Sometimes a delivery failure is great service

The holiday shipping season is coming to a close for us. We have cookies and brownies en route to almost every state and a couple of military bases around the world. A few of our shipments travel via FedEx, but the overwhelming majority are carried by the men and women of the United States Postal Service. While we’re confident they’ll arrive as scheduled, we are particularly happy that one package shipped via USPS was not delivered.

Our gourmet cookie gifts are delivered by the USPS.
In this case, great service was their priority.
One of the things we do to make sure cookies arrive where they should is to check each address against the Postal Service database. If it doesn’t return a valid 9-digit zip code, we don’t ship the order. But, there are some things that we cannot catch. If it is a good address, but the recipient has moved, the package will be returned. This year we had a client call us with a different address issue that our database could not catch. It seems that the package was addressed to a husband and wife, only the wife had passed away earlier in the year and their list was simply not updated to reflect that change.

Our client called immediately once we sent the tracking information to see what could be done. I’m guessing this would not be the first time something arrived at this widower’s home, but our client was genuinely concerned and asked for help.

I looked up the number for the post office in that zip code and called the Postmaster. I explained the situation, he immediately understood, and perhaps more importantly, he empathized. He asked that I send an email with the package information and a request to stop delivery. Turns out the package was actually being delivered out of another office, but he offered to handle everything. It arrived that day and was to be delivered the next morning.

I notified our customer that the Postal Service was trying to locate the package and stop delivery. I can only imagine how many packages they were processing on that day, but there was never a mention of effort required or any complaint from the Postmaster.

The next afternoon, I received a phone call. Delivery had been intercepted and the package was to be returned to Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. I notified our customer and they were overwhelmed with gratitude.

Depending on who and where you strike up a conversation about the United States Postal Service, chances are good that you’ll hear some type of complaint about delivery, service or whatever. Bashing the US Postal Service is right up there on some people’s list with baseball, Mom and apple pie.

But it’s not on my list. Frankly, we get great service from the USPS. Not perfect, but we’re not either. This is one example where a delivery failure was actually the result of outstanding customer service. Not because he was required to do so, but rather because a compassionate human being understood the situation and did what he could to help. Great customer service comes from people who understand the rewards of serving others and are not afraid to take action to help.

Given the number of orders we shipped out this holiday season, odds are good that we’ll get returns for some reason. And it is possible that some packages will not be delivered when they should be. Failure happens. No one on this earth is perfect. We’ll do what we can to help.

You can rest assured that anytime I’m standing in a crowd and the subject of the Postal Service comes up (it does happen), you won’t find me serving up any complaints. This one act of selfless service covers a lot of other mistakes. You see it just so happens that the addressee who passed away this year shares my wife’s name, Debbie. And I’m very thankful that our postman won’t be worried about stopping delivery of any packages coming to our home, addressed to my wife.

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Why I’m really, really thankful this year

It’s official. The season of giving thanks and celebrating holiday traditions with friends and family officially begins this week. Yes, I know some retail stores put out Christmas decorations months ago – the real kick-off starts on Thursday.

At Anna’s Gourmet Goodies we’ve been preparing for the ‘holiday gift rush’ over the past few months. We are grateful that many of our best and most loyal customers will be sending out our cookies again this year. We won’t tally up numbers until the flour settles after we ring in 2014, but total sales are up nicely so far this year. We have you, our friends and customers to thank for that.

I believe that having an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is something that pays off in business and in your personal life. This past February I had the opportunity to get a clearer understanding of what that means on a personal level after taking a ride in the back of an ambulance to Rex Hospital.

I'm especially grateful for everything this year
I’m especially grateful for everything this year
I was finishing up my Valentine’s Day grocery shopping after stopping by my doctor’s office to make an appointment. I had not been feeling 100% and Debbie finally convinced me to go in for a visit. While at the store, a feeling came over me unlike anything I had ever experienced. I felt faint. My chest started to hurt. I knew things were not right. I dropped the basket, got in the car, and drove the 50 yards up the hill back to the doctor (I’m a practical guy – what can I say).

The urgent care office on the first floor took me in right away. When you say ‘chest pain’, you go to the front of the line. Within minutes, I was wired up, and people were rushing around. The doctor came in, took one look at the EKG and said, “Mr. Duke, you are going to the hospital right now. You are having a heart attack.”

Within minutes, I was on a gurney, nitro under the tongue and on my way to the cardiac care unit in the ER. On a day filled with hearts, love and candy, I called Debbie from the back of the truck and said, ‘Honey, meet me at the hospital. They tell me I’m having a heart attack. I’ll be okay. I love you.’

To say that I received care that was over the top would be a gross understatement. From the EMTs who whisked me off to the hospital, to the staff ushering me into the ER, to the cardiologist who calmed me and diagnosed my issue with perfect precision, I was in the absolute best of hands.

Fortunately, it was not a heart attack or blockage. It did require minor heart surgery to remove fluid from around my heart. Once again, from the nursing team who cared for me, the prep-nurse, to the skilled surgeon and his team, I was cared for, prayed for and watched over with divine grace – no question about it.

The surgery was a complete success. After a few days in the hospital, I was given the all-clear to return home. Tests both in the hospital and afterwards revealed no problems. No treatments and no therapy. I recently completed a stress test and watched my heart pumping away on the ‘heart TV’ as I call it. Everything is functioning normally and according to my cardiologist, I have no more risk than the healthiest people on the planet.

Am I thankful this year? You bet I am. Not only is Anna’s Gourmet Goodies having a good year, but I was given a rare gift – the chance to look at my life from a totally different perspective. To put my trust in the hands of an incredibly skilled and passionate group of people who were totally focused on giving me the chance to continue on my journey. To come out of the experience in near perfect health. The words ‘thank you’ really are not big enough.

I’ve said it before – we make cookies – but we are really in the business of making people happy. Of helping others say thank you to friends, family, clients, whomever. We’ve always been passionate about putting the same level of care in every order – whether it is one cookie or three thousand. However, this year I’ll probably toss in an extra measure of thanks to share a little bit of the gift I was given this past February. You might not taste it in the cookies and brownies, but rest assured there’s a little extra ‘thank you’ in every box.

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Real miracles happen daily in this place

Earlier this past summer, we challenged Anna to come up with some ‘mission projects’ centered around community service. She spent the last year in the YMCA Leader’s Club, where she had to spend at least 10 hours a month volunteering. To reinforce what she was learning, I offered up resources at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies to help with the project(s) she put together.

Scan back through my blog, you’ll find a post about the Ronald McDonald House in Durham (RMHD), and my last one about ‘The Why’. If you combine those two, you’ll understand why serving dinner for guests at RMHD seemed like the perfect combination for one of Anna’s mission projects.

Fresh pasta, like fresh baked goumet cookies, simply tastes better
Anna, Olivia and Elise cranked out fresh pasta for the guests at RMHD
We wanted to make a dinner that everyone would enjoy, but also create an experience that was special. Pasta is a common dinner, but we decided to make it fresh, on site, using a hand crank pasta maker.

And rather than sauce from a jar, we opted for fresh marinara starting with real tomatoes, carrots, onions and fresh herbs from our garden. We added a salad of organic greens and spinach, along with loaves of organic whole wheat baguettes from our friends at Whole Foods Market, and kicked it up a notch with a roasted garlic and butter sauce. And of course, we baked up a fresh batch of our ‘magic cookies’ to finish things off.

RMHD recently expanded and has the capacity to house up to 55 families at a time. For our meal, we were told to plan on feeding about 75 people. That’s a lot of hand made pasta, so we enlisted the help of two of Anna’s friends, Elise and Oliva.

Fresh made sauce to top off fresh made pasta
No sauce from a jar tonight – fresh vine ripe tomatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and herbs from the garden!
After a busy day in our kitchen getting as much prepared as possible, we headed out for Durham to start cooking in their spacious state of the art common area kitchen. We wanted to make sure the guests enjoyed a memorable meal, prepared from scratch with extra love and care.

