Service systems are inherently subject to variability, whether through customers, service providers, suppliers, or unexpected events. Yet customers demand excellence and consistency regardless of this variability. In general, there are two ways to handle this variability—through people or through processes. We use the concept of robustness to describe these two approaches. This case uses an inventory mishap at a pet store to explore the need for robust people in a service system subject to variability. The case gives students the opportunity to explore the implications of lack of robustness when people face unexpected variability.
A day-shift manager at a pet store, Martin Fesmire, thinks nothing of selling two rabbits to his best customer. But when the rabbits have a litter of bunnies overnight, Fesmire's professional world is thrown into turmoil that will grow to involve his boss, the corporate legal department, the CEO, the highest court in America, and an ever-increasing number of disputed rabbits. This tongue-in-cheek story allows for a discussion of the strategic tradeoffs between investing in robust people versus investing in robust processes.