“Sorry, that’s our policy” = FAIL!

“Organizations that put polices before people fail everyone.” Outstanding!

Have you taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? The Millers have, and doing so has enabled us to better understand and relate to each other. Kristin is even certified to teach MBTI because there’s nothing more powerful than our QBQ! content on personal accountability combined with MBTI material in the same workshop.

Anyway, if you do know Myers-Briggs, then you will know me without meeting me when I tell you my “type.” I’m an “ESTJ.” If you aren’t familiar with MBTI, stay with me here. You see ….

An ESTJ-type person is a logical person—and that’s me. In just about any situation that baffles me, I’m apt to say, “That makes no sense at all” or “Well, that’s just not logical!”

In Outstanding! we wrote a chapter titled “Be Flexible: Put People Before Policies” because so many organizations illogically—dare I say foolishly—adhere to POLICY even when the POLICY is nonsensical.

Now, you might think that by possessing a logical mind, I’d love policies. I don’t—and here’s my logical argument:

Sticking to bad policy drives customers and employees away.

And who wants all that to happen?!

A good example of the danger of It’s our policy! thinking and practices comes from Shawn, a QBQ! book reader and HR manager who travels … a lot.

John, I received a quote from a car rental company for $15.99 per day for two days. Adding in taxes and fees the total would be $45.56. So I booked it.

After landing, I rented my car and all was well.

But then my schedule changed and I kept the car for only twelve hours. When I returned it, the young man at the rental car center handed me a receipt for … $69.03!

When I objected, I was told that he “only print receipts” and “our policy is for customers with complaints to call corporate.”


So I called their HQ and told a phone rep my problem. She robotically informed me that I had “broken the contract” by using the vehicle for only one day instead of two—so they could charge me “whatever we want to.”

I calmly agreed that legally she was probably right but the difference in rates seemed pretty steep. From $15.99 per day for two days to $53.99 for one day. Her response was that if I’d kept the car for two days as planned, my bill would’ve been the contracted $45.56 instead of the $69.03 that I paid!

Now, John, $24 isn’t a lot, but after using the vehicle for less than the contract period—which freed it up to be rented again—I feel it was ridiculously unfair to me to be charged extra.

If this organization had focused less on who was right based on their policies and the agreement I signed and more on what was the right thing to do, I’d rent from them again. But, I have many choices and most likely won’t be back.

I can’t say it any better than Shawn’s story says it, so I’ll just add:

When I hear stuff like this, I always wonder if the CEO of that organization right now is sitting in his or her office thinking, I sure hope we drive a customer away today over $24!

Hmm, I doubt it.

So, come on, managementbe outstanding by putting people before policy!

Please share your favorite “policies before people” story as a comment below and maybe win a signed hardcover book …

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28 Responses

  1. Had a similar experience at a car repair place. The warranty was for 12 months. Wouldn’t you know that 2 days past the 12 month warranty the thing broke down. Because of the timing of the weekend I couldn’t get it to them. The service department manager said, “Sorry, you’re out of warranty.” I calmly said, “Sorry, not going to buy a car from you again. Put it back together.” Took it to another dealership and they honored the warranty. I bought my next car from them.

    I was a manager for a shoe store for years. Had an assistant manager I heard in a tiff with a customer. I asked what was going on. The customer had the shoes for 34 days and our warranty was 30 days. I took care of the customer. I always say do what is reasonable and whenever possible make that as good or better than their expectations regardless of “company policy”. It’s about customer service!

  2. Recently, I had ordered a bulk amount of letterhead for the company I work for. I was using a new company, so I just relayed the information to them that I received from the other company. (Logo, paper type, etc) When they arrived, the letterhead was on YELLOW paper. I contacted the company and explained what had happened. Their defintion of “ivory” was different than ours. To my surprise, I received an invoice that charged me for BOTH orders! The company said they couldn’t refund my money because I had approved the proof and that was their policy. The proof was white, and not yellow. I was ordering all of our paper needs, including business cards for a huge company. Their “policy” forced me to take my business somewhere else.