We had the chance to meet and talk with several of the guests while preparing the meal. Fresh pasta is a real treat to eat as well as watching it being made. It was fun getting to know the families while we were busy cranking, stirring and preparing the meal. We met one family who was spending their last evening at RMHD, returning the next day to Bethel, Alaska. Her daughter had come to Duke for ear surgery and they spent about three months at the house. I tried to calculate the distance from Durham to Bethel, but Google maps simply could not return the calculation – rest assured it is a long way from their home.

The Anna's Gourmet Goodies Team
The Team: Chris, Debbie, Oliva, Anna and Elise
The dinner rush came at 6:30 when they announced our menu to the house. We helped guests, some weary from a long day at the hospital, navigate the buffet line and made sure everyone was served.

When we were almost ready to close up, a husband and wife came down with their daughter for dinner. While the father attended to the daughter, the mother filled up her plate. She was happy, smiling, and very grateful, so I struck up a conversation by asking about her stay at RMHD. She explained the details of her newborn baby’s condition and the challenges she faced. I listened intently as she described how doctors were working to correct something never before seen in medical history.

It seems that her internal organs where not developed and she would under go multiple surgeries to have any hope of correcting the problem. That day, the newborn was fighting an infection from the last surgery. If everything went well, she said they might return home for Christmas.

She went on to explain that as a child, she too faced serious health challenges and was herself a patient at Duke Children’s Hospital. The entire time we spoke, she had a smile on her face and seemed genuinely happy. I held back tears and was both honored and humbled by her story.

I wish that I could tell you that our cookies (and the rest of our meal) somehow contributed to her happiness, but that would simply not be true. Her happiness came from her faith and gratitude – plain and simple. This was one case where I was actually the recipient of her happiness, not the other way around.

After the last guest was served, we cleaned up the kitchen and put away the food. We left behind a couple of cookies and some leftover pasta, but I suspect that it disappeared by the next day.

I’ve thought about this experience over the past weeks and wanted to share a couple of thoughts. First of all, I am grateful to our customers. Without your support over the years, it would not be possible for us to do even small projects like this one, and give something back to our community.

Secondly, it reinforces the rewards of being of service to others. Of doing something, whether it is making cookies, preparing a meal, lending a hand or sometimes your ear, to bring a brief moment of happiness to someone else.

And finally, it serves as another reminder of the importance of perspective. We are fortunate that Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has been growing this past year, but like any business, we’ll face challenges and obstacles in the coming months and years. But probably none as great as that young baby lying in a bed at Duke Children’s Hospital, waiting for the skill of the surgeon’s hands to give her the opportunity to live life itself. In comparison, I have no problems.

RMHD sent us a nice thank you note after the dinner, but it was really us who should be thanking them. My friend and the director Oie Osterkamp told me that one of the board members suggested that the letters RMHD really stand for ‘Real Miracles Happen Daily’. After spending a little time there, meeting the guests, and hearing their stories, I’d have to agree. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to come along for the ride.

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Real magic happens when you understand the ‘why’

I was at a grand opening event not long ago when one of the hosts said to me, ‘Any customer is a good customer’. It’s a phrase that goes with ‘The customer is always right’. Both are easy to say and sound upbeat in general conversation, but is it really true?

Don’t get me wrong, we love it when customers place orders (really, don’t let me stop you if you were going to click right now). The truth is, however, that not every order, or every customer, is a perfect fit for our business. I know business people who will balk at this idea and would never utter this in public. But if you’ve ever been so tuned in to your business that you actually ‘feel the pulse’, you know it is true.

Real magic in any business happens when you connect with those people who not only understand your product or service and have a need for what you provide, but who believe that you are in business for reasons that align with, and support, their values.

In a TEDx talk, Simon Sinek, diagrams what he calls the golden circle. In this circle, there are three layers, the ‘what’, the ‘how’, and the ‘why’. The what is on the outside, followed by the how. In the center, is the why.


Looking at business leadership through the golden circle
The ‘golden circle’ as defined by Simon Sinek
For Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, it’s pretty simple to define – we bake cookies and brownies. If this was all we focused on communicating, we would probably sell products to some customers. But, we’d be like another car horn on a busy street in Manhattan rush hour traffic vying for attention. Our cookies are good (to be sure), but there are plenty of companies out there trying to get people to buy their cookies.


