Rules about what we can and can’t do for our customers often make good business sense. They can save us from giving away more money than we are making. Other times they can be downright ridiculous and cost us in customer retention.
Sometimes there is a suspicion that customers are out to squeeze what they can from a negative situation, or even worse invent a negative situation to get a discount or freebie.
I had to smile when Paul O’Grady regaled us with a story, as part of Cilla Black’s eulogy, about the time they invented a stain on an expensive coat to obtain a discount in the Gucci shop in New York. A true daughter of Liverpool everyone smiled proudly.
And so there can be a stereotype of freeloading, a reputation amongst some customer types, some demographics and personalities that make the radar of the customer service adviser go up. Here comes a Diva, a Freeloader or a Bully, and I’m not going to let them beat me! The lengthy, wordy, battle ensues, costing time and money as the customer tries to negotiate the policy or the process to their advantage.
‘The rules don’t apply to me’ may remain unsaid by the haughty customer but it is almost certainly implied. And let’s be honest, there are some front line advisers who secretly enjoy giving the verbal slap down, the ability to say ‘no’ with full confidence that they are backed by rules. ‘That’ll teach you to speak to me like that.’ is the secretly satisfying implication from their side.
Some customers are downright haughty diva’s. Often the more they are paying for a product or service the more the sense of entitlement will prevail. The expectation rises and the rules ignored and argued over.
But surely common sense should kick in? If flexibility costs next to nothing how about giving it now and then? I’ve worked with many front line teams that guard the rules like it’s their own money they are handing over.
But then if we ‘give in’, will the customer’s bad behaviour be reinforced? The invention of a grey area in the rules is often also confusing for front line teams to understand and some will argue that it makes the whole thing very unfair for others. Some believe that the customer will just want more next time.
These are the excuses I hear in training programmes when encouraging front line advisers to adopt a more flexible mindset.
But what happens if we say ‘yes, but’ ?
I’ll own up now. This blog is brought to you by my hotel towel cabana man. Towels at the hotel can be exchanged at a poolside cabana daily between 9am and noon. So on our first day when we went to exchange towels at 2pm we were met with a resolute ‘no’. Despite the fact that he is sitting there in front of piles and piles of fresh towels and a half filled laundry bin. ‘Why are you here then?’ I asked him, genuinely curious. ‘To take back the towels of people who are leaving’ he said, looking at me like I was stupid before returning to reading his newspaper.
I was too chilled out to argue, luckily for him. But my customer service neurons were fired. How crazy did it seem, to say no to a guest, staying for two weeks in your (not inexpensive) hotel, when the goods needed to fulfil the request were available.
If he said, ‘yes, but tomorrow you must exchange them before noon because the laundry van comes at 1pm’ I would have absolutely understood.
We can use rules to educate customer behaviour whilst still satisfying them and exceeding their expectations. ‘Yes…but…because’ is a simple three part sentence that can work a treat.
Feel free to use that in your calls or share that with your front line teams. And in doing so, run a check on some of your own rules. If the laundry van doesn’t come until nearer 3pm then there is absolutely room for flexibility. Are staff clear that they empowered to use their discretion?
Some rules will be so deeply ingrained in an ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ culture that flexing, changing or even scrapping them would feel like taking a security blanket from a baby. It may also remove some of that wicked satisfaction of slapping down a badly behaving customer.
Applying rules like power over customers is often just plain wrong though. Unless it’s for health and safety, the benefit of the majority or because it would loose you more money than the customer is worth just say ‘yes..but…because’ and ditch the power struggle.