Where Customer Service collides with Policy & Procedures

Due to the nature of my marketing and sales background, I’m a particular scout when it comes to service. I had a recent experience with a bad chicken that left me feeling … well, sour. One evening after work I was picking up last minute groceries in a local supermarket. I picked up a pre-cooked chicken strategically placed in an open warmer at the entrance to the checkout. If you are an experienced shopper, you know that the supermarket industry targets us through our senses; smells, taste and sight make us easy prey for a last minute purchase – especially if we are hungry and ready for dinner. I quickly placed the chicken in my basket and rolled up to the check out.
My purchase turned out to be a disappointing choice. When I got home and cut into the meat, it was undercooked and had a foul smell. It was late and I was tired, so I wrapped the meat up, refrigerated it and took it back the next day (and ate hummus, crackers and fresh cherries – probably a better choice anyway!).
The next afternoon I returned to the customer service desk where the front line manager asked for my receipt. I remember thinking that the other competitor grocery I shop at never questions me if I am not happy with a purchased food item and always gives me a refund regardless of whether or not I have a receipt – it’s their policy. However, in this case, the lady asked me for my receipt (understandable, although the chicken was in their proprietary bag), and then asked me for my membership grocery card. I thought that was odd. After all I wasn’t buying anything. The longer I stood there, the more I thought, “Why would she need my card? “. So I asked her, “What does that do to my card when you give me a refund?” She replied, “We take your points back off your card”. WHAT?! For a $6 chicken that was undercooked and had a bad odor, I was docked points on my card…what’s that maybe 2 points??? I paused and after a moment I asked her, “is that a best customer-service practice?” She replied, “That’s our policy”. I again asked her, “yes, that may be your policy, but is it a best practice to dock me when the food item I took home could have made me very sick – how are you enticing me to come back and shop here?”. Her comment, “I’m sorry that’s our policy, my hands are tied”. In less than 5 minutes the supermarket lost my business and I had to wonder how many others had been victim to the stores Policies & Procedures.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the store customer service training methods and wondered, how does management train an employee to stay within service guidelines and still offer the employee enough tether to make customer service decisions that don’t quite fit a cookie cutter mold. We know that a lost customer translates into lost dollars and if you add that up over a year, multiply it by several customers – you may find yourself out of business. In addition, with easy access to viral technology, a local business owner needs to pay close attention to service delivery. Role playing with your employees might be the answer. Rewarding employees for problem solving may be another. In my case, the lady certainly was determined to follow procedure…and lose my business. I wonder if she cared. It was evident the company had forgotten the other part of training an employee. . .buy-in.

Dede Gossage

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