When you can’t answer, “Why?”


Share on LinkedIn

I wrote recently about an incident at a local grocery store that sparked some thought about how sometimes we provide excuses instead of offering solutions.  Likewise, sometimes at my gym, I come across a piece of equipment that’s out of order for some reason or another.  Usually, there’s a note pinned to it alerting us that it’s not to be used.  To some degree, I’m sure the team member whose job it is to put that sign on the equipment considered his job ‘done.’  The person whose job it is to fix it?  That’s another story.

Anyway, the punchline of these and other similar experiences is that Customers aren’t as interested in hearing about why their experience can’t be better (what we’d call in other scenarios “excuses”), they just want them to be better.

But then again, sometimes when we interact with brands, we’re not even given a satisfactory explanation in the first place:  How often are you trapped in an inescapable IVR just searching for something you need?  How about when you finally do reach someone on the phone (of course, none of the options is what you’re looking to achieve, so you either choose something close or say “representative” over and over), all you get as an explanation as to why you can’t get what you want is simply that it cannot, seemingly existentially, be done?  I took the effort to get a person on the line who is just as useless to me as that IVR?  So the game commences:

  • “Really? You can’t help me?  Well, can I speak with a supervisor?”
  • “Sure, but a supervisor isn’t going to be able to help you with this, either.”
  • “Really? Why not?”
  • “It’s our policy not to do this.”
  • “So you can do it, you just won’t.”
  • “No, it’s not possible.”
  • “Well, come on now. Technically it is  Your procedures, your policies, your rules just won’t allow it.”
  • “Please hold, and I’ll connect you with a supervisor.”

Naturally, the supervisor can’t (won’t) do what you’re looking to have done either.  And when you hear her say the exact same thing that the initial agent told you, you’re left wondering:  Do they even know why their policies are what they are?  (Of course, oftentimes the policy is in place because the company doesn’t trust their Customers, but of course, they don’t want to say that.)  Your “Five Whys” has led you to a dead end.

If you’re like me, you enjoy solving problems and finding solutions for issues.  You may be tempted (it’s even easier for me since I’m in this business) to want to delve into the “whys” of their policies so that, with a better understanding of how off-putting it is, together perhaps you could come up with a solution.  The bigger the organization, though, the less likely those who work there are going to be empowered to find (or even encouraged to look for) creative solutions.  The solution, from the corporate perspective, is to “explain” the policy—not rationally explain anything behind the policy, mind you, but rather just repeat to you what the policy is; many times, if necessary.

It’s a maddening feeling to be left out of the loop and only met with a corporate boilerplate meaningless response that basically says:  We’re not going to help you, now please move on.  It’s frustrating and leaves us as Customers feeling powerless and trapped.  As bad as excuses can be, sometimes an explanation isn’t even forthcoming.  As a result, resentment sets in and we’re left with the feeling that the brand simply doesn’t care.

When agents aren’t enabled or empowered enough to solve Customers’ problems, these organizations are encouraging their team members to default to simply chalk it up to “company policy” (as if they don’t have the power to adapt their policies to better serve their Customers).  But running into that brick wall can be more damaging to the relationship than even the lamest of excuses.

In the end, great CX comes from a dynamic and empowered atmosphere within your organization whereby those interacting with your Customers can thoughtfully consider the solution your Customers are looking for and work together with them to deliver on your brand promise.  Of course, you need corporate policies and procedures.  But if they can’t easily be explained in a way that makes sense to your Customers, if the best you can offer your employees (who in turn pass the message on to your Customers) is, “well, that’s simply the way we do things,” those rules are probably ripe for review.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB
I’m a Customer Experience executive, certified Process Improvement professional, Agile Scrum Master, dynamic educator, change management strategist, and in-demand business and leadership coach. I've worked from the inside and from the outside; in organizations large and small; public sector and private; from oil and gas to technology to non-profit (with lots in between too). I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen it all.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here