There's nothing more annoying than being the victim of random and seemingly unnecessary corporate rules. Just ask Ralph Nader. The consumer advocate and sometimes-presidential candidate ran afoul of an American Airlines rule last week that prevented him from sitting in an aisle seat — unless he wanted to pay an exorbitant fee — even though there were plenty of available aisle seats on the flight.
I, too, had a little run-in with a bizarre and less-than-customer-service-friendly rule at my local fabric store this week. Luckily, I found their competition — conveniently located just a block away — more than willing to accommodate my less-than- outrageous request. They've found themselves a new and enthusiastic customer for life.
Both episodes left me thinking about company rules and how much they go against the old saying: The customer is always right.
Much of the time, it seems that company rules are less about the customer and more about making it hard for the employees to make a mistake.
"I'm sorry, I can't do that, it's against the rules" really means: "My boss thinks I'm too stupid to figure out when it's a good idea to do that and when it's not."
The problem with this approach to doing business is that it was invented in a time when customers were forced to do business with you simply because they were geographically located near you. In an age when customers can buy from anyone, anywhere, "it's against the rules" becomes an engraved invitation for them to stay home and shop online.
The solution to this problem may be a reinvention of the way you teach your employees to think. Rather than saddle them with rules, maybe it's best to teach them about common sense.
Employees need to be taught to ask themselves:
- Is it worth losing a $100 sale over a $2 quibble?
- Is this a regular customer who needs a little extra attention.
- Is this customer a "pollinator" — someone who will go out into the community and spread the word about their experience with our company.
- Is what this person is asking for really unreasonable? Would I expect this if I were the customer?
Granted, not all employees are going to be able to answer those questions, but your managers and associate managers will and you need to encourage your managers to get involved in sticky customer service situations before they become a problem.
Your managers are the people who can turn a potential customer service problem in to a situation that leaves the customer feeling like they've been treated with kid gloves. That's the kind of thing that will keep them coming back over and over again.
In the business climate we live in — where every customer is priceless and everyone is your competitor — there's no time to waste changing your employees' view of customer service.
"The customer's always right" doesn't apply anymore, mostly because your employees know darn well that that simply isn't true. Instead, you need to retrain your employees to think, "It's my job to make the customer think they are always right, even when they're not."
After all, that's what customer service is about … building long-lasting relationships with customers, even the difficult ones.
Jeanette Mulvey has been the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily since its debut in 2010. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.