Roy's Blog

June 6, 2009

How to AMAZE your customers - kill dumb rules

Rule #3 of the four step process to AMAZE customers involves a common occurrence in most organizations every day: customers run head on into an internal rule, practice or procedure that annoys them makes them go postal.

This is the “dumb rule”, a rule that was given birth probably by some control freak with a nonsensical purist view that a customer should behave in a certain way that serves the organizations purposes with little regard for whether or not a customer will react favorably to getting treated in the prescribed manner.

In my experience the fathers and mothers of dumb rules can be found in staff jobs whose role is to develop and implement operating procedures to govern, among other things, customer transactions.

And, unfortunately, in some cases where customers are not the prime target they become collateral damage in the rule’s application.

One of my favorite dumb rule stories took place at The Mirage Hotel Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. There is a wonderful deli in the casino that serves the best rueben sandwiches ever but the customer friendliness of their rules sucks.
My wife and I show up and asked the hostess for a booth and were told flatly that our request was not possible since it was their policy to offer booths only for parties of 6 or more.

I get that some analyst wanted to maximize the check value from these specific seats, but in this case the store was empty save my wife and me! Maximizing revenue beyond the two of us was an impossibility!

Not only is this rule stupid (since the appropriate way to deal with customers from a hostess point of view is to ask the customer where they would like to be seated), the hostess was not empowered to break it in this case when it made sense to do so.

She enforced this stupid policy mindlessly with utter disregard to the impact it was having on us. Not her fault really as the organization had their rule enforcer glasses on and were not about to bend even a fraction of a standard deviation from it.

Dumb rules need to be killed or they will kill the business!

They serve as nothing more than a de-dazzler in the customer experience and people will definitely take their business elsewhere.

How do you go about identifying and wacking these ugly loyalty threateners?

Go ask your frontline what dumb rules they are constantly having to deal with. They know them.

The issue is do you have the courage to listen and do something about them?

I created “Dumb Rules Committees” in operations divisions and appointed a leader for each committee responsible to seek out and destroy (or otherwise modify) rules that made customers crazy.
Fun was had by all over this concept. All divisions welcomed this initiative; they all were passionate about the purpose; all made stupendous progress.

We had contests among the committees and celebrated the winners; the committees that not only identified the most aggravating customer rule (judged by their peer group) but also took whatever action necessary to get it resolved.
My role and that of my direct reports was to remove any roadblock’s preventing the committees from getting a rule dealt with.

What about rules that are required by law or regulatory governance?

First of all do careful due diligence to make sure that the claim is real and not posturing of a champion who doesn’t want their rule or policy removed. If the rule IS necessary, however, then at least look for ways to make it customer friendly.

And reconsider how the rule is enforced with a customer; what communications strategy is used. Is it friendly and helpful or is it demanding and intimidating? Take the time to design the customer communications content to minimize an adverse reaction; not always possible but it is worth doing nevertheless.

At the end of the day, if you purify your organization of 80-90% of dumb rules your customers will reward you with continuing loyalty and your reputation will soon attract new customers as well.


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  • Posted 6.6.09 at 06:54 pm by Roy Osing
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