Balancing "The Customer is Always Right" with Your Company Policies

Every business needs rational policies, but they also want to live by the motto "the customer is always right." Here's how to balance the two.

Customer service

Companies have to form rational policies on things like invoicing, making returns, giving refunds, and much more. But you're bound to encounter gray areas — circumstances where strictly following policy may unnecessarily harm your relationships with customers. When you're aiming for "the customer is always right" but you also have to follow the rules, what do you do?

To avoid customer service gaffes, adapt your policies and procedures so they allow for unique circumstances.

Create a Clear, Customer-Centric Policy

Policies that make sense on paper don't always play out positively with people. For example, refusing to let non-customers use your restroom, regardless of circumstance, may needlessly anger people who might otherwise have become customers. One of the fundamental ways to ensure a customer-centric culture is to review corporate policies in light of how they impact the customer experience.

Customer-facing employees may have some of the most valuable input when it comes to policy review and rolling out new procedures, so include them in those decisions. They work directly with customers, so they often hear the casual customer comments that don't become formal complaints. They also see how the customer experience plays out in real time and can help you identify procedures that conflict with good customer service.

Empower Employees to Act

Empower employees to make decisions about when to sidestep official policy in the name of common sense and customer satisfaction. For example, if a customer has missed paying their bill by a day but immediately contacts your business to explain their situation, apologize and pay immediately, it might be perfectly fine to waive the usual late fee. In this case, the employee should gently warn the customer that this is a one-time exception, and to mark the customer's record internally so the team knows if they have another late payment.

Think about common issues that occur and potentially conflict with your policies. Give employees a few specific ideas about what's acceptable in those cases, and let them know you trust their judgment. Encourage them to talk about these gray areas with you and their peers so you can keep a robust discussion going about how to best react to thorny situations.

Practice Customer Service Role Play

Enhance employee training with a focus on role-playing common situations. Scripts can be based on hypothetical customer complaints, previous complaints or even public relations problems other companies have experienced. This type of practice can help employees be prepared when they are faced with the challenge of dealing with an angry or unhappy customer. This strategy can be used to train employees to stay positive in the face of criticism, as well as provide them with various tools to resolve problems.

Looking at a complaint from the customer's perspective and arguing their point can help employees see each situation more clearly. It can also lead to insights that might not otherwise occur to an employee who is only looking at a situation from their own side.

Rigidly sticking to company policy is not always a good idea; neither is tossing out your company's rulebook in favor of "the customer is always right." Find a good middle ground by investing in practices that can improve the customer experience and equip staff to respond when things go wrong.