Are Your Company Policies Destroying Customer Service?


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As a business owner, it’s important to have policies in place to create and maintain order. It seems like having strict policies would always contribute to customer success, but sometimes policies do the opposite.

Thanks to policies that put company profits first, employees often feel their hands are tied and can’t provide the level of customer service expected. Maritz Research conducted a study that confirmed corporate policies focus on the bottom-line instead of customers.

“I wish I could help you, but…”

Employees are generally willing to help a customer in any situation… if only they were allowed.

Rick Garlick, Senior Director of Consulting at Maritz said (about employees), “They want to help the customer, but feel they don’t have the authority, or existing policies prevent them from doing so effectively or sometimes at all. This adds a lot of weight to the unfortunately common phrase heard by customers: ‘I wish I could help you, but…’”

The following corporate policies are ruining customer service and making employees the “fall guy.” If any of these policies apply to your business, it’s time to reconsider.

1. Cashiers can’t help customers pay

It’s a common situation: a cashier rings someone up, they go for their wallet, and they end up a little bit short. They pat down all of their pockets hoping they forgot about a $5 bill, but nothing turns up. Everyone in line stares impatiently. The cashier feels the customer’s embarrassment and wants to reach into their own pocket to help, but they can’t. The corporate policy states that a cashier can’t offer a customer so much as a penny without getting fired. If nobody in line offers to help, the customer either puts something back or scurries out the door, leaving everything behind.

This is a common policy used to prevent theft by preventing the cashier from handling their own money with the register’s money, but it does nothing to support the needs of the customer.

2. Corporate policy changes that force a business to close

Sometimes policies affect the customer by forcing the business to close. Like when eBay announced mandatory Business Policies in 2012 that made a mess of sellers’ listings. Designed to make it easier by creating a drop-down list of saved policies for shipping, returns, and payments, the system had other plans.

Every listing with a slight variation generated a new policy that ended up in the drop-down. Selling items in multiple quantities and at different shipping rates exponentially generated policies, making it difficult for sellers to complete a listing. Some eBay sellers couldn’t work with the changes and closed up shop.

This is a perfect example of how businesses are affected by policies created by other businesses they depend on.

Think your way through corporate policy changes

When you’re a business that depends on a larger corporation for policies beyond your control, you just have to look for the right solution.

In 2016, FedEx implemented a new policy for contractors to become compliant with their Independent Service Provider Agreement by the end of May 2020. This policy change affects contractors with routes that don’t meet the minimum stop requirements. Unlike eBay’s policy, they’re being offered ideas to avoid having to close up shop. Advice is being given to contractors to merge with other routes or acquire another route to become compliant.

3. Refunds provided based on the current sale price

When a customer has to return an item they’ve bought, they expect a full refund. A full refund is what’s fair. Unfortunately, many department stores have policies in place that only provide refunds for the current sale price. If the item has been marked down, is on sale for the week, or is on clearance for 90% off, the customer takes the hit.

From the retailer’s point of view, they know they won’t be able to sell the item at full price once it’s been marked down, so they let the customer take the hit. This makes logical sense, but when a company makes billions of dollars in profit, they should be willing to take that loss.

4. Having to go by the book

When it’s a policy that all employees must never break any policy, it’s a customer service disaster waiting to happen. When a customer has a legitimate concern that stretches outside the policy boundaries, employees who are empowered to make the call are more likely to create a satisfied customer. Blind implementation of policies without consideration for circumstance doesn’t make the customer feel special or appreciated.

When your employees are empowered to make decisions in favor of the customer based on the situation, that’s how satisfied customers are created. It’s not that the customer is always right – the customer should always be treated fairly, with respect, and get what they want (within reason).

Larry Alton
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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