      1. I had to come back and tell you that the company made it right! The manager personally contacted me and told me they just wanted to customer happy. Hooray to a happy ending!

  3. It’s so unfortunate how “leaders” of organizations will tend to “punish” employees that handle situations using their own discretion!

  4. A recent experience I had was with a university whereby I’m finishing my master’s degree (two more classes to go). Their policy around paying tuition is rather unforgiving. The original class that I had registered for was canceled so I at the last minute registered for a different class. In the mix of all the confusion, I missed the payment due date by 12 hours. They insisted that I had to pay a $75 late fee. What I offered to the representative was I’d be happy to donate $75 and have my company match that amount if he would waive the late fee. He refused to do that due to policy. The way I have reacted to this is that I can’t wait to finish my degree and most likely will be very hesitant to donate to the university in the future.

  5. I have lots of stories of both good and bad service I have received over the years but this is one of the best of the good ones. My husband and I went to a new restaurant in our area a while back. The place was nice, the service great, and the food excellent. The music was so loud we could hardly hear each other. We asked several people if it could be turned down but nothing happened. I wrote a review on the company’s website. The manager emailed me asking me to call him. When I did, he got my address and mailed me a $50 gift card asking us to please try the restaurant again. When we went back the second time, the manager came over to say hello and then took care of our check, saying to use our gift card another time! Needless to say, we were blown away by his attitude and that restaurant is tops on our list.

  6. I used to work in the pizza delivery business as a delivery driver. One of the company policies was to never accept $50 or $100 bills regardless. I understand that it was probably for security reasons, however as a delivery person, if that is all the customer had, it meant lost time and profits by having to take order back to the store or waiting for the customer write a check or get change. This would ALWAYS result in a not-so-happy customer, lost tips, and potential lost customer. I would accept $50 & $100 from customers, keep it in my personal $ and assume the minor risk myself. I would also inform the customer that this was not the norm and I was doing it as a “FAVOR”. This would usually correct the problem on future orders and increase my TIP on the current order. Everyone is left “HAPPY”.

  7. Amen, amen, amen. This kind of stuff happens frequently and I agree with you guys 100%. I love making a person’s experience a pleasant one. I just dealt with a major home improvement retailer yesterday and the policy and the run around I got made it most unbearable. I even asked the clerk for the complaint number and she spent more time getting me the 800 Complaint number than she did on trying to ensure I was a very satisfied customer. There is a lot to learn about customer service and efficiency. Hope your article helps those that are in need of help. Be blessed!

  8. Okay, so just yesterday I took my teenaged daughter to get her learner’s permit at our county DMV. We had all the necessary paperwork and she passed the test. Just as we about to walk out with our paperwork to go get the official plastic the DMV employee tells me she will not be able to get it today because I brought a “copy” of her birth certificate and not the original certificate. After some discussion it was decided I could take my daughter back to school and if I returned with the certificate he would issue the paperwork and after school she could go get the official picture and payments would be made. I then took my daughter back to school picked up the certificate and returned to the DMV. I was quickly told that they could not issue the paperwork because my daughter was not with me to take a picture. I said she was here less than an hour ago and took a test and you took her picture, can’t you use that picture? NO, it is our policy that each time you come in the DMV we take your picture.

    What? Crazy! Wouldn’t it be more productive to merge information together to save, time effort and money? Or to let the customer know the policy up front?

    1. After I received my license, before I even left the counter, I informed them that my birthdate was a day off (a simple typo I’m sure). BUT in order for me to get a corrected/new one, I would have to pay the required $4.00 ‘reissue or replacement’ fee. When the DMV/government agent persisted, I said, “I’ll just simply be a day older then,” and left. – years later when I getting some plates the inconsistent birthdates (I forgot that I was a ‘day older’) raised a flag. “No problem”, this agent replied after hearing the issue, and promptly issued me a license on the spot – for FREE. (but man did that conflicting birthdate throw a wrench (albeit briefly) when dealing with mortgage companies…)

      Here is another good one…
      At least in Arizona, do NOT forget your STATE issued license if you are buying cigarettes. A FEDERALLY issued green card is NOT at all acceptable. Maybe those are more susceptible to forgery like the online drivers licenses that are for ‘entertainment purposes only’? I wonder if passports are likewise substandard – especially the one with the chips in them! Ha!

