historical place with a beautiful park, an ancient castle, ponds, children playgrounds, restaurants and cafes. All are nicely kept and in perfect order. Well, recently it has not been so idyllic though. Our guests are having rows over face-coverings. Those who wear masks believe that the administration of the park should refuse entrance to those who don’t, others say that pandemic restrictions go too far… Both sides get rather emotional. I do not see how this can be cured… Apart from that, business goes well and we never have a problem. Well, maybe end of summer is a bit difficult every year. Visitors complain about wasps. One more thing that cannot be cured. Frankly, what can one do about wasps?”

I love not Man the less, but Nature – more

Don’t kill them, don’t hate them, they are part of nature. Wasps pollinate flowers and crops and destroy pests and insects that carry human diseases. If you do want to fight wasps, there is a list of things you can do – at the end of this article. If you would rather not interfere with the natural order of things, help your visitors by doing the following: • In kiosks where you sell or offer leaflets or guidebooks, enlarge the assortment by adding essential oils that keep biting insects away, and also medical and cosmetic treatments to deal with the consequences if someone is stung. • Make reminders which staff members can open in their phones or carry in their pockets: “wasp sting first aid”. Do not hesitate to share your thoughts about wasps and anti-wasp measures with your customers and guests. I am sure you will choose the message “we care about you and we care about wasps” rather than “we got rid of the wasps for you”.

The Wasps that Found the Juice

Here is another story about wasps, from VkusVill, a food retailer, popular in the large cities of Russia. The company received a complaint from a customer who found a wasp in a glass bottle of apple juice.

The juice manufacturing supplier assured VkusVill that the wasp must have got into the bottle already after the customer opened it. According to the manufacturer, neither raw material nor freshly produced juice are stored openly, windows are kept closed everywhere, and, in the processing and filling facilities, the juice goes straight from pipe to bottle.

More complaints of this sort came in. A few more customers returned bottles of juice they bought from VkusVill, with drowned wasps. Shop assistants apologised and gave money back. Dealing with the problem, the company convinced the apple juice manufacturer to let a VkusVill auditor enter the production facilities and review the process.

The auditor spent several days at the premises and found the root cause. The windows were kept shut on working days. On weekends, however, when only one production line was operating, women maintaining the line would put music on and open a window, happy to let some sun in as well as a fresh summer breeze. The smell of apples attracted the wasps, and they masterfully managed to find their way to the juice.

When the results of the surveillance were reported, the director of the juice factory ordered the window to be filled in with bricks and additional air-conditioning units to be installed. Just to make sure no one opens a window again.

All you need is people who try to understand

Here is my point: it is not difficult to turn customer feedback into action and find simple – but creative – solutions. Where there is a will there is a way. But no, too often businesses let problems lie. As if they are waiting for someone more curious, or more enthusiastic, or more creative to come and say “let’s do it”. Or waiting for a consultant?

*Evgeniy Shchepin “VkusVill. How to make a revolution in retail playing against the rules?”, 2020


P.S. As promised. Here is what you can do about wasps: • In late autumn, take preventive measures – seal up tiny cracks, patch up holes and cover all the splits in wooden window frames, doors, around the edges of the siding and where power lines enter the building. • Examine places where wasps like to build their homes: under eaves, porch roofs and other ledges and crevices. Remove old nests if you find them. • When a new tourist season starts, keep looking. Apply soap-and-water solution with a combination of clove, geranium and lemongrass essential oils sprinkling the areas where wasps build nests. • During “wasp season” close lids of waste containers tightly. • Near cafes and restaurants, put special traps attracting wasps, with a bait inside. Such things can be made from big plastic bottles, you can find quite a few instructions on the Internet. There are ready-made ones, however, imitating lanterns (photo):