We make our cookies by hand, using the finest ingredients. Okay. I’d hazard a guess that you’ll find that phrase not just in the descriptions and brochures for other cookie businesses, but used by a slew of other companies that make food products as well. It’s a process that other businesses follow. It’s true, but so what.


Finally, we get down to the heart of the matter. The tagline for Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, ‘Our cookies make people happy’, describes in simple terms, why we do what we do – to bring happiness to someone’s life. Sometimes it’s a box of cookies (what) we ship to a client’s office (how) as a thank you gift. Or it might be a gift tower (what) we send to a college student at their dorm (how) to celebrate their first birthday away from home.

In some cases, we’ve delivered cookies that we hope provided some measure of comfort during the last days of a person’s life. All were cookies (what) that we made by hand from ingredients that we select and shipped to the end customer (how).

We believe that a simple gesture of giving someone something really good, that was lovingly made, packaged and delivered in a unique way, when they least expect it, without asking for anything in return, brings happiness and a smile to almost anyone, even if for a brief moment. It just so happens, that we also make really good cookies and brownies.

It is the why behind what we do that is the most important ingredient. We seek to deliver a brief moment of happiness to every person who opens a box of our cookies or brownies. To spark a memory. To generate a smile. To provide respite from the pressures of the day. To make people happy. That’s the why.

Most businesses focus on the what and the how. There will always be some number of customers who order something based on answers to these questions. If anyone comes to our website, places an order with a valid credit card and address, we’ll bake and ship it.

Ultimately, however, we execute on the why part of our business and attract customers who make an emotional connection to the idea of sharing happiness by sending one of our gifts to another person. They value what we do beyond simply the amount of money spent on a purchase.

Fortunately, the world of technology we live in today has made finding the why easier than ever. We can search, post, share, like and collaborate with our friends next door and around the globe, all at the click of a button. The war for transparency in business is over – the Internet won.

What might happen in your business or your life if you were to stop and focus on the why? Would it make a difference in the customers you attract or the people in your life? I believe that it does. And once you’ve had a taste of that magic (sort of like our chocolate chip cookies), nothing else tastes quite as sweet.

If you should decide to send a gift to someone, or maybe you have opened a box of our cookies with a cold glass of milk at some time, I want you to know that the why will always the same – to make people happy.

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Sending a gift? We’ve got your back

At Anna's Gourmet Goodies, we watch out for you
When you are a customer at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, you can relax. We’ve got your back.
If you place an order at AnnasGourmetGoodies.com, you expect your gourmet cookie gifts to be baked fresh and sent to the recipient. You expect a card with your message to be in the box. You expect we’ll send the right box, basket, or ribbon color. Whether it is a personal gift, or a corporate gift, you expect your order to be completed as placed. We’ve spent more than ten years shipping hundreds of thousands of cookies throughout the United States and Military bases around the globe, doing exactly that – fulfilling orders for our customers as expected. We’re not perfect by any means, but we own up to any mistakes and always do the right thing for our customers.

Getting your order out the door correctly is important for everyone, but especially important for our business customers. Why? Corporate gifts are often sent to either clients or prospects. The last thing a business customer wants (or us for that matter) is for someone to receive a personalized business gift that misses the mark. While we can’t guarantee everyone will love our cookies and brownies (yes – it is true that some people don’t rave about our cookies), we go the extra mile and pay attention to the details we can control to deliver a memorable gift experience.

Here are just a few things we do for our business clients:

1. Typos in the message. While there are times when typos are intentional, we always have a second look at the message on the order. If it is obvious this was due to fast fingers or a rouge smartphone, we’ll fix it before it goes out. In some cases, if the wording doesn’t sound right, we’ll send an email to our customer to make sure everything is just right. We don’t want to change the message or the intent, but if we catch those minor errors that might otherwise spoil the ideal gift, we both look better.

2. Address errors. It happens. Maybe your customer relationship software is out of date, or there is a small typo. We load our orders into a database that checks addresses against the USPS database. If it does not come back with a 9-digit zip code, we’ll first do some research on the Internet. Sometimes we can fix the error. If we still can’t find a match, we’ll either call the recipient and get the correct shipping address, or ask the client for an update. In any case, we work hard to make sure that we don’t waste our client’s money or reputation by shipping gifts to the wrong address.

