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Guidelines are The New Policy

If you’ve watched or read the news over the past several weeks – or even if you haven’t – there’s a big chance you’ve heard United Airlines’ name mentioned more than a few times.  It’s been quite a few months for United – first with not allowing two teenagers on board for wearing leggings, and more recently with the dragging-the-passenger-off-the-plane debacle.  The airline’s response to the wardrobe misunderstanding was questionable at best; the airline’s response (and more specifically, the CEO’s immediate response) was pretty much mind-blowing if you’re a paying passenger on any airline.

Understand that I’m thinking about this from a new day and age of customer experience.  It just so happened that during the same time these events took place, I was traveling to my first customer engagement conference as a newbie to this industry – the 2017 PACE Association Convention & Expo.  The timing couldn’t be more perfect – and relevant – to start learning about the do’s and don’ts of today’s customer service experience.

The conference had two days’ worth of back-to-back customer service and experience sessions as well as networking events among customer service professionals and executives.  The keynote speakers were industry-leading customer service advocates in their respective fields, and each one of them spoke at length as to how customer service is the absolute top factor that can make or break a business.

However, one point that truly stuck with me above all others was the following:  how “policy” is no longer a core rationale that you can hang your customer service hat on. Ironically enough, “company policy” was the main reasoning that United alluded to in both of their recent newsworthy issues.

One of the keynote speakers took his time in explaining this theory. It’s not that companies shouldn’t have policies – everyone needs rules to guide them, keep efforts aligned and achieve a common goal, especially in a large organization or in a service industry.  Nowadays however, these inflexible rules need to be modified into guidelines rather than hard coded policies. Trust your service representatives to use their common sense and their best judgment calls as it relates to making customers happy, satisfied and most importantly, loyal – after all, you have invested valuable time and resources to train your employees and give them the tools they need to make the right decisions. If you can’t trust your employees to make these decisions on a more flexible basis, then it may be time to take a deeper dive into other aspects of your organization – i.e., training programs and leadership roles that are responsible for putting these company representatives in an opportune position to do the right thing.

One of the other keynote speakers – the CEO and founder of a multi-million dollar virtual home security system – mentioned during his presentation that of all the funding, the marketing, the brand recognition and all other fundamentals that have grown his business, there is one factor above all else that keeps the lights on.  It’s their attention to customer service and making their customers happy.  Period.  If it wasn’t for their impeccable service, they would not be in business.

On my short flight back from this conference, I gave the Delta flight attendant my drink order and snack preference. He gave me the entire can of soda, as well as all three snack choices – with a smile – and everyone on the one-hour flight received the same.  While a can of soda and multiple snacks aren’t the biggest showing of customer service when it comes to flying the friendly skies, it most definitely was a timely one.

Written by Jaime Weinsier