How many of us have seen the sign on the door of a local eatery or coffeehouse that announces “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Has anyone had the unfortunate experience of having that right exercised on them for reasons other than indecent exposure or a drunken brawl?
I had the wonderful experience the other day of being asked to leave Thomas Hammer, an area coffee house, because I had not purchased a drink within an allotted time frame. I was told that it was their “policy” (don’t you love that word) that those who did not buy a drink could not sit there and use their WiFi. What, am I living in the late 80s?
Let’s go back and review the principles of customer evangelism, class. Let’s see … nope, nothing in there about kicking potential customers out of your place of business because they have not bought anything before the last grain of sand falls from the hour glass. What a bad idea in so many ways.
Now, I have to go back and be honest here. I was sitting there naked. No, I am just kidding about that. However, I sat in the store for about 10 minutes before the counter gal (let’s call her “Grumpy” for brevity sake – and the fact that she, in actuality, bears a stark resemblance to the cartoon dwarf) announced to me the store policy with her characteristic snarl. Being the obstinate (let’s say “donkey”) that I am, I thought I would test ol’ Grumpy out.
After about 45 minutes, good ol’ grumpy was back with a “what can I get you to drink” ploy. Ahhh, the game of cat and mouse continues. I retorted with a “give me a couple of minutes and I will be up there” response.
Finally, after 90 minutes, Grumpy stormed on over and said, “it’s time for you to leave. I told you our policy and you have had an hour and a half to buy a drink”. I was floored.
I have to be honest. I didn’t think she would actually enforce the “policy”, but she had the guts/lack of tact/missing brain cells to do it. So I literally went right across the street and bout two drinks from their biggest competitor. Not only will I never go back in there again, I am doing my part to let everyone else know about my experience there.
Let’s take a couple of lesson from this tale. First, don’t hide behind a policy, nor create a policy in the first place that is directed at the lowest common denominator. The competitor, Dawson Taylor, across the street was floored as well when they heard about my experience. They told me that they ask rowdy teenagers to leave when they become too loud, but never peaceful WiFi stealers like myself. Personally, I can understand the rowdy teenager, but never a customer like myself who has been in their establishment many times and bought many drinks from them in the past.
Second of all, why create policies at all? They are typically for the minuscule minority anyway. One of the best examples of employee empowerment comes from Nordstrom, who is world renowned for their customer service. Almost any seminar on customer service I have ever attended consists of several examples from Nordstrom. Their personnel manual consists of one sheet of paper that says:
“Welcome to Nordstrom, here are the Nordstrom Rules:
Rule #1: In all situations, use your good judgment.
There will be no additional rules.”
Now, you can speak with any employment lawyer and they will drone on about the liability of not covering everything in your employee handbook, however, what a statement about Nordstrom – that they trust their employees implicitly to deliver a superb customer experience for their customers. And they do.
Finally, in a commodity marketplace like we have today, as Don Peppers would say, customers are our scarcest resource, not money. If I have customers, I can get money. Therefore, treat your customers like gold, for that is exactly what they are. When there is a competitor directly across the street, can you afford to offend a customer simply because they did not spend $6 on a cup of dirty brown water? I would think not.
Instead, try the opposite approach. Make your customers feel at home. Make them feel like they are welcome any time, any where. Make them feel like they are rock stars. I guarantee you, you won’t be able to keep the dirty brown water on the self.