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Power to the people

CBR003545It’s a shame when service-based organizations use safety, liability, and policy as justification for delivering average customer service.

  • “Your safety is our highest priority” is the mantra of most airlines.

On the surface, it appears noble. The airlines have done a masterful job of limiting customer service in the name of safety (e.g., “The flight attendants are primarily here for your safety” now prefaces the “If there’s anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable…” announcement).

I expect the next update they make to the message will be: “The flight attendants are solely here for your safety. If there’s anything you need to make your flight more enjoyable, make a note of it and be sure to bring it with you next time. Enjoy your flight.”

  • And many businesses disappoint “due to liability.”

In healthcare, for instance, many physicians are reluctant to utter either the “I’m sorry” of sympathy or of responsibility for fear their words will be used against them by a plaintiff’s lawyer. So caring and empathy take a backseat to liability. Get well soon.

And hotels frequently decline to jump-start guests’ car batteries “due to liability.” I understand the need for safety and liability considerations. I also know that if a guest at my home (or, in some cases, a total stranger) requested a jump-start, I wouldn’t say, “I wish I could but, due to liability, I can’t help you. Have a nice day.”

I disagree that this justification would resonate with anyone in need of a jump-start—especially a hotel guest who has a flight to catch.

  • And customer satisfaction is often compromised with the words: “It’s our policy.”

Whether you’re talking about retail (e.g., return policy restrictions), restaurants (e.g., policies that restrict split orders, substitutions, separate checks, etc.), or another business, most use policies as standardized mechanisms to guide employees’ decisions and behavior and to shape customers’ expectations.

Most policies are well-intended, carefully written protocol that are uniformly applied by employees and universally resented by customers. Here is a real-life example demonstrating how one hotel’s policy prevented a guest from listening to music or television programming during his workout in the hotel’s fitness center. Enjoy your stay.

Certainly there are valid reasons for instituting safety, liability, and policy considerations within a business. My point is not to do away with them.

I appreciate that hotel doormen do not permit unattended, parked vehicles in the driveway. I realize they’re not trying to be difficult. They are honoring a law that ensures access to the hotel by emergency vehicles—a valid safety measure.

Likewise, I applaud establishments that recognize when a guest is inebriated and refuse to serve him another bourbon and water. Not only is it a liability issue, it’s the right thing to do for everyone involved.

And there are many policies that are constructive and serve the best interests of the customer as well as the business. For example, if my checkbook goes missing, I have a new appreciation for check cashing policies requiring photo identification.

The issue is not the existence of safety, liability, and policy considerations. It’s the reliance on these considerations when employees’ common sense and good judgment would suggest otherwise.

When airline passengers are denied attentive in-flight service, when restaurant patrons are unable to have their preferences fulfilled, and when hotel guests paying $200 per night cannot be entrusted with a $4.74 set of headphones, it’s evident that these businesses value protocol more than their employees’ good judgment or, remarkably, their customers’ satisfaction.

For many years, Nordstrom, the retailer known for exceptional customer service, offered its newly-hired employees a famously uncomplicated handbook to assist in guiding their decisions at work.

It contained a single rule:

1.) Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

By encouraging its employees to use their good judgment to serve customers as opposed to volumes of safety, liability, and policy considerations, at Nordstrom you are far more likely to hear things like “Yes”, “I’m happy to” and “Let me see what I can do” as opposed to “No”, “We can’t” and “It’s our policy.”

The same is true for companies like The Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts, Lexus, Zappos, Rackspace Hosting, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, USAA Insurance, L.L.Bean, and others renowned for their product and service quality.

The best organizations understand the difference between placing trust in a manual or in people. The best people choose to work for organizations that place trust in them. And most customers, when given a choice, will choose to do business with the best people.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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