Monday November 19, 2012
by Mary Jane Flanagan - Head of Learning
Systems and processes are important; I won’t argue with that. They ensure consistency, compliance and, on the whole, produce a more efficient and streamlined business. However, when people are ruled by the process and are unable to use their common sense to flex and moderate the ‘manual’ to suit the situation, it can seriously damage the service provided rather than enhance it.
I experienced a prime example of this recently when visiting my local petrol station. After topping up on fuel, I entered the kiosk only to find myself behind 12 other people. It seemed the credit card machine had broken down, and being British, we diligently queued for fifteen minutes; muttering under our breath and rolling our eyes at each other forming a secret sect of dissatisfied customers. Eventually I took the plunge and asked the assistant for some information;
“How are you doing there?” I asked.
“Not long now madam, just have to wait for the company to get here and fix it” he said.
“Really? Where are they based?”
“Bedfordshire, madam…” he said.
Seeing as we were the other side of London, and being the practical person I am, I suggested leaving my car keys as collateral and running to a cash-point to pay;
“Oh no madam”, came the reply.
“It’s against company policy to leave your car on the forecourt and leave the premises”.
So I offered to leave my purse as collateral and move my car off of the forecourt before going to the cashpoint, to which he still refused. Extremely patiently, I attempted to explain why it made sense, but to no avail. I even tried the ‘angry mob’ argument as people were now openly discussing their descent. It seemed that despite having a shop full of dissatisfied customers, this individual could not bend the processes a little in order to come to a quick and positive resolution.
To cut this story short (boy could I go on…) I eventually called up a nearby friend who brought cash to the garage and paid my bill. I then left, who knows how long everyone else waited.
The morale of this story is, that had the employees been empowered by their leaders to use their common sense in situations like this; they could have delivered exemplary customer service; no doubt creating a bank of happy, satisfied customers who would return to the garage again. Unfortunately, instead they:
· Lost earnings – with the forecourt filled with cars, whose owners were waiting to pay, many customers were turned away for the entire time the machine was inactive.
· Lost business – the experience these customers went through damaged the garages reputation and you can be sure that these individuals told their friends and families about how atrocious the situation was; most likely resulting in them avoiding the station.
This whole experience reminded me of one of my favourite quotes. Sinclaire Beecham, co-founder of Pret a Manger, said "the only procedure is no procedure that's the procedure". In other words, make the right decisions at the right time within your company framework and aligned with your values and the non-negotiables, so that ultimately, the customer is happy.
What would you and your team have done in this situation? Is it time to take stock of your systems, and processes and audit them against the customer experience?