“I’m not supposed to do this, but I’ll help you.”

If, like me, you work with processes, you tend to pick up what people say about the way they are supposed to work.

The quote comes from a very sympathetic customer service agent who got us new boarding passes. We were travelling with the kids and after checking in online, we were allocated seats on different rows. As the kids were too young to sit apart, we wanted to change our seating. We went to the check-in counter at the airport and were lucky enough to find someone who wanted to help us.

But she had to do something she wasn’t supposed to do!

She had to bend the rules to help a customer with a genuine customer request.

This is one example of many. If you pay attention, you will hear people saying something like this a lot of times. And that’s a shame.

It is a shame because for every customer that gets the rules bent, there are several customers that don’t. And by consequence don’t get the service they deserve and pay for.

It is a shame because this gives employees a bad feeling. They have to choose between an unhappy customer and doing something wrong, facing criticism in both situations.

It is a shame because it is not productive. Bending the rules costs more time and more effort than following procedure.

In designing processes, we tend to strive for standardization. And standardization is a good thing. You don’t want different employees delivering the same service in a totally different way. That makes your service unpredictable and generates stress. But standardization only works in combination with flexibility and trust.

It is impossible to foresee every exception, every possible situation when designing a process. Not even when you hire top consultants (like us 😊), involve all your employees and analyse every bit of data you have. And even if this were possible, the day after you implement something will change, and you have to start all over again.

So, who better to assess the customer’s request, than the person handling it. If the request can be handled through the standard process, fine. If not, and the request is genuine, also fine. It only takes trusting your employees and giving them flexibility.

It is as simple as it sounds, but it fundamentally changes the role of management in a lot of companies. As manager, you have to stop thinking instead of your employees and start creating an environment of trust. Start helping your people to acquire the necessary skills and tools to service the customer. This will take some time and perseverance. It is easy to fall back in old habits, especially when an employee makes a bad judgement call.

Trusting your employees to evaluate the customer’s request and giving them the flexibility to handle it, will save money, boost morale, and increase customer satisfaction.

So, let’s start trusting today. After all, we are all customers!

If you like this post or if you have any remark, please leave a comment.

Bart Van Bouwel
Managing Partner