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A few days ago, I ran across one of those phrases I wonder about. A lot. I wonder about it, not so much as a customer, but as someone who teaches customer service. [If this shocks you, because you know about the writing and art journaling but what is this about training? Yes, I develop and run training programs for businesses. What can I say? I have a lot of interests.]
The phrase I wonder about is “It’s our policy.” After a lot of thought, this slippery
phrase is often used as a communication shut-down and means, “We do it this way, and if you don’t like it, tough.”
I’ve also heard it used to mean “Don’t ask me for special treatment. I’m going to treat you like this because I can.” And, “I am not allowed to make any decisions, and no matter what I’d do, this is what I’m told to say or do.” And even, “Logic would dictate some other action, but I’m sticking with the hard line, and it’s my way of telling you to suck it up.”
“Policies and procedures” is part of how a company gains obedience from its workers. You violate Policy and Procedures and you get a warning or fired. I was an “employee at will” long enough to be very clear on company’s policies and procedures.
As a customer, I hope to receive treatment that shows me how the store thinks about me as a customer, how much the store values customers, and what they expect from the customer in return. For example, every store has a policy that says if I want to take something out the door, I must pay for it. Makes sense. Right after that, the policies and procedures get fuzzy. If something is mis-marked, must I pay the marked price or the scanned price? If I have a coupon, and it is expired, will the store honor it? If I drop and break something in the store, do I have to pay for it? If a purchase doesn’t fit or I just change my mind, can I return it? For cash? Store credit? What do I have to bring with me? Every store has policies that cover those cases.
What became clear to me is that a store’s policies reflect their values. If they don’t value their customers, the policies are rigid and focused on bringing money into the store, rather than customers. If the store doesn’t want people to linger or explore their items, they will have policies that don’t encourage touching, asking questions, or displays that show different ways to use items. They will have employees who don’t care about the customers comfort, but focus on applying those policies.
Pretty much, policies are a training issue. If the people who deal with the public (store employees) are given rules by people who don’t deal with the public (corporate office policy-writers), problems will arise. If the store employee is not trained to use their brain, but just trained to enforce the policies, the store will lose customers. There is a name for stores that lose too many customers: Closed.
Policies directly reflect the thinking of the people who make them. They reflect management’s assumptions and values. They reflect how much management trusts their employees, too. If employees have no discretion in applying the policies, but must look at all cases the same way, it tells the customer that management doesn’t value customers as individuals or the store employees as thinking beings.
This explains a lot about how I experience different stores. And why I have become brand loyal to some and avoid others. The policies you set for yourself, and those around you, including your art, your writing, your creative work reflect your view of yourself and your life. What do you automatically assume? What is the value that goes with it? Interesting, huh?
–Quinn McDonald teaches ethics, customer service, four generations in the workplace and other tough topics. She’s also a life- and creativity coach.