What Happens When You Destroy Your Own Rules?

One of the four basic ways to AMAZE your customers and earn their loyalty is to break your own rules and favour the customer when it makes absolute sense to do so. This normally occurs when your rules clash with what the customer wants; they simply don’t want to play by your rules.

Dumb rules

The rule says that parties of two people should not be seated in a booth for dinner because the potential earning power of the booth would be less than if a foursome were in the booth. Or, you can’t buy the outfit on the mannequin because the rule says that it’s there for display purposes only, and if it were purchased there would be nothing to advertise for the next customer in the store. Whereas rules like this may make sense from an internal perspective, let’s face it, they make no sense to a customer in some instances (like in the former case, if you were asking for a booth for two at 10pm when there were no other patrons in the restaurant); they’re dumb. But there is a way to both have your cake and eat it to. In other words realize efficiency gains by applying the rule and having most customers accept it (or at least not pushback on it) and satisfying a customer by bending or breaking the rule in the occasional circumstance that warrants it. The apply-the-rule scenario gets you the productivity gains you want; the bend-or-break scenario avoids the pain of an unpleasant customer encounter and impresses the customer and makes them more loyal to your organization. To achieve the loyalty gains, however, you must have a service strategy that recognizes the importance of internal rules, policies and procedures as major determinants of customer loyalty, and you must be willing to empower your frontline employees to bend-or-break a rule when absolutely necessary to do so.

You’re in loyalty do-do when apply-the-rule is winning

If your frontline employees spend a great deal of their time enforcing the rules, policies and procedures of your organization and, as a result, are constantly saying NO to your customers nothing good comes of it — loyalty is threatened — AND employee engagement is in jeopardy because being a rule enforcer is not a rewarding role to play in the job. Job frustration can eventually lead to employees finding another organization where day to day existence isn’t so painful. You can’t amaze and dazzle anyone when you are constantly trying to get someone to tow the line on something they don’t agree with — empower your frontline to say YES! I’m certainly not suggesting that a frontline person should break a rule that would violate the law, but rather an internal policy that if bent or broken would have no real significant long term consequence for the organization and was not foreseen to have a negative response from some customers.  After all when rules are introduced it is virtually impossible to predict with any certainty how all customers will respond to them. The assumption going in is that customers will see it our way and accept the control we are imposing on them. How naive is that? It never happens that way so why do we think it will? Rules and policies tend to be created in the image of an average customer. but the reality is that the average customer doesn’t exist. Each one of them is different in some way, so each one is likely to react to an apply-the-rule encounter in a different way: some will be indifferent and complacent to it while others will go postal.  And I’ve never witnessed a process where detailed due diligence is done to brainstorm the negative reactions that customers may have to a particular rule or policy that is being considered, and there should be.

Bend-or-break the rule demands empowerment

Given that customers are likely to respond to a rule in ways we never imagined, the only solution (if you want to protect and grow customer loyalty) is empower your frontline people to bend one of your standardized rules, policies or procedures when the customer needs a different treatment; when their needs are quite reasonable but out-of-bounds to what the policy manual says. To those who think that empowering frontline folks will result in them giving away the shop, stop worrying. In my experience, empowering them to use their judgment and determine when and how a rule should be bent-or-broken actually produces a greater degree of rule enforcement as they typically reserve flexible treatment for those customers who truly need it. They are smarter and take a more active role in advocating the company’s position that they are given credit for — they need to be trusted. When frontline people are allowed to control the bend-or-break process, the organization is rewarded by a customer who is AMAZED by how they are being treated and how humane your organization is. And they tell others how truly great you are. Related: 10 Barriers to Progress That Should Be Dumped