Here’s a question for your consideration:

Generally speaking, what do you think of “Company Policies”; those rules that aim to manage specific events or occurrences during your interaction with a business? Do they strike you as user-friendly, affirming, and in your best interest? Or, as I’m personally more apt to perceive them, cold, inflexible, unfriendly, and designed to protect the company’s best interest?

Let me share a short story. There is a business in my neighbourhood where I regularly pick up supplies.  I have been dealing there for over a decade, and know the staff by name.  My visits to their premises are generally pleasant, with the usual casual banter preceding a transaction. I estimate that each year I spend $3000 at this establishment.  Multiply that over the ten years I have been dealing there, and that totals 30,000 of my hard-earned loonies that I have slipped into the owner’s pocket.  Assuming that I will continue to shop there for another 10 years, that investment doubles to $60,000.  I want you to remember that number.

A couple of months ago I paid my usual visit and after exchanging pleasantries communicated to the owner that I was in a small bind, and requested his help.  I needed an unknown quantity of a particular $15.00 item to complete a job I was working on.  I asked the owner if I over-purchased the quantity I needed, could I return one unused item, unopened, within the next two days.  I was surprised when he informed me that he would not be able to accommodate my request – that it was “against company policy”.

I admit that I left the store somewhat disgruntled.  Perhaps I am a little more sensitive than most.  But did he not jeopardize a $60,000 relationship over $15.00?  I assure you he did.  He missed an opportunity to help a customer solve a problem, cement a relationship, and secure future business… and that opportunity would have cost him nothing.

Company policies should not be confused with company systems, which are designed to main consistency and integrity throughout the customer experience. Policies on the other hand are hard rules that are designed to remove discretionary decision-making from the process. And therein lies the problem. It is because policies are non-discretionary that often no room or allowance is made for individual circumstances or situations. And isn’t a unique, tailored customer experience what we are all after these days? Company policies should never be an impediment around which your customer must navigate to do business with you. Policies become something easy hide behind because we are too lazy to deal with the issue at hand,  or because we are afraid of being taken advantage of.

Just to further drive home the point, imagine if you, as an individual, had a policy for how you dealt with everybody – friends, family, business acquaintances – on a daily basis. Whenever you were confronted by a friend on a particular topic or in a specific situation, you would defer to your policy manual, and respond accordingly. Do I want to go for dinner tonight? Let me look that up. Can you borrow a screwdriver? Hmmm… page 79. One could hardly expect to foster deep, healthy relationships with those closest to you if all you ever did was trot out scripted answers.

As ridiculous as this may sound on a personal level, in business it tends to be the norm and it makes it difficult for a business to foster deep, healthy relationships with their customers. This is why at ZOOM!, we don’t dig in our heels over company policies to the detriment of relationships. We always put relationships first, even if it costs us to do so. Just as every one of our customers has a unique house with unique cleaning requirements, every engagement we have with our customers honours and protects the individual and their needs… not ours.