Is a stupid policy at work holding you back?

Do you have any stupid policies at work that keep your people from serving at the highest level? Have you ever been told by someone serving you, “I am sorry to have to ask you this, or do this, but it’s our policy?”

I once took my sons to a large, soon-to-be-out-of-business, toy store where we planned to quickly zoom through and get birthday gifts on our way to a party.  We grabbed tons of things from a “50 percent off” table.  (I thought we could stock the gift cupboard!)  But when we checked out, the total was much higher than I expected.

When I looked a bit shocked, the cashier said, “I’ll bet you thought all those items were 50 percent off.”

“Yes,” I said, “because they were all on the ‘50 percent off’ table.”

Then she said, “I don’t know why they keep doing that, but they keep putting things that are not 50 percent off on that table.”  I then asked if she could please take out the things that were not half price and leave in only the ones that were.  (If she had been able to do that, the situation might have been salvaged.)

But with an eye roll and a sigh, she said, “OK, but I will have to call the manager.  And if you look over there, that is the line for her.” She pointed to a line of customers several feet away.

Needless to say, we were late to the party. The organization’s stupid policy of not letting cashiers take out items on their own authority caused them to lose a customer. (And because that person is a keynote speaker, has now told this story to thousands of people.)

Revisit policies that aren’t serving you, or your customers

Many organizations have policies and procedures in place that should be revisited in case the policies are outdated, frustrating to employees, or are alienating customers.  What if the store I visited had held a team meeting occasionally where people were asked, “What stupid policies keep us from delivering a legendary service experience that creates raving fans?”

One of my favorite clients, Avnet, a Phoenix-based technology solutions company, has exactly these types of meetings and goes a step further by setting up “action learning” teams to fix problems and find the solutions.  All around the Avnet campus of buildings there are pictures of people who have solved real problems by using action learning.  These people have:

  1. Focused on the problem and rallied a small team.
  2. Asked, and then researched:  What do we need to get smart at to solve this problem? (Rather than just trying to solve the problem immediately.)
  3. Shared their research with each other. (With everyone getting smarter.)
  4. Used their new knowledge to solve the problem.
  5. Documented their solution and shared it with the organization—including information about money saved or generated due to their brilliance.

Do you have stupid policies at work that are holding people back?

Ask people what stupid policies might be keeping them from serving at the highest level.  Remember, it is the last impression, not the first, that remains the strongest in the memory of customers.  Be sure that a stupid policy isn’t keeping one of your people from creating that lasting impression of competence, care, and accuracy.

About the author:

Vicki Halsey is one of the principal authors—together  with Kathy Cuff—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program.  Their customer service focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.


PS: What stupid policies drive you nuts as a customer?  Share some you’ve seen in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “Is a stupid policy at work holding you back?

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  2. Vicki – this is a fabulous post and a topic worthy of significant conversation. Last summer I wrote a post about a restaurant / social house a few friends and I decided to meet at…when the first of our gang arrived we were given a table for two despite telling them there would be 5 to 8 of us….as others arrived we asked to be moved to another table and were told that they didn’t allow moving groups to a new spot because it was too much of a pain in the butt for the serving team to cash us out and start up a new tab with a different server.

    After a calm but lengthy conversation with our server and the floor manager we opted to head to the bar next door – we paid off our initial $15 or $20 bill, left without leaving a tip and went on to spend in excess of $500 plus a healthy tip on food and beverages….revenue lost and a story told over and over by each of us all that certainly has cost the place even more over the long term.

    I did return with the two bills and talked to the business manager the following day…policy was policy and he didn’t seem to think our experience was a problem worth apologizing for or a policy worth changing. I left and made it a habit to wave at him every time I walk by with clients or a group.

    I think I’ll drop off a copy of your post when I wander past the place tomorrow afternoon….

    Asa result if that experience I now open conversations with staff when working on engagement and service experience project with two questions: What defines blasphemy in your organization? and What are the stupidest policies you have here? I have yet to come across a employee group who had to think much before responding.

    Cheers, Ken

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