  9. Policy before people …. I recently got an offer from my cable company sent to me stating 2 year subscription offer $49.99/month. Wow, I thought that is far better than the $69.00 I am paying now so I contacted them to take advantage of the offer and they informed me that the offer is only for new customers. I asked the customer service representative why would the offer only be valid for new customers and not for long time loyal customers as well as if that is the case why would you send me this offer if it was not applicable to me? The representative told me that the offer is only valid for new customers and that is their policy. I took a deep breath to compose myself and politely asked her to please cancel my service and I will call back and sign up as a new customer for the lesser 2 yr. monthly rate. She told me that I could not do that because it would not be right – I had all I could do not to laugh and ask her if I heard her right but I knew I would just be wasting my time. So needless to say, I did end up cancelling my account with my long time service provider and went to their competitor for a $39.99/month service charge for 2 years. I wonder how much my previous service provider pays to obtain a customer and if that cost is more than the difference between the monthly rate they could have offered me? Regarding policies I think it is a leadership issue – the tone and expectations of how to treat people/customers comes from the leadership. Just as in a family children learn from their parents how to treat people.

    1. Not that you should have to do it, but requesting they connect you to the customer retention department can usually get you a better rate, even better than the new customer advertised rate.

  10. In general, how about ‘Zero Tolerance” policies?
    Though I like knowing that my pilot would –and should be fired if he showed up for my flight inebriated – the first time, but should my elementary child, for biting their sandwich into the ‘shape of a gun,’ really receive a (ten) day suspension??

  11. Frontier Airlines is the winner in the “FAIL” column for me. On a recent business flight I had a purse and a computer bag, combined they were small enough to fit under the seat in front of me. Frontier Airlines has a rule, however, that passengers that don’t book on their website can only carry on one bag without charge. Additional bags are $100 to carry on. I checked my roller bag and paid the $25, but that wasn’t enough. My two little bags had to either be combined into one or pay $100 for the additional bag. I suspect the intent of the rule is to limit the amount of luggage, roller bags, etc. that people carry onto planes these days to avoid the baggage fees. The enforcement of this rule, however turned me away from Frontier Airlines forever. I was not the only person getting this treatment. There were a lot of confused customers, especially elderly people that didn’t understand what was going on with this extra charge. Some had gotten onto a Frontier flight from another location and were making a connection in Denver, only to find that the rule is enforced in Denver, but not from their original departure location. After I returned home I contacted Frontier about my disappointment in their lack of service. I received a very rote response about their company policy, these are the rules, blah, blah, blah. Needless to say, they are not on my list of potential airline carriers.

  12. I have been a customer of one of the major midwest energy providers (D—Energy) for more than 10 years. My bill is paid EFT every month so it is never late. When my January bill came the rate per ccf jumped 30%. I called only to find out that my 12 month contract ran out and they put me in a variable account. I asked if a notice was sent out advising that my term was running out and I was told that in Ohio they wern’t required to so, no. Sorry about your not paying attention to an agreement from 12 months ago and, your loyality to our company is of no consideration. You have to pay the rate until we can get you on another contract in 4-6 weeks. Why have I been with a company with an attitude and lack of loyality to it’s customers like that. If I treated my customers like that I wouldn’t deserve to have any.

  13. Here’s an email that I sent to BoardSource a few weeks ago regarding an order:

    “Hello. I just got off the phone with member services and wanted to take a moment to comment. I placed an order for publications in November and received a shipment with a partial order soon afterward. When I called to inquire about the missing publications, I was told that they were e-publications, and the member services person told me how to download the documents from your website.

