Who can?


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I once had a great co-worker and mentor who, when teaching his Lean Six Sigma courses, would drop the quote:  “Never take ‘No’ as an answer from somebody who doesn’t have the authority to say ‘Yes.’”

Now, in his context, we were talking about internal politics and change management in general.  As he was putting it, while working on a project, if you’re getting push-back from someone you’re working with, think hard about whether that person is simply gate-keeping or actually even has the permissions to make a change to a process or system.

As my career has evolved into Customer Experience, that’s a sentiment (and catchphrase, for that matter) that I’ve carried along with me.  Guardians at the gate, whose job, it seems, is to keep Customers from satisfactorily solving their issues, is one of the most common frustrations Customers have when dealing with brands.  The philosophy, some companies seem to have, is that Customers will tire out if they’re told ‘no’ enough times as we escalate.

How’s that for being Customer-centric?

Last year I stayed at a resort for a conference and there was some confusion about the room rate.  I was pretty certain I was in the right (a position in which I rarely find myself!), and I so pressed, both with the staff at the location, but also on the national phone helpline.  At each level of escalation, I was recited chapter and verse the policy and the rules and the resort’s side of the issue.  At each level, I reiterated my perspective, explained that I didn’t agree with their assessment of what had gone on, and repeated my request for restitution for the issue (it was about a hundred bucks…not a big deal).

I got ‘no’ all the way up.

After a few levels of escalation I started asking, “Do you even have the authority to do this for me?”  Some of the responses I got were revealing.  One person actually said, “It’s not possible to do this at all.”  Really?  It’s literally impossible for someone to issue a credit to my card?  If your bellman had been incredibly rude to me, insulted my mother?  If I’d been stuck in your elevator for over an hour and had to go to the bathroom the whole time really badly?  If the a/c in the room had been broken the whole time, but even after I’d brought it to your attention, nobody ever came to fix it?  Isn’t there some sort of mechanism by which you could offer some sort of good-faith, goodwill gesture by throwing a few bucks my way?  (At one point, I mentioned that, had I stayed at a Ritz-Carlton, I’d have walked out with a hundred bucks cash in my pocket and whomever had helped me would have been congratulated for saving $1,900.)  If the CEO of your hotel chain were on the call with us right now and said, “Hey, shoot the guy a hundred bucks, make him whole, and we’ll write this off,” you’d have to tell him, “Sorry, boss… it’s actually not even possible to do that”?  Really.

But, no.  (And “No.”)  The resort and national chain had decided that I was in the wrong, and so everybody’s hands were tied.

Asking if someone on the line can even help you (i.e., if the person has the authority to do so) is a smart way to begin this sort of conversation.  I do it all the time.  It may sound awkward (and you don’t want to ask it in a diminishing manner:  Are you a peon, or can you help me?), but it moves things along.  I advise Customers to be frank and honest, especially if they’re asking for an exception to a rule.  Often it’s not even that it’s a rule, but that it’s a procedure that only when a Customer asks is he or she allowed to get relief.  For that matter, you’re only frustrating yourself and barking up the wrong tree if you’re pleading to someone without the wherewithal to do anything for you.  It’s best (and more efficient) to get in front of the right person first.

From the brand’s perspective, though, no matter how much you think you’ll save by turning people away and not paying up as they claw their way up your escalation path (and for that matter, however many of your Customers simply give up somewhere along the line–surely the point of the game anyway), think of all the salary and benefits it costs you to employ people whose ostensible job is to help your Customers, but that literally aren’t allowed to do just that.  Waste of money? (Oh, and how much does that bad will cost you in the end, too?)  Hm.



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.


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