As it appeared in the Daily Nation on February 2nd 2016
Companies need policies, this is indisputable. In many companies staff and managers alike are well aware of the key policies whether written or unwritten. These policies empower employees and guide them in thinking and in decision making. Good policies in addition make allowable discretion clear. When staff need to take action such as create a new account or managers need to discipline staff, it is much easier if there is a guideline. Polices increase management effectiveness; they do so by offering predetermined answers to routine problems, reducing uncertainties, driving uniformity, and helping standardize many repetitive decisions. Companies without policy guidelines are less effective since managers and staff have to consult often and use their discretion in everyday decision making without clear guidelines.
Most companies have written policies especially in the area of human resources management. A few companies also have written customer service policies but many have none. However, there are many unwritten policies guiding customer interactions such as in the areas of customer communication and customer complaints management. If not well thought out customer service policies whether written or unwritten can be detrimental. Writing policies allows managers time to think through the policy to avoid misinterpretations. In some companies these policies are included as part of the standard operating procedures and are communicated widely. Preference is almost always given to written policies although some organizations with strong cultures have been able to run effectively even with unwritten customer service policies.
The key question though is “could your policies be driving customers away?” One of the phrases I discourage is “It is against our policy”. A story is told of a bank customer who walked into a bank to complete a transaction. He was informed by the teller that the person required for the transaction had stepped out. As the customer was about to leave the same teller informed him that his parking ticket could not be stamped because he had not completed a transaction. Company policy required staff to only stamp parking tickets after customers had completed a transaction. The staff did not want to go against this policy. It is said that the customer who was a top company executive completed a transaction by withdrawing all his $1.5 million from his account. The teller followed a policy guideline mindlessly resulting to the loss of a key customer.
Many other policies in our organizations are likely to drive customers away. A friend shared how a certain local bank in Kenya required a three years bank statement as a new bank account opening requirements. Yet another friend lamented how a waiter at a restaurant refused to serve her eggs over lunch time because they were only served during breakfast. There was an unwritten company policy that eggs are only served at breakfast. Some of these policies are without merit.
Every customer focused organization needs customer service policies. These policies whether standalones or part of standard operating procedures empower both managers and staff to act decisively when dealing with customers. What is most important is that these policies need to be well thought out so that they do not drive away customers. Are your policies be driving customers away?
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy