Creative Leadership

Nobody Cares About Your “Policy”

Kathleen and I were in Honolulu where I was speaking at a international leadership event for the Salvation Army. If you know Kathleen, you know she can be rather direct sometimes. One afternoon we decided to take a break and go sit out by our hotel pool. It was hot, and when we got there, we noticed there were no umbrellas – except one. But it was closed. Kathleen went over to ask the pool manager if we could use it, and here’s the exchange:

Kathleen: There’s no shade out here. Can we use that umbrella?

Pool Manager: I’m sorry ma’am. The umbrella is in the table section and is there for bar patrons.

Kathleen: Yes, but the bar is closed, and nobody is there. So the umbrella isn’t being used. Can I move it?

Pool Manager: Sorry. It’s our policy to not move it.

Kathleen: I’m happy to move it myself.

Pool Manager: Sorry. Can’t do that. It’s our policy.

Kathleen: OK. So let me get this straight: The pool umbrella is sitting here not being used, while we’re over there baking in the sun. But your “policy” is to keep it here where nobody is sitting. So you’d rather keep it here shut, than actually let a customer who’s paying a lot of money at this hotel use it. That about right?

Pool Manager: Yes ma’am. That’s right. It’s our policy.

Kathleen: But you have to admit, that’s crazy, right?

Pool Manager: Yes it is. But it’s our policy.

Trust me, the conversation went downhill from there. My point is that your customers, media audience, or donors don’t care about your policy about anything. Policies are to help you do your job – they don’t help the customer. Only in extreme cases should you use a policy as a back stop when a situation with a customer or client gets out of control.

But remember – customers don’t care. Your “policy” about something is YOUR problem, not theirs.

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  1. I can add a hearty amen to that.

    I have recently been frustrated beyond belief by a series of hair-clutching conversations with call centres. As far as I’m concerned, call centres are a sign of the apocalypse – especially when they can’t help you with something really simple and common sense because it’s their “policy” not to.

    However, my faith in humanity in general was recently reaffirmed by my local butcher (Gribbles, in Plympton, Plymouth, UK), who by contrast rendered me speechless with his customer service over an error that was entirely my own fault. I am now their local evangelist, urging everyone to their meat from their and not supermarkets.

    Their policy, to help customers in an environment bereft of soul-crushing bureacracy, is one that I wish the faceless, soulless corporations would adopt.

    1. Sorry, obviously that should have read: “urging everyone to buy their meat from them and not supermarkets”.

  2. Airlines are also quite proficient with this bureaucratic technique which excuses employees from the all too difficult task of making judgment calls that might better serve the customer.  Customers are important, but not as important as policies,…etc.  A sensible approach, such as attempted by Kathleen, can be quickly canned with policy weapon.  One of my favorite approaches to people like this is to ask them, “Have you ever worked in a government job?”  If yes, then it’s “I thought so.”  If no, it’s “You might do well there.”

    1. Nope.  But she DID call the hotel manager, who (guess what) agreed that the “policy” was stupid, but since it was “policy” it couldn’t be changed… 🙂

  3. Hotel Episode 2:  This hotel has keyed elevators so you have to use your key to get on ANY floor.  Kathleen’s didn’t work this morning, so she went to the front desk.  

    Kathleen: I need a new key please. Mine doesn’t work in the elevator.
    Desk Clerk:  So why don’t you try another elevator?
    Kathleen:  So why don’t you give me a new key that will work in all of them?
    Desk Clerk:  I guess I can, but it would seem a lot easier for you just to wait for another elevator and try that.
    Kathleen:  Listen.  Just get me another key.
    Desk Clerk:  OK, but next time, instead of coming up here for a new key, just wait for a different elevator and see if it will work in that one.

    …apparently, there are a lot of “policies” in this hotel…

  4. And people wonder why people go “postal” 

    When did the pendulum swing that people in the people business become people in the policy business. 
    No matter what church, not for profit, business you are in you are more likely in the people service business.

    People should come first.

  5. I love these companies with suicidal customer service issues.  Eventually, they will self-destruct, and the companies with a real heart and culture for service will rise to the top.  It’s just a little hard on the customers on the cutting edge of the stupidity.

  6. I’ve had to be in the position of the pool manager before. Not a fun thing to do, especially when you know the very policy you have to follow is rediculous.

    This is why companies need to not only reevaluate their policies regularly, but also put a greater emphasis on customer service rather than making your policies unbrakeable laws.

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