For anyone who has read any of my articles in the past you may pick up on a distinct theme. As with many writers I draw inspiration from my life experiences and how those experiences shape my views on business, customer service and the like. So without further adieu, what happened today?

At The Trademark Company we have created a great place to work. Happy hours. Trips to local sporting events. Other corporate events. One of these traditions is that no one should work on their Birthday, or at least not a full day. So whenever we have a birthday in the office the tradition is the birthday boy or girl comes in, checks their messages, yadda yadda yadda, we have lunch, a sugar bomb cake and send them on their way to enjoy the rest of the day off.

So today it fell on me to get the cake. I know that our birthday girl loves ice cream cake so I planned on picking one up for her just before the lunch. No worries, I thought, the ice cream store that makes the best ice cream cakes is two blocks away. I’ll just swing up at 11:30 a.m., just before the lunch, and grab one of their delectable morsels. Okay, so I waited till the last minute. My bad.

When I got to the store I pulled on the handle. The door would not open. Like all people faced with a door that will not open I curiously looked at the seam between the door and the frame to see if the lock was engaged. To my surprise it was. Hmmmm, I thought, why is the door locked in the middle of the day? Looking inside I could see the employees standing around. Some working on cleaning counter tops, some just chatting away. I stepped back looking for an hours of operation sign. There it was, posted clear as day: Winter Hours, M-F, 12 p.m-6 p.m. Ahhh, I thought realizing I would soon be on the way to forage for another place that makes ice cream cakes.

But to my good fortunate, or so I thought, an employee came to the door. It was now 11:45 a.m. Awesome. He is going to let me in early so I can buy a cake. To my chagrin, however, he just looked at me from the other side of the window and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Sorry bud, we’re closed.” Got that from the sign, thanks. But since I figured I was here, he was there, I was one twist of a wrist on a latch lock from achieving my objective.  So I decided to sweeten the deal. I opened my wallet and pulled out a bundle of twenties.  As a married man with children it is not often I actually have cash in my wallet. But today was my day!

I subtly waived the green at the employee through the window pointing to the display case which held $50 to $75 cakes. This would be a good sale to start the day for a store that averages $4 to $5 per cone. The employee approached the door. My victory was assured.  Capitalism had triumphed and in a few minutes I would be bringing back an awesome chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake that would be the best sugar bomb we had had in the office in months.

As he stepped forward, however, he shrugged again, pointing to the sign with the hours of operation, and smirked as he walked away to chat with his other employees. Foiled! Commerce and the temptation of an above-average sale had not been enough.

Undaunted, I stuffed my twenties back into my wallet, drove to my local grocery store, and purchased a wonderful Carvel Ice Cream cake. Thank you Carvel! Always great. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So how do I twist this morning’s mini-adventure into a business lesson you can use in your business?

1.       Your Business is Not Irreplaceable

We have a saying around here that has guided us since day one: answer the phone or someone else will. What does this mean? Quite simply that you must recognize that if you do not answer the proverbial phone your competitors will. With the rise of the Internet and information as a whole now, more than ever, your prospective consumers have choices. Within a few keystrokes on their iPhone they can locate competing services that, if yours are not available, they can use to replace you. Recognizing this you must answer your phone. You must open your store. You must be prepared to offer them what they need when they need it. If not, you’re just a couple of keystrokes away from being a memory.

How do I know?  Let’s look at this morning’s example. Where did I get my ice cream cake?  From the place I wanted to buy it from? Or the place I could buy it from? Answer the phone! Make the sale.

2.       Go Above and Beyond

Many of you may be skeptics. Many may blame me for going out at the last minute to secure our sugar bomb. You all would be right. But at the end of the day I had money and a need to purchase and that is all that should matter when we are talking about a transaction for goods and services. What kept the original store from a good transaction? Simple. A failure to go above and beyond. Specifically, turning a latch and letting a customer in a scant 10 minutes before opening.

Around here every interviewee is given a series of questions to illicit how they would respond to these types of scenarios. The scenario typically begins with an ordinary customer calling in during normal work hours. If that customer states they can only complete the order if you can call them back at 6:00 p.m. what do you do? What if your normal workday ends at 5:00 p.m.? What if you had a dinner planned with a friend at 6:00 p.m.? What happens if you had tickets to the 2012-2013 National Championship Football Game matching the Florida Gators against USC? What would you do? You get the point. Around here we want only people who will go above and beyond or figure out ways to do so.

If one of our employees would have been working the ice cream cake store this morning I would have been stunned if they did not open the door. But let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, some strange requirement like insurance coverage, fumigation, etc. precluded them from unlatching the door. There were a hundred other ways to handle this. For instance, unlatch the door, politely state we do not open for a few more minutes, but if you know what you would like I can have it ready when we open. They could have offered me a discount. Offered to take down my credit card information and have it delivered (recall, there were several of them just standing around holding the floor in place). Anything but what they did would have been better.

In short, even if they were closed and I was admittedly early they still could have gone above and beyond. They didn’t. In return, they lost a sale and I was reminded how easy it is to get one of the competitor’s products. Did I mention how good the Carvel cake was?  By the way, it was half the price of the other place that wouldn’t sell me their cake. Think I’m going back?