John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog


Bad Rules

By Shep Hyken

Presenter at The Secret Service Summit

Shep Hyken

Shep Hyken

Recently I took my wife to a new and very popular restaurant. This place is always busy and it is hard to get a reservation. On this particular Saturday night they were extremely busy. On our way out I told my wife to stay in the restaurant where it was warm while I went outside to give the parking attendant the ticket to get our car. I then wanted to go back inside to wait with my wife while the valet went to get the car.   One problem.  The doorman wouldn’t let me back in the restaurant. The manager had decided that it was too crowded in the restaurant, so no one would be allowed in until people had left.

I pleaded with the “guard” at the door telling him that I had just come out to give my ticket to the valet parking attendant, and that my wife was waiting inside for me to get her. I even tried to get him to look at my credit card receipt. His response was, “I’m just doing what they (the management) told me to do.”  I told him that was ridiculous. Eventually my car arrived and my wife, being far more intelligent than the guy guarding the door, knew to come outside. As we drove away I told her the story. It was so ridiculous, that we actually had a bit of a laugh over it.

A couple of thoughts… First, I knew why the management of the restaurant had made the request not to let more people into the restaurant. So did the guy guarding the door. The place was crowded.

Second, did management ever think that my particular situation would happen? Probably not.  I’m not referring to me walking out to get my car and wanting to go back in to get my wife. I’m referring to management ever thinking that the doorman might take the request so literally that they wouldn’t let paid customers back in.

Do you or your company have rules and policies that customers might think of as dumb, ridiculous or inconvenient? Do the people you work with understand the concept of the rules and policies, or can they be misunderstood to a point of ruining a customer’s experience? Put another way…

What have you done to get in the way of success?

Bad Rules Part Two or… How To Say No.

There is an old saying, “Rules are made to be broken.”

There are some management people out there that would say this doesn’t work in business. They’re right –- up to a point. When it comes to customers, should there be rules? Of course there should. Some of them may favor the company and not the customer, and that’s okay. However, great companies know how to get around them. For example, Outback Steakhouse has a slogan that is, “No Rules – Just Right.” Do you really think that Outback has given permission to employees to break all of the rules and policies of the company? No!

My friend, Jon DiJulius, just wrote an article about Cameron Mitchell Restaurants that has a service promise that states, “The answer is ‘Yes.’ Now, what’s the question?”

They have removed the word “No” from the vocabulary of their 2000 associates. (By the way, I highly recommend Jon DiJuilius’ book titled Secret Service.) How do they get around that? Read on…

These companies have created a culture that looks for alternatives to rules and policies that could negatively impact the customer. The key word in that last sentence is ‘alternatives.’ The good companies teach or train their employees on how to come up with alternatives to anything that might get in the way of taking care of the customer. For example, a restaurant may be out of something. Rather than just say “we’re out,” the server could suggest alternatives. At that point, they may have to sell into the suggestion, but that is really what they should be doing anyway – especially if it is going to enhance the customer experience.

So, we’re trying to teach our employees to work around having to tell a customer anything they don’t want to hear. This is about being flexible, which I’ve written about before. But, now we approach it with a concept I term the service alternative, which is simply offering the customer an alternative that is acceptable and that may not just meet, but maybe even exceed, the original expectations. Getting there is not difficult. There are several questions to ask that will help get you the answer.

Is what the customer asking for really unreasonable?

Is what the customer asking for going to hurt the company in any way?

Will it compromise profit?

Is it illegal or will it cause harm to anybody? (In this instance it is always okay to

say, “No!”)

What can I give the customer that is a reasonable substitute?

Will this substitute meet or even exceed the original expectations?

This is the thought process that creates a culture where you can avoid the word,

“No.” It is customer focused, versus company or operations focused. Teach employees to ask themselves these questions. Even better, have a meeting and create different scenarios that force a service alternative. Brainstorm them. Publish these as examples in the employee handbook as a guide and primer to having to deal with negative news for the customer.

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1 Comment

I hate that story – seems so fake and polished. Rather hear about what happened on his way to the conference, something more authentic. Sorry to be a downer!

Comment by Jason




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