3. Timing. We bake our cookies in the morning, and ship in the afternoon. Because we don’t put any preservatives, corn syrup or shortening to extend their shelf life, they’re best consumed in a week or less. We pay attention to shipping days and destinations to help deliver the freshest product possible. For example, we have a company that sends office gifts to dentists. Since most dental offices are closed on Friday – we don’t ship gifts after Tuesday so they won’t sit around over the weekend.

I read Keith Ferazzi’s book, “Whose got your back?” a year ago, and it really resonated with me, personally and in our business. We’ve cultivated relationships over the years with suppliers who have our back. In turn, we treat all of our customers with the same philosophy. It’s not something I do to get repeat business, but rather it is a way of life. I sleep a lot better at night knowing that when the oven gets turned off, I’ve finally answered the last email and setup everything for the next day, we’ve delivered exactly the kind of service we expect from others.

If this sounds like the type of service you’d like to get from a company that is sending personalized corporate gifts with your name on them, and you are not a customer of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, then maybe you should be. And if you are already sending gourmet cookie gifts from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, you can relax, we’ve got your back.

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Tips for Administrative Professionals Day

Next Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day. If you rely on administrative professionals to help get work done, this is the ‘scheduled time’ to stop and recognize those people who support you and your business.

Anna’s Gourmet Goodies is in business to send gifts that make people happy. But, we know from experience that there are other things you can do to show your gratitude. And while we are ready and prepared to ship gourmet cookie and brownie gifts next week, here are some alternatives you might consider if what we have is not the right fit:

Send them to lunch (or dinner) with someone else – their spouse, significant other or family

While it is nice to take someone to lunch, it is far more impactful to allow someone to share something they’ve earned, with someone else outside of work. You may have a great relationship with your staff and that is great. However, many managers overestimate the real desire of support staff to spend time with them outside of work. Lunch or dinner may actually create more stress, depending on how a manager has behaved during the other 51 weeks of the year.

Surprise them with a day off AND do all of their work

Taking a day off in our ultra-connected world is not what it used to be. The sad truth is that for many people, a day off simply means that work piles up until you return and have to do double duty to catch up. Give your admin(s) a day off and hire someone to handle all the tasks they would normally do. If this is not possible during their time off, hire someone to be their admin when they return so that the day off was really a bonus, not a postponed penalty.

Say ‘thank you’ the other 51 weeks of the year, and mean it

Surveys on workplace satisfaction vary and depending on the source (and whether you believe the results), as much as 80% of the people working at companies are dissatisfied enough to leave if given the opportunity. Why is that? I don’t believe it is the task performed. There are things all of us have to do that we don’t like, but the greatest source of discontent comes down to people who manage other people. If you work for someone who is not grateful for your efforts, nothing will be satisfying in the long run. A dose of genuine gratitude is medicine that could cure a world of hurt in the workplace. Say thanks, mean what you say and do it often

If you do decide to send one of our gourmet cookie or brownie gifts, then here are a couple of things you might want to consider.

1. Send the gift to their home, especially if they have a family. Don’t hand them a gift at work so that they have to ‘thank you for the thank you gift’. Send them something outside of work to let them (and their family or friends) know that you appreciate them outside of work.

2. Size the gift for the recipient. If you are sending a gift to a person who does not have a family or significant other, you don’t need to go overboard and send a basket of 48 cookies. A nice simple box will do just fine. All our gifts are about the experience of something really good in elegant packaging that is nice, but not gaudy or overly extravagant.

3. Consider having us ship on Wednesday so they arrive on Friday for the weekend. What a nice treat to enjoy over the next couple of days!

Whatever you decide to do for those people who support your operation, remember that gratitude is should be a part of your management philosophy 365 days a year, not just on special occasions. And while it is great to do something to say ‘thanks’ during the ‘scheduled time’, think about how you can practice the same thing at other times of the year, when it is least expected. A little lagniappe can go a long way.

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