When bad policies drive customers away

8 February 2016
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When policies shift from being customer-friendly to Treat the customer as if they are out to rob us, they go from being enablers to business-destroyers.

No company can operate in a freewheeling manner and stay in business. Discipline is an integral part of any successful operation.

One of the elements that companies look to ensure discipline is through policies. How things should be done. What are the boundaries or limits? How do employees respond to various situations? It’s a long list.

Nobody debates the necessity or utility of good policy. Nobody. But sometimes, in the zeal to be overly protective — to assume the worst of people — companies create policies that offend customers and damage the relationship with the customer. It’s when policies shift from being customer-friendly to “Treat the customer as if they are out to rob us” that the policies themselves become foolish. They go from being enablers to business-destroyers. And unfortunately, one sees this all the time. And it’s sad. All these businesses desiring more sales. More customers! And they wonder why they don’t have them?

Maybe look at some of your business-destroying, customer-unfriendly policies. Any policy that loses business, I would argue, is a bad policy.

As a consumer myself, I have come up against a couple of good examples. They are not “good” because they are good policies, they are simply good in the sense that they demonstrate how poor policy can drive customers away.

Example 1: Airport lounge. I am elite level on Philippines Airlines. This gives me access to the lounge, which is a nice perk for a frequent traveler like me.

But let’s use some common sense, please. I went recently to the airport as I was traveling internationally with my eight-year-old son. He’s only eight, so he doesn’t travel as much as Daddy — he’s not elite level. I, however, want to go into the lounge just for a quick beverage before the flight. So I try to go in with my eight-year-old son:

“I am sorry, sir, but the lounge is for elite flyers only. Your son is not elite level so he can’t enter.”

My response: “He’s eight years old. I can’t leave him alone in the terminal. I am only going in to get a can of Diet Coke. That’s it. He won’t eat anything (and after all, how many stale croissants can an eight-year-old eat, anyways?). May I please take my son in so he does not wander alone in the airport?”

“No, sir, I am sorry. He cannot go in. That is the policy.”

It’s a foolish policy, plain and simple. So an elite flyer who spends thousands flying your carrier cannot enjoy the lounge or get a soft drink unless they leave their child unattended? What kind of customer-friendly treatment is this? And all to protect you from the loss of a few stale pieces of bread? Or one bottle of water? Where is good, old-fashioned common sense?

It’s cheap. It’s idiotic. And it drives people away. I now am flying Cebu Pacific as much as I can. And I have to wonder if the savings on the one croissant will offset the loss of thousands of dollars in ticket bookings? No decent finance manager I know would concur with this tradeoff!

Example 2: Rare meat. So I am sitting at a recent lunch meeting in the Marriott Resorts World lobby and decide to order some food. I order the hamburger, done medium-rare like I always do. Like I have done in literally thousands of restaurants all over the world. And also in plenty of Marriott hotels.

The waiter takes my order and heads off to the kitchen.

Five minutes later I have a manager appear at my table, and he informs me I will need to sign a contract before they will cook any meat that is partially rare! I start laughing. A contract to order a hamburger? It’s incredible. Who let the lawyers run too far on this one?

So they take down some info and draw up a contract, which I sign, laughing every step of the way. It explains how I take all liability for the fact my meat isn’t cooked fully. One hundred countries, thousands of orders for medium-rare, and this is a first. A new low.

So the implication is simple. Marriott doesn’t trust the quality of the meat they serve, so to protect themselves they want to cook well-done to kill all the bacteria, and if a customer wants rare they have to sign a contract! It’s incredible. No other restaurant does this for a P600 hamburger. So I sit and wait longer while they process my contract. Just to get a hamburger!

The signal is clear. The meat being served is of such suspect quality that they need contracts with consumers to protect themselves. So why go back and pay P600 when I can get the same for half the price, and no contract required?

That’s the last time I will arrange a lunch meeting at the Marriott.

Nobody is saying policies don’t have a place in good companies. They do. But, like anything else, a good business starts by putting customers first. Instead of treating them like the enemy, treat them right. And policies that penalize customers need to be tossed out.

The days of monopoly and market domination are over. It’s a flat world and open competition is everywhere. I have many options to fly, and many hotel lobbies in which to order a sandwich. And, as the customer, I will take my business to where the policies don’t treat me like the enemy.

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