A recently written column by Nick Coleman in the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled “Cranky lady tangles with Mr. Nasty.” caught my attention. The title in and of itself is enough to get me to click, I’m a sucker for well-written headlines. I was expecting a story about a strange and slightly weird domestic encounter. But what the article was really about spoke to me on a much stronger and deeper level, a business level, related to brand (bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?).
The story is about a 79 year old woman who was at a Target store trying to return 3 shirts because they didn’t fit and she wanted her money back. The customer service employee would only give her a gift card and refused to give her money back because she paid by check. The manager escalated the situation and told her to leave with her gift card because she wasn’t getting her money back. She refused on the grounds that since they had already taken the money out of her account, they could easily give it back. The heated exchange escalated until the police were called. When the woman refused to leave without her money an ambulance was called to take her to the hospital to have her mental health evaluated.
When I first read this article I immediately thought that this would be a perfect example of how one insensitive, harried employee can alienate a customer. But then I realized that it is even bigger than that, it’s about inflexible corporate policies. As I read this story it came to mind that there is maybe a bigger theme here. A theme about how corporate policy gets in the middle of the relationship between a well-intentioned employee and an upset customer. An inflexible, insensitive corporate policy that inhibits an employee’s desire to build a relationship with a customer.
Many of today’s large retailers are so into designing corporate policies and regulations for their employees that they don’t allow individual employees the room or the margin for human judgment to help customers as they see fit. Of course I don’t know this, but there is a distinct possibility that the manager was just following policy. Granted he didn’t have to be so inflexible or try to send a customer to the emergency room of a hospital, creating an unneeded expense and wasting a woman’s time, but what if he was just following policy? In his mind the rules say that he HAS to give a gift card no matter what. He has not been given “permission” to help solve customers’ problems the way that HE sees most appropriate, not the way that the corporate policy dictates it should be done. This resulted in two things. One, Target lost the opportunity to live out their brand in this customer interaction. Target tied their manager’s hands by insisting that the manager use a hard, cold corporate policy as a framework to manage a very human relationship. Two, this employee will now have to live with the fact that he lost a customer, possibly alienated some other employees’ friends and neighbors and changed the public perception of both himself and his Target store. His personal brand took a hit and the brand of Target ended up with a ding. All because the big bosses at the top didn’t think he could be trusted to make his own customer service decisions.
Corporate policies set the tone for the brand on the inside and trust me, any insensitivity will find its way to a customer!
Posted by Karl D. Speak