There is a massive benefit to empowering employees to “break the rules” for their customers. And what I mean by “breaking the rules” is to consider what you can do for a customer outside of the norm that doesn’t cost the company money, isn’t illegal or immoral, and won’t hurt “business as usual.” In reality, employees aren’t breaking any rules. They are finding ways to take care of the customer while not breaking the “rules” mentioned above.
One of the concepts I cover in my customer service keynote speech is the idea of the “line in the sand.” Many companies train their employees in what they can’t do for customers. They have “rules” that have little or no flexibility. While it’s essential for employees to be trained on what they shouldn’t do, it may be more important to train them on what they can do. By that, I mean how far employees are allowed to go before they have to say “No.”
The Line in the Sand concept
I call this The Line in the Sand concept. It is important to draw that line, which is the boundary that employees aren’t allowed to cross, but at the same time, teach them what they can do to get right up to the line.
For example, I have a client in the luxury automobile market. This client has a team that travels to auto dealerships to help dealers with demanding customers they can’t seem to please. Members of this team believe in the power of saying “Yes” instead of “No.” They have the authority to refund the entire price of the car, even if it’s 10 years old. That’s their line in the sand – their last resort. They can get right up to it but can’t go past it. And by the way, they have never made it to that last resort. They have always found other ways to make discontented customers happy without getting to that line.
The key is training
The key is training, but it isn’t just imparted in one session to tell employees what to do – or not do. It’s about continuously sharing stories of what other employees are doing to meet customers’ needs and demands, all without crossing the line in the sand. When an employee does something right, congratulate them and share the example with others. And if they do something wrong, or in other words, if they cross the line, turn it into a learning opportunity that is also shared with others. Routinely sharing examples helps employees recognize their opportunities to delight their customers.
Some examples of “breaking the rules” might be honoring a warranty that expired a month ago – or stretching a 14-day return policy to the 15th or 16th day. Some retail organizations, like Nordstrom, have an easy, no-questions-asked return policy. Even though the employees at Nordstrom aren’t breaking the rules, the customer feels as if they are going above and beyond. That’s all this really is. Making customers feel like you are on their side, willing to be flexible, and giving them reasons to say, “I’ll be back!”