But that’s our policy!

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But that’s our policy!

Some years ago, when I was employed at a premier retailer, an American tourist bought an expensive watch for her husband’s 50th birthday.

When she went back to her home in Washington, DC and gave the watch to her husband, he was overjoyed and gave her a long passionate kiss.

Then he wore the watch but noticed that it was not working. The wife sent an email to express her disappointment. She was referred to a repair shop that would take care of it. It wasn’t.

The email was then forwarded to me for damage control. I immediately wrote back to her, profusely apologized for the mishap and asked her to send the watch back by DHL overnight delivery and that we would pay for the delivery.

I copied my boss who replied that it was not the company policy to pay for the shipping. I did not think that this lame decision was right or smart but my boss was adamant.

I emailed the woman from my personal email, expressed my disappointment at this dumb policy and offered to pay the postage from my own pocket.

The woman was very impressed by my empathy. In a subsequent email, I wrote that I had lived in the US for 35 years and fervently wished that some of the customer service ideas there were adopted in Fiji.

I asked her what she did for a living. She said she was a well-known interior decorator and was contracted every year to decorate the White House for Christmas.

She invited my wife and me to her place on our next trip to the US. She also mentioned that she had over 10,000 friends on FB and was very tempted to tell them not to shop at this retailer.

I pleaded with her passionately not to do that. She promised not to and expressed my admiration for my loyalty to the company. Few business phrases can be as disheartening as “Sorry, that’s our policy.”

Rules, regulations, and policies are there for a reason, and ideally, employees should provide the best service possible within those guidelines. But the reality of some situations is that a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t always fit.

And I constantly scratch my head and wonder why it does not sink in to the thick skills of the business owners in Fiji. Aha! That’s why – they have thick skulls! Sometimes, customers make reasonable requests that may run counter to the rigid rules outlined in a company’s policy.

The important thing to consider is that the customer is your customer: she is at your place of business not to rip you off or to bend the rules. Standing too firm on a policy will alienate and ultimately lose your customer.

That’s a frightening consequence considering that getting new customers is far more difficult and expensive than retaining the existing ones.

When it comes to delivering world class service, not everything can be divided into right or wrong. Sometimes, employees may act out of fear- such as fear from messing up rather than compassion.

But compassion and empathy are where the solutions are. Compassion is being able to feel the concerns and misfortunes of others and empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others.

When you say, “Sorry, that’s our policy,” you’ve immediately shut the door on empathy and compassion. And rather than resorting to inflexible company policies, what if you stepped into the customer’s shoes and considered what he or she was experiencing? Can you make an effort to accommodate a client’s reasonable request?

Many companies and competitors likely provide services similar to yours.

This is another area where empathy and compassion become game-changers.

By encouraging your employees to exhibit these traits and to meet reasonable customer requests, you are accomplishing two
important things – differentiating yourself from the competition and encouraging an environment of caring which builds client trust.

This is not to say that every customer sob story needs to be met and mopped up with an endless supply of tissues. Logic and emotion are both entirely useful and vital components to any business. Our ability to be logical that makes us human.

Shakespeare said, “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty.” Sometimes I wonder about that. We have too many inane rules. When I taught customer service at the aforementioned retailer, I talked about a premier retailer in the US called Nordstrom’s known for its legendary customer service.

A one-legged man wanted to buy just one shoe. The store sold it to him at ½ price! The news of
this spread like wildfire and their business, boomed.

The most fascinating thing about Nordstrom’s employee handbook is that it has one rule – Our number one goal is to provide
outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to
achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

How empowering is that? The employees feel good that their judgment is trusted and will perform at a much higher level.

My granddaughter has worked at Nordstrom’s in the holidays and loved the fact that her bosses trusted her judgment. World class customer service does not just apply to retailers but to all organisations, including the Government. The last government
had talked a lot about providing customer service. But that was it.

Just talk.

What separates those who merely exist and those who succeed are the organizations who recognize the humanity of our professions. So the next time you want to say, “But that’s our policy”, think twice. What can be done to accommodate the satisfaction of the customer?

A lot. But the attitude of greed, entitlement and arrogance cause the decline of many companies – revealed with such clarity in “How The Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins. So wherever you are, practice compassion and empathy. And that’s a policy that anyone can respect.

  • ARVIND MANI is a former teacher who is passionate about quality education. He lived in
    the US for 35 years and was actively involved in training youths to improve their speaking skills.
    The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily
    reflect the views of this newspaper. He can be reached at theinspiredteacher9@gmail.