The Value of a Dead Plant . . . Turning your Policies into Guidelines


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If only you could see the disbelief in my employee’s eyes when I told her that she should give the customer her money back for returning a dead plant. Shock and outrage followed by a barrage of reasons why it was a bad idea. The plant is dead! The customer killed it! Why are we refunding the customer? It is their fault they can’t take care of a plant! Why would we reward them? As you can imagine, I had a lot of educating to do.

At the time, I had recently started leading a front end team at a large big box retailer where the employees felt a lot of ownership and responsibility for enforcing the return policy. They truly felt that they were a line of defense between the customer and the P&L statement. Shortly after starting with this group, all I could hear around me was a chorus of “no’s”. It became like nails on a chalkboard. So, I did the most obvious thing I could think of and told them they couldn’t say “no” anymore. They could however offer a variety of solutions or (gasp) meet the customer’s request.

I looked at my employee and asked her what the cost of the plant was retail, she responded with $19.99. I asked her how much she made an hour? We added the labor cost of a 15 minute interaction (read: arguing) with said dead plant returning customer, and another 15 minutes of labor cost for her manager who will attempt to smooth over the argument and still tell the customer “no”.

Next calculation, average customer spend in the store ($100) multiplied by the number of visits a year (let’s go with 3). One more crucial figure, said customer tells 1 friend about poor customer experience in returns department. Now that friend will no longer visit 3 times a year and spend $100 per visit.

Not to mention, all this time we have spent telling the customer “no” we are overlooking and potentially ignoring other individuals in our establishment who are looking to be served. We have impacted their experience as well which could result in loss of sales as well.

If you are keeping up with the math, we are well over $600.
Saying “no” to a dead plant is a sales loss of at least $600.
Are you going to say “no” to $600?

The danger of “policies” is we set our employees up for failure with our customers. They want to be loyal to their employer. They don’t want to get in trouble. There is a level of pride for them. What gets lost here, is the autonomy and empowerment for your employee to read a situation and make the right decision for the moment. Instead, give your employees some guidelines to work with that will allow them to be customer advocates.

I’ve never once had an employee make a bad decision when they are being a customer advocate. Allow them to create an experience for your customer by knowing the right thing to do in that moment for that individual customer.

Not only does this boost employee morale as they aren’t dealing with disgruntled escalated customers, but it protects your brand and your customers won’t worry about the outcome of doing business in your establishment. I like to call this Zero Risk for your customer.

My favorite part of the story was sending the dead plant home with an interested green thumbed employee who nursed it back to life. And let’s not forget the customer who returned and spent significantly more than the $20 we credited back to her account. We all have a dead plant in our organization, what is the true value of yours?

Jennifer Evans
With 20 years in customer experience leadership, I’ve managed teams of over 120 employees in a variety of functions including sales, design, and customer service. Additionally, I have facilitated training and workshops on topics including leadership development, sales, business ethics, customer mapping and turning insight to action with customer satisfaction KPIs. Being a CX Coach has allowed me to share my experience and help organizations grow into the brand that their customer can’t live without. I’m proud to be an MBA graduate from Northern Illinois University.


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