“That’s Not Our Policy–and No, We Don’t Want to Hear From You!”


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How’s this for a conundrum?

Help the customer or enforce company policy. Enforce policy or help the customer.

Office Depot’s management created this very quandary when my friend Elena visited their brand spanking new store in Albuquerque last week.

She wanted a copy of a two-page color document, but she was told she had to wait because the store’s policy was to service register customers first. Watching customer after customer enter the store and leave with a purchase, she gave up waiting after one hour. The manager overseeing the few overworked employees could hardly have been less contrite. After she complained about the long wait, he offered “you can come back later this afternoon and pick up your copy.” How’s that for service?

What could have been the outcome if the store manager wasn’t conflicted in his goals? What if he were empowered (to use a now-popular term) to offer to courier Elena’s document to her or to ship it overnight? Instead, the policy shackles at Office Depot prevailed, to everyone’s detriment.

During Elena’s wait, she purchased a few items, and decided to voice her complaint via the website printed on her receipt, which helpfully shared how much Office Depot values her opinion. After carefully crafting an informative message about her poor Office Depot experience, her transmission was promptly rejected. Why? She declined to include her gender and annual household income among the information she submitted. Clearly, any mantra espousing customer centricity isn’t mounted in a frame at the home office.

My friend Elena left Office Depot without her color copies, and without Office Depot learning about her experience. She won’t visit the store again. And yes, she will tell twenty people about her experience.

Office Depot, are you listening? Maybe Staples will!


  1. Andy, I know just how your friend feels. I took a survey recently and was nearly all the way through it when I got to the demographic information. I never respond to questions about my household income. And most places allow you to opt out. This one didn’t. So I didn’t complete the survey. While I understand that retailers and e-tailers want to know how affluent their customers are, it seems to me that what customers want to buy, how they want to buy it and what may be standing in the way of their buying it is more important to the business.

    So they can’t get income level for many of their survey-takers and as a result can’t market specifically to that demographic? At least, they can fix a few things that they do wrong and make the store experience better for all their customers.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink


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