Policies and Customer Service

Saturday, April 11, 2009

In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch shares a story of going to Disney World as a 12 year old.  He and his sister saved their money to buy their parents a gift at the park.  They settled on salt and pepper shakers of some Disney characters, paid the $10 price tag and left the store.  In their excitement, they dropped the bag and the gift shattered.

Seeing Randy and his sister burst in tears, a kind person told them to bring the set back and exchange it.  Unsure of how this would work, since it was legitimately their own fault that it broke, they returned to the store and honestly explained the situation to the clerk.  The clerk smiled at them, exchanged the broken salt and pepper set for a brand new one at no charge and sent the kids on their way. 

Randy and his sister later explained the entire experience to their parents.  His parents were so impressed by how the staff at Disney World had treated their children, that they remained loyal customers for life.  Beyond taking simple family vacations, his parents would coordinate trips for their ESL students, bringing busloads of them to Disney World on student trips.  By Randy's calculations, a $10 salt and pepper shaker turned into his parents spending over $100,000 with the Disney brand over the years.

Later in life, Randy worked as a consultant to Disney on various projects. He'd ask executives the question: “If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?” and then sit back as they squirmed, knowing the answer: "probably not".

Policies and rules exist for a reason.  A game has rules so that people can work and compete towards a common goal.  If it didn't, chaos and confusion would ensue.  A company has policies for similar reasons - they allow a company to run efficiently and enable employees to work towards a common goal or outcome.  Too often, however, the rules become etched in stone and employees end up becoming slaves to a tool that is meant to serve the company.

Remarkable customer service is never one size fits all.  It consists of listening to the needs and desires of your clients and flexing with each situation.  Yes, it is true that some people think they are the exception to everything.  Yes, it is true that some people will take a mile if you give them an inch.  It is also true that you cannot give away everything for free.  On the flip side, letting your policies be flexible and eating $10 can result in $100,000 opportunities. 

When stubborn adherence to a policy wins out over customer service, your company is in trouble. You can chalk it up to sticking to your "principles", but if your principles value rules and policies over people and customer satisfaction, you may want to reconsider why you have them in the first place.  As they saying goes, "people won't remember what you said, they'll remember how you made them feel."  How do your policies and customer service make people feel?

You can follow your policies to the letter of the law, and your company can still be successful on some level.  Or you can choose to say yes when your rules tell you to say no, and be successful AND remarkable.

The choice, and the chance at limitless opportunities, are both yours. Are you losing "$100,000 clients" over $10?

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