“That’s Our Policy” — The Secret Killer of Customer Experiences


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It may not surprise you, but I am not the world’s easiest customer to deal with! If Golding family outings were observed from afar, it is not uncommon to witness an exasperated Mrs Golding and embarrassed children, scolding me for reacting to experiences that fail to meet my very high expectations! I often try to explain to them that a customer experience professional’s brain NEVER turns off, but my explanation falls on deaf ears.

The issue I have, is that I am provided with so many reasons to react in the first place!! On a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis, I am embroiled in experiences that do not just fail to meet my most basic of expectations, they provoke me into questioning the very nature of humanity itself.

I am regularly asked where my ‘ideas’ for writing come from – it is an easy question to answer – from my everyday experiences as a human being! In the last month alone, three different experiences have prompted me to write this article – three experiences that brilliantly bring to life the challenge that the world of business continues to face in turning the rhetoric of customer experience, into a new, customer-centric reality.

All three experiences revolve around the interaction between customer and employee. The experiences are a demonstration, that however ‘digitally enabled’ the world becomes, what you are most likely to remember about the experiences you have as a customer, is the way employees make you feel. The theme that underpins all of the experiences is the complete omission of an underlying customer-centric culture.

Customer-centricity is the ultimate aspiration for an organisation that has the intention of becoming more customer focused. Whilst there are many definitions of what it means to be customer-centric, the simplest, layman’s way to understand it is as follows:

“A customer-centric organisation is one that enables it’s people to THINK and ACT in the interests of the customer, EVERY TIME they do anything’

Every time they speak to a customer, have a conversation, make a decision, or carry out a task, they do so considering the effect on the customer might be – and take the appropriate action. This is MUCH MUCH easier to say than to do. Whilst people do not come to work wanting to do ‘bad’ things to customers, more often than not, the underlying culture is one that encourages employees to THINK and ACT in the interests of the COMPANY – not the customer.

The consequences of this are stark. In an ever increasingly commoditised world, the consequences will only continue to become ever starker. My three recent experiences bring this to life quite vividly:

Experience 1: Avis

A very well respected, global brand, Avis’s motto is ‘we try harder’. Whilst there is no doubt that they almost certainly do at times, a recent experience of mine in my local Avis branch suggests that this is not always the case.

I am a regular customer of Avis – in fact, according to their loyalty scheme, I am an ‘Avis Preferred Plus’ customer. I have become a regular customer in recent times, as compared to their competitors, the experience of renting with them has become so easy and hassle-free. Most of the time, I rent cars on arrival at an airport – I can be in the rental car and on the road within a few minutes of exiting the terminal building. All my interaction is through their excellent app – it contains all of my information – including my personal details. I love the fact that I do NOT need to repeat anything when I arrive to pick the car up – unlike many of their competitors – as they have the information securely stored in the app.

As I arrived at my local branch in Chester, I was anticipating being on the road in a few minutes. Regrettably, this was not to be. Met by two happy, smiling faces, the interaction started well…… until it started to go horribly wrong. The smiling, pleasant lady who served me, first asked me for two forms of identification. Never having been asked for this before by Avis, whilst I had my driving licence with me, I did not have another form of id. When I questioned ‘why?’, this was required, the response I received was:

“That’s our policy.”

I proceeded to advise the lady that I was an Avis Preferred Plus customer. ‘That is not relevant here sir, we are not the same as the big Avis branches’. Above this lady’s head, was exactly the same Avis sign that can be seen adorning every Avis branch in the world.

To cut a long story short, I was not going to be allowed to take the car away, until or unless I provided another form of approved identification – despite them having access to exactly the same information as all other Avis branches. I found the whole experience frustrating to the point of infuriation. All the lady kept saying was ‘it’s our policy’. I will NEVER rent a car from my local Avis branch again.

Experience 2: Picanha Restaurant

Picanha is a fabulous Brazilian restaurant based in my local city of Chester in the North West of England. Not recommended for vegetarians, it is a meat eaters dream! We have been regular visitors since it came to Chester a few years ago.

On this occasion, we had booked for dinner on a Saturday evening. Having reserved a table, we arrived a little early. We decided that we would go into the restaurant and sit in the bar until our table was ready – not an unusual scenario I am sure you will agree.

The lady who greeted us had other ideas. ‘You cannot sit in the bar’, she said. ‘Children are not allowed in the bar’. Jack, my son, is 11. My daughter, Caitie, is 14. In my 46 years of eating out in restaurants, I have never been prevented from sitting in a restaurant’s bar. We were obviously not going to ply Jack and Caitie with copious amounts of alcohol – we just wanted to sit and wait until our table was ready. I questioned her as to why we could not sit in the bar. Her response was:

“That’s our policy.”

Yes – it had happened again. Utterly ridiculous. By now, I was getting rather cross. Mrs Golding was getting rather cross with me for getting cross with the waitress. The enjoyment of going out for a meal was in serious jeopardy!

