According to a story published Thursday by Bloomberg, Friedman fired off a memo to employees of the high-end furniture retailer in late January, following a meeting with executives and vendors that included a discussion about problems in one of the company's businesses.
There was no beating around the bush.
"NO ONE WAS FOCUSED ON THE PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING WHO WERE ON FIRE," Friedman wrote, using a burning-building analogy, according to Bloomberg. "WE HAVE LET CUSTOMERS DIE."
In case employees still weren't clear how serious he was, he screamed on, noting higher order-cancellation rates. "We need a MASSIVE CHANGE IN OUR CULTURE AND ATTITUDE RIGHT NOW," Friedman wrote. "THE GOAL IS DELIGHT."
And if they don't reach that goal? "YOU WILL NEVER GET IN TROUBLE FOR MAKING A DECISION TO DELIGHT OUR CUSTOMERS," he said. "YOU WILL, HOWEVER, LOSE YOUR JOB IF YOU DON'T."Got that?According to Bloomberg, Friedman confirmed the memo and said, in an interview, that it was his way of getting people's attention. "This is an example of me as a leader saying, 'I'm ringing the bell.' I want to make sure I'm not communicating through 15 layers of management." A spokesperson for Restoration Hardware said the company had no further comment on the report or memo.
Friedman may have reason to send a hair-on-fire, light-their-fire memo to workers about putting customer delight (pardon me: DELIGHT) first. The company said Wednesday that its fourth quarter sales and earnings were well below forecasts, sending shares down a steep 26 percent on Thursday.
In a note to shareholders that had decidedly fewer capital letters, Friedman said the issues in the fourth quarter signaled "a further pullback by the high-end consumer," and also said the company was trying to improve the customer experience. "As we have elevated our brand, especially at retail, other customer touch points also need to leapfrog forward to create a cohesive experience," Friedman said. "This initiative will focus on everything from product quality to in-home delivery across all channels, and includes new people, processes and systems."
Meanwhile, he said in the same letter, the company would be launching a new membership model this spring, which he likened to "the high-end interior design trade." The new model will have customers pay an annual fee in exchange for getting things like discounts, free design and concierge services, and preferred financing terms, an attempt to wean customers off the wait-for-the-sale mentality and turn them into more frequent shoppers.
And getting people to pay a fee for something like that, of course, requires a company to have a pretty remarkable customer experience (oops: DELIGHT).
Whether a blaring, all-caps memo that threatens job losses is actually going to motivate people to help customers reach this furniture-fueled state of customer enlightenment seems doubtful. As one columnist at Inc. wrote, one way to get employees' to pay attention might just be "not to have 15 layers of management." If the caps lock has to be on to get employees' attention, there's probably a reason.