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Most policies are an excuse to say “No” to customers

Let’s begin with a pop quiz. Write down all the company, department, or school policies that permit you to say “Yes” to customers.

Time’s up. How did you do? I suspect that some readers will have found this assignment difficult. We have all been told -- and maybe even have said it ourselves -- “Sorry, but that’s against company policy.” Most company rules seem to have been written to create a basis for saying “no” to requests from customers and staff.

I was reminded of this during a bus tour in Nashville. Across the front of the bus were three signs. The one on the left advised passengers that smoking was prohibited while the one on the right stated that passengers were not permitted to stand in front of the white line when the bus was in motion.

The sign in the middle read: “Company policy allows gratuities.” Here was a policy that gave customers permission to do something, albeit something that seemed to be more of an advantage to the company and driver than to the customers.

Most customers would prefer to read policies that were written to their advantage, such as:

  • The opportunity to exchange defective products without a receipt.
  • Easy access to readily-available information without having to fill out a form.
  • Permission to be served next in an empty waiting room without first taking a number.
  • An invitation to substitute a tossed salad for french fries when ordering the lunch special.

Policy writers seem motivated to draft rules that protect the company and its employees from customers. Policies also are written with the least-competent employees in mind — those who possess or exercise little common sense. By protecting itself from “evil” customers and its own incompetent employees, companies limit top performers’ ability to serve customers in a way that benefits customers.


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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