Who Sets the Rules

Quick Summary: Make sure that company policies and rules for customers are reasonable and appropriate.


We see it all the time, governments and regulators at all levels keep adding laws, rules, or regulations while seldom are any of them eliminated.  In many instances, the true impacts on the target audiences are not adequately considered.  Companies are no different.  For rules and policies that focus on customers, customer service personnel are generally responsible for informing customers.  Rarely, is it good news.  Companies need to carefully and periodically review their rules to ensure that they make sense for both the company and their customers.

This article is closely tied to the article, “Metrics Drives Behaviors”.  That article discussed how metrics can significantly impact customer satisfaction.  In most cases, the commonly used metrics can actual cause a degradation in customer satisfaction.  Additionally, improper metrics can cause frustration on the part of customer service reps who feel compelled to focus on the metrics at the cost of truly resolving customer issues.  The metrics in question are established by others, who are, therefore, setting the rules of engagement.  Similar to many of the questionable metrics, their governing rules may lose sight of the fact that the role of customer service is to service customers!  Quite often the “rules” are not referred to as “rules”, but as “company policies”.  Perhaps a good comparison might be Shakespeare’s “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, re-stated as “A rose’s thorn by any other name would hurt as much”! This is not as melodramatic as it may first appear.  Remember the last time that you heard “I am sorry, that is against our company policy.”  It hurt quite a bit, didn’t it.

Some examples of the rules imposed by others that simply would not stand the light of day if customers were present when the rules were being drafted are listed below.  Does your company have similar rules?

  • Setting Maximum Times for Customer Calls:

Some companies actually show count down timers on customer service rep computer screens to emphasize the need to “finish” a call in some allotted time.  Unspoken but clear, the message is “Terminate the call whether it is resolved or not”.  A more subtle method of establishing a timer is to set a benchmark of how many calls a rep should handle every day.  This approach simply moves the timer into the customer service rep’s head.

  • Who Can Close an Open Issue:

As discussed in the “Metrics Drives Behaviors” article, end of quarter pressure or other similar metrics can drive individuals, usually managers, to make wholesale trouble ticket closures in order to show metric compliance.  The same result can occur when individuals take the position that the reported issue is “not a problem, it’s the customer’s fault”.  A simple, but highly effective, method of addressing this issue is to take the position that only the person who initially identifies the issue can close it.

  • Who Dictates Forced Upgrades:

Some companies insist that they will only support customers that have current or recently current versions of the products.  To be fair, supporting older product versions is a burden and, over time, can become impractical.  In many instances, customers simply cannot implement upgrades within the time frame dictated by the company.  Logistics, training, or reliance on other related or integrated systems, spare parts inventory, or a host of other operational considerations may necessitate upgrade delays.  Individuals, namely customer service and sales, who are the closest groups to customers need to be involved in the decision of upgrade and past version support.

  • Support for Custom Product Versions:

The article in this collection, “The Cost of a Win”, the issue of supporting custom products is discussed.  When providing special versions of a standard product, companies need to carefully formulate and communicate their future support plans to the customer.  Unless the special version can be incorporated into the standard product, separate support requirements will be required that will continue to diverge over time. If this occurs, the initial happy customer with their custom product may find themselves dis-satisfied as support for their special version does not carry forward.  The “rule” for future support needs to be fully disclosed before the initial sale.

  • Support for Integrated Partner Products:

Today, it is common for companies to embed other company’s products into their overall product offering.  This is a sensible business approach that allows partners to come together with each company focusing on their core competencies.  However, in virtually every case, the end customer will expect the company that sold them the product to take on overall responsibility for the entire product.  Expecting the customer to sort out “who is responsible for what”, simply does not make sense and almost certainly will result in customer frustration and dis-satisfaction.  An excellent on-going example of this situation is with many automobile companies.  After purchasing a new car, if the customer has issues with the tires, many car companies deflect the issue and tell the customer to contact the tire manufacturer for any tire warranty issues.  The customer’s frustration and anger is rightly aimed at the car dealer and not the tire manufacturer.  The car dealer may have no choice but to support the corporate policy of non-support.  There could be solid, logical reasons for the policy, but they will never make sense to the customer.

  • No Returns or Re-Stocking Fees:

There is no question that many individuals abuse the liberal return policies of some companies.  A quick Google search results in almost countless examples of the appalling abuse suffered by some companies.  On the other hand, some companies insist on equally appalling policies in which they refuse to accept any returns for any reason or charge re-stocking fees.  Some companies even refuse to accept any responsibility for defective products discovered when the box is open, stating flatly that customer needs to take up the issue with the manufacturer.

The above examples only scratch the surface of the rules that customer service reps must follow.  These individuals are faced with the difficult task of explaining their company’s position to the caller.  Naturally, the caller blames the rep!  Just as bureaucracy incrementally slips into an organization to address the symptoms of a problem instead of its root cause, customer service rules are often implemented without thinking through their ramifications.  Periodically reviewing those rules with the discussion led by customer service personnel in the presence of high level, customer-centric decision makers, can keep rules in check.  Bold companies will even go so far as to invite paying customers into the session and solicit their comments.

Companies need to carefully examine who CAN set the rules and understand the customer’s perspective.  The rules may be black and white, but their impacts will unquestionably create either some positive or very negative customer feelings.  Four questions should be asked and answered regarding every customer policy:

  1. Has the new rule been established to address one issue from one customer that is unlikely to re-occur?
  2. Would customers agree that the rule passed the “common sense” test?
  3. What is the likely social media impact going to be if the rule receives media attention?
  4. Would you dare tell a prospective customer about the rule before they made a buying decision?

Let the answers to these questions determine if the rule is worth its implications.

Article Number : 6.010303   

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