No Service - No Sale
by Diane Berenbaum
When I recently received an invitation to a semi-formal affair, I sighed and knew I was faced with the age-old question, "What shall I wear?" Realizing that most of the guests have already seen my limited collection of dresses, I needed to find something new. So, I headed to a very well-known department store and worked my way through the racks.
And then, I saw it—the perfect black dress. It was my size, the right length and, perhaps most importantly...it was on the sale rack. After trying it on, I was even more convinced that this was the one for me. I noticed that there was no price tag on it, but, undaunted, I sauntered over to the cashier with a big grin on my face to claim my prize.
I did not get the response I expected. The cashier frowned and said she could not ring up the dress without a tag. I begged her to find the price for the dress. She took a cursory look around and then announced that she could not sell the dress since there was no price tag. End of conversation.
It was not over for me. I was not going to let this cashier come between me and my dress. I searched through every rack in every department nearby to no avail. When I spotted what I believed to be the manager of the department, I shared my plight and asked for help. This time, I got a more upbeat response and a commitment to look in "the back."
While I waited for 20 minutes or so, I found myself daydreaming about the dress and the compliments I would receive. I was getting more excited by the moment. My bubble was burst when the manager reappeared and told me that they did not have any other dresses like it. She literally tossed it to the side and told me that I could not have it.
At this point, I was so attached to this dress I exclaimed, "I will pay whatever you deem appropriate—just let me have this dress!" The answer was still "no."
I thought to myself, "What is going on here? What kind of clothing store doesn't allow someone to buy a dress found in the store? Wouldn't it be better for the store to get something rather than nothing? What kind of organization trains their employees to stick to policy (no tag—no sale) no matter what?"
Many times organizations create policies without considering the unintended consequences. The policies may make sense from a practical, business point of view, but what impact do they have on customer relationships? I have been a customer of this store for nearly 20 years. This one incident could affect my future buying decisions (and I have a lot of shopping years ahead of me). How many others suffered this affront and then chose never to shop at the store again?
When associates have the authority to make decisions and take appropriate actions outside "policy," they feel empowered and trusted. They are far more likely to take pride in what they do, respond in a consistently professional manner and take the kind of discretionary actions that keep customers coming back.
Consider your own organization's policies and procedures. Now, look at them from the perspective of the customer. Are there any that could potentially hurt the perception of customer service? What changes can you make that would allow associates to satisfy customers more quickly?
Ask your associates if any policies have limited their ability to deliver exceptional service. Ask them what they could do differently to better serve customers. You may be surprised to hear the wealth of ideas that can make a significant difference on your organization's reputation and bottom line.
Empowering you associates to make reasonable decisions about policies makes sense for everyone—your customers, associates and the organization as a whole.
P.S. I could not bear to leave the store empty handed as I had already invested over one hour on a precious weekend day. I looked through the racks again, grabbed a two-piece outfit, tried it on quickly and decided, "This will do." When I went to the cashier, she examined it and then, with a suspicious air, told me that the skirt did not exactly match the top.
And, as you may have already guessed, she told me that I could not buy this one either. That is when I decided I would look great in one of the outfits in my closet after all.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .