This is one of those unbelievable customer service stories that borders on the ridiculous. I actually thought I was in the middle of a Seinfeld episode—or maybe there was a hidden camera hoping to get a crazy reaction to the interaction I’m about to share with you.
I was at an airport and wanted some breakfast. There was just one person ahead of me in line. I heard her order a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, hash browns and an orange juice. After placing her order, she stepped aside. The woman behind the counter asked what I’d like. I responded, “I’ll have exactly what that customer in front of me just ordered.” The employee looked up at the clock and said, “Breakfast is not served after 10:30.”
What?! That woman just ordered ten seconds before I did. Could it be 10:31, one minute after? Did it really matter? On top of that, I could see a number of egg sandwiches warming in the oven behind her, ready to be sold to hungry customers like myself.
I asked if she was serious, and she gave me a cold stare and repeated herself, “Breakfast is not served after 10:30.” Directly next to this quick-serve restaurant, was another restaurant. The manager of that restaurant was watching what had just unfolded and said, “Sir, we’ll be happy to serve you breakfast.”
Of course, I took him up on his offer. We had a good laugh about it, and I knew I had some new material to write about.
There are rules and then there are “rules.” In a world where customer service and experience is as important as ever, it is important to properly train and empower employees to say “yes” to a customer whenever possible—as long as it is a win/win for both the customer and company. This means teaching when to be flexible. Some rules can’t be broken. That can include anything that might harm an employee or customer, something illegal and more. It’s important to let employees know what those hard and fast rules are. Then teach them that most other “rules,” as they might see them, are more like guidelines that can have a degree of flexibility built into them.
What could the woman taking my order at that first restaurant have done? She could have looked over and noticed there were plenty of breakfast sandwiches and said, “This is your lucky day. Normally, we stop serving breakfast at 10:30, but it looks like we still have some breakfast sandwiches.” I would have loved that. I might have even shared that story—about how she used common sense to take care of her customer.
What we’re trying to avoid is a ridiculous or extreme interpretation of rules. The reasons to be diligent about enforcing certain rules are obvious, as already stated, and must be taught. Examples of extreme interpretation should also be taught. When taught properly, employees will know the difference between what they can and should do—and what they can’t and shouldn’t.