How a corporate policy crushed service


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We often concentrate on the individuals serving us when we think about service quality. But what happens when dumb corporate policies hinder employees’ ability to serve?

This is one of those stories.

My wife, Sally, recently bought a Tumi briefcase. They’re more expensive than typical bags, but they have a reputation for outstanding quality.

Unfortunately, this bag didn’t live up to that reputation as a zipper pull tore off after just a few weeks.

Sally brought her bag back to the Tumi store so it could be repaired under warranty. She was told it could take up to four weeks because they had to ship the bag back to their repair center in New York.

Losing her briefcase for a month wasn’t an option, so Sally spoke to the store manager in hopes of finding a more acceptable alternative.

Could they give her a loaner bag? No.
Could they give her a new bag? No.
Could Sally get the bag repaired locally and send Tumi the bill? No.

These policies were clearly created by a spreadsheet jockey. They appeared to be the model of efficiency from an aggregate, corporate point of view while completely missing how nonsensical they were in this type of situation.

The store manager was very friendly and I think she really wanted to help. But she was also determined to adhere to the corporate repair policy.

Sticking to these policies cost Tumi a few things:

  • Sally won’t buy a Tumi product again.
  • I was in the market for a new suitcase but ruled out Tumi too.
  • Negative word of mouth.

She eventually left the store without getting her bag fixed. The broken zipper pull was an annoying reminder of Tumi’s poor service every time she traveled.

Sally took her bag to Index Urban in San Diego last Saturday to get repaired. She knew she’d have to pay for the service, but it was worth it to get her bag back in just a couple of days. I went with her because I still needed a new suitcase.

John, the owner, greeted us when we came in. He wrote up a repair bill for Sally’s bag and then helped me pick out a new suitcase. I went with a Briggs & Riley. They’re expensive like Tumi’s, but unlike Tumi they come with a real lifetime guarantee. And, I know I can take it back to Index Urban if anything does happen because they do repairs onsite.

We were happy customers at this point, but John sweetened the deal by throwing in monogrammed luggage tags for both of us.

The repair technician was off until Monday and John promised to give Sally a call once the technician had a chance to look at the bag. He surprised her with a call early Monday afternoon letting her know the bag had already been repaired. Even better was John waived the repair fee because he felt bad about our experience with Tumi!

Unlike the Tumi store manager, John wasn’t constrained by inflexible corporate policies because he was also the owner. Here’s how that paid off:

  • I bought a suitcase.
  • All of our future luggage purchases will come from Index Urban.
  • Positive word of mouth.

We can’t all be the owner, but I wonder how much better service would be if more employees were empowered to act like John? I do know that Tumi would still have two customers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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