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Company policies can frustrate customers, drive them to competitors

This is not about the money. Never was. The amount involved would not even buy a cup of tea and a bagel at Tim Hortons. What this is about is how company policies and procedures impact the service customers receive. It is about rules that inhibit or even prevent staff from meeting customers’ needs and solving their problems.

With a few minutes to spare, I decided it would be a good time to quickly slip into the self-service area of the Staples in South Edmonton Common to copy a few pages. I approached the service desk with $5.00 in hand and announced that I had made eleven copies.

When the associate handed me a receipt and $2.65 in change, I felt overcharged. She agreed, acknowledging that she had charged me 20 cents per copy, not 6 cents.

But, she could not do anything about it. She was unable to open her cash register to recover my money. She noted her error on my receipt and directed me to cashier #5. She even phoned that cashier to say I was on my way.

I waited as cashier #5 finished with another customer. When it was my turn, she said she also lacked the authority to issue a $1.65 refund. I would have to go to another service area, which was currently vacant, and wait for someone "with a key" to come and make the refund.

I glanced at my watch. I was to meet someone within minutes, but I did as instructed. I waited. No one came. When I could wait no longer, I left.

This experience caused me to reflect on the rules businesses set for their employees. Most seem to be written to protect the business from customers and their own staff. Policies force everyone to perform at the level of the least skilled employee. While I have never read this in any policy, it seems that many prohibit thinking and bar common sense from the workplace. Few are written to make it easy for customers.

Seminar participants regularly tell me that when they have a problem, they want it solved quickly. They don’t want to be sent from department to department in search of a solution.

Ritz Carlton Hotels is one company that understands this. One customer-friendly policy requires that the first staff member who hears it owns the problem until it is resolved. There is no coincident that 90 per cent of Ritz Carlton guests return.

Policies that protect the company from customers can frustrate customers and drive them into the arms of competitors. Certainly, this experience influenced me to make recent purchases of office supplies and equipment elsewhere.

What about your organization? Do policies and procedures make it easy for customers to do business with you?


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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