The Case of the Mouldy Strawberries

A few years ago my partner and I had this insane idea that we would abandon our jobs and mortgage, and spend half a year travelling around Asia and Europe with our 5-year-old and 2-year-old children. Yes, you heard correctly- a toddler still in nappies.

Apart from the normal challenges of doing so, which might I add were considerable, we were cognisant of the fact that we had a duty to protect the children from the world and conversely, protect the world from the children. Thankfully we were vigilant on both counts (not without close calls) but one close call had nothing to do with our innocent children- we in fact were the culprits.

It all started when we arrived in Bath UK at this charming 19th century B&B. The fact that we had been travelling in a car for a number of hours prior with two cabin-fevered affected children, did not seem to register on the lovely hostess who proceeded to run through a long list of antiques in her possession, their value, their dates and how they were acquired. In some other universe, I may have cared, but I was terrified that one of the said antiques would come to its sudden and grisly end, unintentionally at the hands of my children, having endured over so many centuries, through acrimonious divorces, ruthless estate snatching, bank foreclosures, servant pilfering, social ruination, maybe even a war. So I watched them like a hawk, smiled sweetly at the hostess and heaved a profound sigh of relief once we were safely tucked in our room.

It was summer in the UK and as an antipodean having flown over from winter, I decided to enjoy some strawberries. We kept a good supply of food in a small thermally insulated bag and somehow at the end of a big sight-seeing day, forgot them. Clearly mould collects as well in the UK as anywhere else and one night we discovered these sad little strawberries. Creeping through the small room so as not to wake the sleeping babes, to get to the bathroom and wash the infested berries and their juices down the sink, my partner tripped. He looked down to see to his alarm, that around our little boy’s head on the snowy white, 4000-thread count, Egyptian cotton pillow, was a pool of dark red. The strawberry slime! With a deft hand, we slipped a replacement pillow beneath his head without waking him. What to do with the stained pillow? I don’t normally include bleach in my list of essential travel items, so we spent considerable time rubbing shampoo into this pillow. No dice. That red smear was deeply entrenched. Perhaps those added spores served as a colour fixative. That night I dreamt of our hostess and how appalled she would be when she found out. I thought about why I felt such a deep obligation to her. We were paying a considerable amount of money for the room so you would assume such contingencies would be covered. Then I remembered how she hovered over us at breakfast, miffed when my son tried some cereal and pushed the small opened box aside for another kind. If we had stayed in a hotel room, we would not have felt this accountable for our consumption. With hotel chains there is a kind of impersonal touch that helps patrons focus on themselves rather than the proprietors. I’m not saying we go around trashing hotel rooms or wasting food, but things do go wrong occasionally and you would presume this is all factored in the price.

When companies flout that they give customers the personal touch, it would seem being less personal allows the customer room to breath. This is why businesses must factor in things going wrong, or mouldy strawberries on a white pillow, as part of their customer engagement process. Things don’t always run smoothly for customers- staff misuse equipment, projects come to a grinding halt, people change jobs, not all customer staff members have permission to purchase or make key decisions. Smart suppliers anticipate such contingencies, by creating internal processes to mitigate risk for both parties such as undertaking a risk review for projects, not beginning work unless they receive a purchase order, undertaking thorough credit checks or identifying customer signatories or imposing penalties for projects that have stopped. These are ultimately benefits to customers because they ensure the customer is able to meet the goals that the product or service promises to fulfil. By factoring this into their prices, suppliers are able to make adjustments when things go off the rails without changing the conditions of the original contract agreement because these issues have already been covered between parties and the supplier is now called upon to provide the customer service they promised. These companies are the ones that live and prosper- to keep serving their valued customers.

We left that B&B in Bath in the early hours and 10 years later have not stayed in a B&B since.