It took a lot of convincing for the waitress to allow us to sit at a table at the back of the bar – we felt like naughty school children. It was only my wife’s annoyance with me that resulted in us remaining in the restaurant. If it was down to me, I would have left, never to return again!!

On our departure, I asked to speak to the restaurant manager – a lovely gentleman – he was horrified. ‘That is NOT our policy’, he said to me. ‘Our staff need to use their discretion’ – legally, children under 8 years old are not allowed in the bar’. This message had obviously not made it to this particular member of staff – a great example of an employee NOT thinking and acting in the interests of the customer.

Example 3: Oasis

It is no secret that the retail industry is in turmoil. Well established brands are fighting to survive. Oasis is a women’s fashion brand in the UK. Whilst it does have an online presence, it is predominantly a ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer. Oasis, like all its competitors, is fighting for every pound being spent on the British High Street.

So, when Mrs Golding approached the checkout in our local Chester store at the weekend with almost £100 of goods, the management team who are responsible for the business, would have been very pleased.

Prior to completing the transaction, Naomi asked the lady at the checkout if she could leave her purchase with them to pick up later – she was on her way to the theatre and did not want to take the bag of shopping with her. ‘No’, was the swift response. ‘We cannot do that’……:

“That’s our policy.”

I kid you not!!! It was now the turn of Mrs Golding to experience exasperation!! She promptly left all of her intended purchases on the counter and left the store – without spending anything. £100 that no retailer can afford to lose right now.

Can you spot the common theme in all these stories? Whether it be intentional or accidental, the absence of ‘thought’ resulted in three very poor experiences – all that will have consequences on the organisations in question. Whilst Golding family experiences alone will not result in the demise of established brands, the fact that they are very likely to be repeated with multiple customers, goes a long way to explaining why many organisations struggle to sustain themselves over time.

I am not saying that rules, regulations, and policies are wrong. There does need to be a semblance of direction and order. I am also not suggesting that these organisations are employing bad people – quite the contrary. What I am suggesting, is that IF an organisation does NOT create an environment that enables it’s people to THINK – all they will do is blindly apply whatever policy that has been created. Even if it makes no sense to do so, even if they would never dream of wanting to apply the policy to themselves.

If a company aspires to achieve sustainable growth in the future – it must act now – to create a customer-centric environment that enables its people to think and act in the interests of the customer – every time they do anything!

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


  1. I agree with you, but what do you think should have happened if those employees allowed or bypassed the policy. Do you think they will be in trouble from their organisation? I think thats what i call internal fear.

  2. I agree with you Asma – it is very possible that there would have been reprimands for ‘bypassing’ the process. Sadly that is representative of an organisational culture that enables people to fulfil tasks WITHOUT thinking – rather than enabling people to THINK and ACT in the interests of the customer.

  3. Great post, Ian, and I’m pleased to see that I’m not alone getting exasperated with businesses just by wanting to be helped. Recently ordered some banners from a printer that I’ve worked with for decades now, and spent a lot of money in that time. I know the turnaround time is 48 hours, and gave them enough time to complete the job. Since I was working with a deadline, I even offered to pick it all up about 35 km from my offices. Then a few hours later I got the quote for my approval, and they said that they would add around $40 for “premium service.” When I called them to query what this meant, they said that I had mentioned a deadline. I told the young lady that it was not putting them under pressure, all I wanted was that they should ensure the job was completed on time. She hummed and hawed and then said that the reason was because they were just so busy right now. Oops! So now their problem suddenly became mine. I responded that I would certainly make them less busy now, and withdrew my order. Just so happened that another printer who had, over a long time, politely asked for us to give them a chance to quote, got this deal – and everything else since then. How can a business lose thousands of dollars’ worth of annual business by being so miserly? Beats me!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story Aki – sadly, the consequences will see businesses like this cease to exist – something that has been proven time and time again. That is why it is so important for all of us to keep sharing stories like this – if even one person listens and learns, our efforts are worthwhile!

  5. Thank you so much for this! I couldn’t agree more. To elaborate on what you’re saying, I would like to point out that a big part of the reason why “that’s our policy” is so enraging, is that it’s not an actual reason. It’s merely the “tip” of a reason, so to speak. Policies don’t randomly pop into existence. They are created by people for a reason. So, if a customer asks “why”, telling them “that’s our policy” is meaningless. The following additional “whys” must also be answered: 1) WHY the policy is the way that it is, 2) WHY it should be applied in this particular instance. Following a policy without knowing the answer to those two “whys” displays an obvious lack of critical thinking. And in my entire life, I have never been able to grasp how anyone can fail to apply critical thinking to everything they do, always and without exception. It’s a basic life skill, after all!

  6. I must be the Canadian version of your experiences, Ian. In a series of recent articles I wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press I provided several similar examples. Think of it – for an employee to say “it’s not our policy” means that some senior exec had to think of that policy and make sure that everyone understands it. I don’t always (well sometimes I do) fault the front-line person. I absolutely fault the leadership. Terrific post!!!


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