Policy Manuals and How They Should Not be Used
If you must have a policy manual, don’t let employees hide behind it!
It should go without saying that retail management and associates should never quote company policies and procedures to customers.
However, as evidenced everyday in retail stores and call centers everywhere, it does need saying…and repeating… over and over….as this little story illustrates.
Just recently, in a mild dispute over some additional charges being levied on one of my mobile phone accounts, I was told in no uncertain terms that “It’s our company policy and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.”
When I politely asked to speak with someone higher up in the organization I was told, again “It’s just our policy and, no matter who you talk to, you’re not going to get what you want.”
So, then, Company policy trumps everything? No matter who I talk to? Hmmm.
It is doubtful that the Customer Service Specialist (The title is quite funny, isn’t it?) was correct.
Somebody, somewhere in the organization could – and probably would – help me if I cried long and loud enough but I didn’t want to spend my time and energy debating the point…so I just cancelled the service and they no longer have to concern themselves with this pesky customer!
And, they no longer enjoy the rather substantial revenue associated with my account.
Anyway, your company will have established policies and procedures to assist in the organized operation of the business, whether written in a giant book or not; to help employees understand the framework the organization operates within; to help people do their jobs and to protect the company’s assets, reputation, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.
However, they do not, and must not, exist to use as ammunition against customers.
If a customer specifically asks about the company policy on a particular topic, there’s no harm in answering provided it’s something for public consumption and not a strictly internal or confidential matter.
But, when a customer challenges the way you do something, or the way you don’t do something, there’s no reason to hide behind a book.
There’s no hiding needed when you are correct, right and just. Some footwork may be required, but no hiding.
In fact, quoting company policy is just plain cowardly.
It means you don’t have the training, depth of understanding or intelligence to deal with the issue…or the customer.
So, don’t allow it to be done by anyone in your organization.
For those charged with producing the policy and procedure manual, it can be tricky.
If you are too specific, you run the risk of slowing down the operation with bureaucratic nonsense and red tape. Not good.
But if you are not specific enough, employees may come up with any number of different interpretations causing a distinct lack of consistency within the organization. Also, not good.
Here is what we suggest…
Don’t bother with a manual. Or, if you must have something written, have a one-pager!
Ok, ok, we understand that you probably will want to create something to be used as a guideline so, be specific as far as instructions go (meaning how to do something) but not so specific that you end up with hundreds of pages of boring reading…or you state things that border on ridiculous.
The truth is, to be really specific, you would have to write a never-ending book because you simply cannot cover off each and every possible scenario at store level.
There is a better way.
Highly focused, successful, customer service oriented organizations have it figured out.
If you absolutely must have a book…the key is to write it in such a way that it ensures the reader will understand the one common thread running throughout those parts which affect customers and that is…. reasonableness.
Make sure that there is no situation which would call for an unfriendly approach or negative result for the customer.
Now, you may say that what is reasonable to one person may not be reasonable to another. And that is true, of course. But…
If your hiring and training practices are excellent AND your organizational culture includes a healthy respect for the customer, this should not be an issue.
Like I mentioned above, highly focused, successful, customer service oriented organizations have figured it out…and you can too.