Devil staff rules

How letting staff break the rules can benefit customer experience


Don't be a slave to dumb rules. Because bending and breaking company rules can often lead to better customer experiences. 

25th Sep 2020

I get it. Companies need to protect themselves. Companies have been sued for something frivolous and stupid. In response, they enact policies that protect themselves from future possible litigation. But the cost of that protection comes at the expense of the customer.

People aren’t always honest, ethical or moral. Companies have been burned. But that is the cost of doing business! Why should the vast majority of your customers pay the price for a few dishonest people? The answer is simple: they shouldn’t.

Company-centric policies come from a nonsensical view that customers must behave a certain way if they want to do business with them. It’s like being a member of a snobby country club. If you want in, you have to do what they say. The objective of the company now shifts to meeting internal requirements that protect themselves rather than ensuring an enhanced customer experience.

Sadly, customers are the victims. They are not considered the primary purpose for the organisation’s existence and become a means to an end. When customers are treated as such, they will happily respond via social media and let the world know of their frustrations.

Rules are there to be broken

Most rules, in the corporate sense, are meant to be bent and even broken - allowing employees to use their judgement and determine when and how a rule should be bent actually produces greater degrees of customer loyalty and satisfaction. When given this degree of autonomy, employees take a more active role in advocating the company’s position behind the policy.

The organisation is thus rewarded with a customer who is blown away by the experience and will brag to their family and friends about how well they were treated. I remember in law school learning about dumb laws in different states. For example, in Connecticut it is illegal for a hairdresser to hum a tune while cutting a client’s hair. In Utah, alcohol cannot be sold during a state of emergency. And in the state of Arkansas (this is my personal favourite), it is illegal to mispronounce the name Arkansas.

Now I am sure that at one point laws like these were necessary (except maybe the Arkansas one). But social norms have changed over time. So have customer expectations. Organisations had to enact company-centric rules at one point to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits or outrageous customer demands. Some policies are enacted due to regulatory requirements. But for the most part, companies enact anti-customer policies because they can, not because they should.

A large Las Vegas casino had a rule in place that only parties of six could sit in booths at the 24 hour restaurant. Parties less than six had to sit in chairs. Understandably, the restaurant wants to maximise the sales from large dining parties. But in this particular case, the restaurant was virtually empty. A guest asked if he and his wife could sit in the more comfortable booth due to having back problems. The restaurant blatantly said “no” and demanded the customers sit in the chairs. This is a prime example of a rule that could have been bent given the circumstances.

Or take the luxury hotel that has a “no children in the pool area before 5PM” rule. The pool is right next to the spa. Nothing is more annoying than hearing screaming kids while trying to get a relaxing massage. But what if there are no bookings for the day? Couldn’t that rule be adjusted given the circumstances? Or better yet, enact policies that are favorable to all parties. Disney Cruise Lines has done this wonderfully. On each of their luxurious ships, sections of the ship are designated kids only, adults only, and families only. Adults and kids can have their own separate spaces to unwind and relax. Or, they can enjoy the experience together. Now, everyone is happy!

So why don't more companies break the rules?

There are countless examples of rules in place that can be bent or even broken to accommodate the customer. Everyone’s needs are different. Applying all-encompassing policies for every customer simply doesn’t make sense. I am in no way advocating a company should let customers manipulate and take advantage of them. But many policies don’t apply in most instances, and thus should be broken to create a moment of 'wow' for the guest.

Companies have this internal fear that if they bend the rules for one customer, they must for everybody. Or, they will somehow justify that the cost of producing the experience outweighs the positive experience itself. It actually costs far less to produce these great experiences than your annual marketing/advertising budget. Catchy slogans and cheesy gimmicks don’t win customers to your brand; amazing experiences do! 

Customer experience author Donna Cutting shares the following:

Publix Supermarkets has a policy of taking products back and giving replacements no matter what. My Dad, who worked for Publix before he passed away, told me that one time a woman and her husband came to the meat department and asked for steaks to replace the steaks they had bought. They did not have the steaks with them. The butcher said “Absolutely! For our information, do you mind telling me what you found wrong with them?” The woman’s husband looked embarrassed as she said, “Well… I overcooked them.” The butcher at Publix replaced the steaks with good humor. I asked my Dad, “Does that happen often?” His answer was “absolutely not. It’s only the occasional customer that takes advantage of the policy.”

Dumb rules are nothing more than a roadblock preventing the customer from getting what they really need. Even when the customer request is something that won’t adversely affect the company or its employees, most organisations stick to a “sorry, but that’s policy” mantra. This sends a message to your customers that they are not worth your time and they are not welcome at your place of business.

My favorite dumb rule is when an employee says: “I have to ask my manager!” Not only does this waste time, but sends the wrong message to customers. What you are really saying is: “I have to make sure that taking care of you is within company policy!”

A large Midwest food producer has enacted a rule that I agree with entirely. The only time an employee needs manager approval is when the answer must be a “no” to the customer.

Employees should be empowered to take care of any negative customer situation right then and there. More rules leads to less passionate team members. Less passion leads to less engagement. Less engagement leads to lagging service. Lagging experience leads to lower sales. There is no other way to say it!

You are presented daily with an abundance of chances to be a hero in your customer’s lives. So get rid of stupid rules. Put on your customer service cape and make it happen for them!

About the author:

Bryan Horn is a customer experience trainer and corporate culture development expert, and the founder of CX Solutions, a CX training consulting firm. He is the author of the internationally successful book The Customer Service Revolution: 8 Principles That Will Change the Way Companies Think About the Customer Experience and the Employees Who Work for Them and is currently publishing his second book, Get Your Stuff and Get Out! Why Customer Service Sucks and How We Can Make It Great Again!



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