Customer Experience News & Trends

6 stupid rules that destroy the customer experience

Employees feel handcuffed by stupid rules that destroy a great customer experience. The good news: You hold the key that will free them to keep customers happy and loyal.

We all put policies, procedures and rules in place for what seem to be good reasons. Then the workplace, business environment or customer needs change. We end up languishing for far too long under a cumbersome umbrella of steps and red tape that don’t make sense.

The bigger problem is that stupid rules don’t just affect employees. Managers usually hate having to enforce procedures and policies that make little sense. Customers feel like they’re a nuisance or aren’t important when they’re told “It’s our policy” or “My supervisor won’t let me do that.”

So not only is the customer experience screwed up, the employee and supervisor feel pretty crappy for ruining it.

Can you bend or break?

Granted, some workplace rules are essential to keep employees and customers safe — whether it’s physically or financially. Beyond those concerns, we’d argue that most workplace rules should be created to be bent or — dare we say — broken.


For example, one salesperson was frustrated spending as many as eight hours a month pulling together his expense report according to the company’s policy. So he took matters into his own hands, according to authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein, who documented the situation in Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules For Smart Results.

The salesperson used mobile apps and online tools to create one-page expense reports, and he kept sets of receipts digitally so he didn’t have to carry a pocketful of paper receipts. Breaking through — not necessarily breaking — the traditional rules helped him save time that he could better use for selling and helping existing customers.

Rules that hurt

Some rules get in the way of productivity. In fact, research has found that many employees say company policies prevent them from being fully effective at their jobs.

Other rules prevent customers from getting what they really need — even if it’s not something that will adversely affect the company or its employees.

Other sets of rules can even prevent an entire organization from moving forward, oftentimes because that’s “the way we’ve always done it.”

Bottom line: All stupid rules hurt the customer experience.

Here are the dumbest rules you want to avoid if your goal is to provide an incredible customer experience:

Stupid rule No. 1: The customer is always right

The customer is not always right. If your organization teaches employees to believe this old adage, it will bite you in the butt.

But — and this is a very important butthe customer is always the customer.


That means the customer should always be treated with dignity and never told, “You’re wrong.” Those words alone will kill the customer experience immediately. While that may not sound like a terrible option when dealing with awful customers whom you’d just as well not have, it’s still dangerous. That kind of exchange will surely make its way to social media where other prospective customers might think that’s the typical response to customers.

Instead, front-line employees want to focus on treating all customers with dignity — not necessarily godliness. When customers aren’t in the right, employees want to focus on documented facts and say things such as:

  • “Let’s look at this from a different angle”
  • “Next time, you might consider … ,” or
  • “To be sure we’re clear, let’s review …”

Stupid rule No. 2: Everyone must perform at this level

Mediocrity is OK — really. But poor performance is never OK.


High performance is ideally what you want from every customer-facing employee. But not all salespeople will exceed quota all the time. Not every customer service rep will hit target measures. But B Players will consistently make the wheels of well-organized, customer-centric organizations turn. Employers and supervisors don’t need to spend too much time trying to mold every employee into an A Player.

Instead, give everyone stretch targets for satisfying customers (yes, customer satisfaction should be a performance criteria for all customer-facing employees). Reward employees who consistently meet their targets and those who exceed them. Recognize good work publicly. Work with low performers — and if they don’t improve, let them go before their failures affect the customer experience and fellow employee morale.

Stupid rule No. 3: Keep expenses to a minimum

Customer-facing employees who are told over and over to “Watch their expenditures,” “Cut the fat” or “Keep expenses to a minimum” will not be able to make customers happy enough to stay with you.


Employees need some freedom and resources to do what’s right for customers — whether it’s a salesperson taking a customer out for a meal after a screw-up, a free upgrade from a technician who sees a customer has been inconvenienced or a discount from a service rep who enjoyed working with a pleasant customer. Employees need to be able to make fast decisions that have a positive impact on a customer’s experience.

For instance, the operations director at an office supplier gives her customer service reps a monthly stipend to spend on customers whom they choose to reward. One rep sent a buyer who was retiring a book on gardening because he mentioned he’d be doing more of that in his free time. Another rep sent a double shipment of a favorite product to a loyal customer because he knew they went through it quickly.

Stupid rule No. 4: Do not use the Internet for personal use

You’d think that employees who aimlessly surf the Internet, toggle around Facebook or shop online on your time are doing your company and customers a big disservice. But research shows the contrary.


In fact, browsing the web refreshes tired workers and enhances their productivity more so than making personal calls, texting, exchanging emails or working straight through with no break at all, a National University of Singapore study found.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to give employees full access to everything online at all times throughout the day. Allow time — perhaps during breaks — for web browsing. Install filters so employees can’t access seedy sites, and create a social media policy that gives your company some control over work-related posts.

Stupid rule No. 5: You must get a manager’s approval

Approvals take time and often result in a negative response — two things customers don’t like and two things that get customers immediately thinking about finding another supplier.


The reason most companies require a supervisor’s approval before customers can get what they’ve requested is employees aren’t trained enough. That issue must be addressed by leaders who put employees in customer-facing positions.

They want to filter the hiring process to find people who make sharp, quick decisions and are adaptable. From there, they want to continually train so employees understand processes, products, services and most importantly the value of them and customers to the organization. When they understand how the business cycle works, they’ll be more equipped to make quick decisions that have a positive impact on the company and customers.

The owner of a small Midwest distributor doesn’t insist employees get approval to tell customers “yes.” On the contrary, they must get his approval to tell customers “no” to a request. He regularly updates and trains them in company meetings so they know the best ways to handle requests. And he regularly backs and congratulates them for taking the initiative to tell customers “yes.”

Stupid rule No. 6: Follow protocol

Employees who must follow procedures and remain professional at all times will lose their creativity and morale. Goofing off at work actually has a purpose: It makes people more productive and happy, research has found.


In one study, call center workers who chatted socially with co-workers, instead of continually going through the motions of work, did their work faster, were less stressed and earned the same approval ratings from managers and customers as people who kept their noses to the grindstone.

In another study, employees who have freedom over how and when they accomplish their work are more satisfied and less stressed on the job.

It’s important that employees remain professional when dealing with customers and colleagues within the industry. But they’ll be happier and more creative at work if they’re able to goof off, enjoy each others’ company and even relax a little each day.

With that in mind, encourage employees to:

  • Take a walk. Fresh air and new scenery usually wakes up the mind and boosts productivity.
  • Take a nap. No one needs a team of snoozers. But researchers have found that a 15-minute catnap helps employees focus better rather than try to accomplish something while fighting tiredness.
  • Chat with a colleague. Even if the conversation starts social, it will likely turn to business and help employees solve problems, improve the customer experience or get over a lull.
  • Take a break. Ideally, lunch and breaks should be taken away from the desk and be void of technology. Employees need tech-free, social or quiet time to recharge and handle all that comes their way.

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