When Being Right Could Be Wrong

Today there is a trend that’s been in play for quite some time. Everyone believes they’re right even on the slimmest of reasons which in turn has morphed into either defending that view verbally or worse in some form of mortal combat. Reasoning for many has gone out the window. Not anywhere has this been demonstrated of late than when we see scream-fests, out right assaults, and more at restaurants. Why? I suggest it’s because everyone thinks they are right, and they can point to some slogan or fine print that either bolsters their defense or believe it doesn’t apply to them.

Remember when “The customer is always right” was the slogan of the retail trade? However retailers found as time rolled on the out of the ordinary simple requests for returns or unsatisfied customers had morphed into scenes of customers berating store management with profanity laden attacks to get their way. Most retailers found it was not worth the aggravation and just agreed to what ever the demands as to make it go away. Problem was not only did it not go away, but it taught and emboldened more on exactly what to do. Retails solution? Put a dis-empowered employee and instruct them while they’re being berated just point to the fine print and repeatedly state “There’s nothing I can do. Our policy is written right here.” (I can hear the escalation from here.)

The real problem for both retailers and customers is everyone is now lumped into the same dumpster. Most retailers policies and employee cultures are viewing every customer as a problem. You can see it for yourself when dealing with most establishments of any size. The front line workers give you the vibe that their job would go so much more smoothly if it wasn’t for customers. You can almost hear through their eyes “Can’t you see I’m texting, Sheeesh!” Many customers on the other hand now look at any policy of returns or promises of satisfaction as a way to exploit the rules to either enhance a purchase, or get something for nothing.

The problem developing is for the legitimate claims or refusals from both. The ones that truly do have an issue that might fall outside of the norm but can and should be handled with both sides feeling as if their demands were reasonable and fulfilled to the best of each others satisfaction. This will only happen once retailers understand that they need to empower front line employees with the ability to fix customer complaints or requests by using their judgement based on what is good for the company and the customer. Not simply calling someone a “manager” then making them call 47 “Executive V.P.’s” to get authorization to use the restroom.

A case in point happened in Texas this week. A family dined at a local restaurant where the policy for a group more than 8 would have a 17% gratuity added to their bill. This is an acceptable and legitimate charge for a restaurant (Before you start yelling and sending me emails read my thoughts and why here first.) as long as it’s stated on the menu. And you know we’ve all seen them ourselves. This protects the servers from cheap skates leaving $2 dollars for a party of 15 just because they’re cheap. (Once again let me remind you to read my article on gratuity.)

It would seem this party had very rude and inept servers so they believed the tip should be discretionary. The restaurant didn’t agree and pointed to the menu stating it’s the house policy and rule. The restaurant is correct and the rule is a valid point, but (and it’s a big but) the party has stated repeatedly that they approached the management several times during the meal to complain about the servers. They said they were not only inept but rude in their tones in dealing with the party. If that bears out to be factual, then they have every right to not leave any gratuity. A built-in tip comes with the inferred reasoning of satisfactory service. Not over and above, you can add more yourself if that’s the case. But it’s not for just service of any type. Bad service is not guaranteed anything but scorn in my book. So how did the restaurant deal with this debacle?

It seems not only did they not even change the servers, or discount anything. But when the patrons refused to pay the gratuity the restaurant locked the doors and called the police! This type of behavior usually comes from employees who also feel they are not empowered and feel embolden themselves that to prove they are right they’ll escalate because after all, the fine print is on their side.

Just how far this pendulum swings before righting itself is anyone’s guess. But I believe the first place to start is with empowering front line staff with the power to make decisions based on sound judgement then the ability to execute them. They can later justify their reasoning or be trained to handle them differently during debriefing with proper tools and techniques. Not by being instructed only to point to the fine print.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr