I got my hair cut at Great Clips a month ago. While there, I heard somebody talking about a “touch up” policy I had never heard about before that allowed a customer to come back within a limited time period and get things touched up for any reason. I thought the time period that was mentioned was one month, but when I returned to Great Clips a month later, I found out it was in fact two weeks. At that point the employee had a choice to make–go against company policy and give me the touch up anyway, or tell me that company policy wouldn’t allow her to help me.
Although it meant doing something frustrating with the computer system (frustrating to the employee, not me), the employee went out of her way to skirt company policy and give me the touch up. After all, it wasn’t as if I was trying to take advantage of Great Clips. I honestly thought the offer was valid for a month, and I would have been just fine if she had told me she couldn’t help me. That’s what I was expecting.
You could argue she’s not doing what is in the company’s best interest, but I would disagree. First of all, there wasn’t anybody else waiting. No paying customer was kept waiting, and I don’t ask for gel in my hair so the only materials wasted were a small amount of water and some microscopic metal shavings from the scissors. By going around company policy, which was not convenient for her, this employee exceeded my expectations, and she made me more loyal to Great Clips. Not only will I return there in the future, I’ll try to return when that employee is on duty, if possible. Not because I’m going to try to get more free haircuts, but because I know she cares.
This is the type of customer service I love to see and get, and the kind I would like to see in my own employees. Luckily I have a lot of control in this area because this customer-centric attitude only comes from two places; from the core, or from a leader.
Some people are self-confident and just “that way.” They’ll break policy to serve the customer, even if they think they might get in trouble. But even these employees will eventually become automatons, blindly obeying company policy, never doing too much for the customer for fear that they might be punished, unless someone directs them otherwise. Mid-level managers who break with policy on occasion will pass that trait on to those they manager, since lower-level employees will feel protected by that manager being between them and those above him.
But for best results, it has to come from the top. Only when those at the top are flexible and make exceptions to company policy will everyone at a company feel empowered to make decisions they feel are right, even if they are outside the policies that have been set.
That isn’t to say it’s easy for the people or person at the top to set such a standard. The person at the top is not truly at the top, because they are beholden to shareholders and the market, and worries about performance and competitiveness make the CEO or president’s decisions even tougher than those for whom they set the example. While some in leadership positions may have an instinctive sense of how to establish the customer service attitude I’ve described above, many, if not most, must make a conscious and deliberate choice and follow it up with repeated action until it becomes a habit. Deciding what those choices are, which one is the right one at the right time and in the right situation, and then effectively passing that sense of empowerment throughout an organization, is a key ingredient of effective leaders and makes for good business. While it may go unnoticed by some, I’m sure most customers would appreciate the same type of service I received and it would generate the same sense of loyalty.
Unfortunately I could tell the attitude was the employee’s own, and likely not shared by her manager and certainly not facilitated by the technology in place. But imagine what it would do for Great Clips if the entire company was willing to make exceptions to policy and support employees making their own decisions, based on merit, for the sake of exceeding the customer’s expectations. Sure, they’d get taken advantage of once in a while, but the cost would be more than made up for by increased customer loyalty, and likely happier employees as well.