    As with many busy executives, I put off downloading the publications because I didn’t have time. I went to download them today and discovered that they were missing! Upon calling member services, I was told that they are no longer available and that I would have to reorder in order to access them.

    I was very surprised at this response, and I realize that I’m not the first to have this experience. I strongly suggest that you make it extremely clear (e.g., bold large font) that downloads must be done within 30 days of purchase. This was not clear to me anywhere nor was it mentioned to me when I originally called back in November. Also, it should be made clear when shipping a partial order that the rest of the order needs to be downloaded. This may seem obvious to you, but to people new to your website and your services, it’s not obvious.

    Thank you for considering my suggestion. It might help busy people in the future to save time and money. Unfortunately, I will not be reordering the publications and wasting my nonprofit organization’s money.”

    Following is the response I received. I would have been happier with no response rather than one that I interpret to read as, ‘We’re so sorry that you’re stupid and can’t see our notices.’ An outstanding response would have been one in which I was offered another chance to download the documents that my nonprofit organization paid for!

    Good afternoon, Peggy

    Thank you for the feedback. BoardSource is always looking for ways to improve our website and our customer service and will appreciate all feedback. Product format and access information is listed in several places on our website, including the product info page, the purchase confirmation, the receipt and the general help section of the website.

    Best Regards,

    Kate von Richthofen
    Senior Manager, Strategic Development & Partnerships
    750 9th Street NW, Suite 650
    Washington, DC 20001
    phone: 202-349-2563

  14. I use Groupons and Living Social quite a bit. It’s a nice way to try out a restaurant for the first time and only spend ½ of what you normally would. I always get a kick out of it when you reach for the coupon and the waiter/waitress says “oh, you’ve got one of those”. My suspicion is that the most customers tip on the ½ price of the bill so the server gets shortchanged. (I don’t do that btw). So obviously there is a big disconnect between the manager and the servers by not letting them know to avoiding switching to a down face. It throws off the whole evening because the server generally gives you less sevice when in turn keeps you from coming back. You would think, new customer, time to impress them so they come back. Most honestly don’t do that.

  15. Hi John-
    One of my credos has been “never let the rules get in the way of common sense”. This philosophy has actually helped me advance in the workplace, instead of hindering my advancement. When challenged for ‘breaking the rules’ by a robot/parrot supervisor, I would just take it up the ladder. The challenger would invariably come off as looking foolish (NOT my intent), and I would look like the one that had his thought process straight. So …it is my policy to let the situation determine what the answer should be (and I ALWAYS follow my policy…LOL!!)

  16. Agree with this completely–here’s mine (but I have a lot of them): Vacationing in Maui, Hawaii, I found out my Mom was in intensive care in a hospital near Chicago following a stroke. Our flight home on American Airlines was to be Maui to Honolulu to Chicago to a downstate airport, near where I live. I informed the ticket agent that I planned to not take the final leg from Chicago in order to rent a car to see my Mom near Chicago. My wife would continue to the final destination — no need to get my bags out at Chicago nor a refund. I wanted to let American know that I was getting out and not to worry that they had a passenger gone but still had their bags (in the post 911 days).

    The ticket agent told me this would be a change and require an additional ticket fee. I told them “it’s my Mom and I’m going to do it.” In Honolulu, I was surprised to be paged and told in no uncertain terms by multiple representatives that I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane if I chose to not complete the entire trip. After much pleading as my temper escalated, my wife convinced me to drop the request and get on the plane.

    I did get out in Chicago (thus breaking the rules). Unfortunately, it was too late as my Mom died while I was enroute to Chicago.

    Although American didn’t cause my Mom to pass, they made a bad day that much worse. In the weeks following, I sent a letter to American detailing the event and asking them only to discuss my situation with those employees I spoke with that day so they could understand their impact. I got a note back saying they did but nothing else.

    The irony of this story is my Mom received her pilot’s license in the mid-1940’s. She was a real pioneer for women in the same industry where American did so well but showed so little human compassion or common sense for “people before process”.

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