Is Employee Empowerment Dying in US Business?

March/05/2012 16:59PM
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Remember 20 years ago when Nordstrom was used as the pinnacle of customer focus. If the store didn’t have a pair of shoes to fit a customer, the salesperson would get in a cab and find a pair? Business was moving to a customer driven focus. Employees were encouraged to use good judgment, but do what was needed to satisfy the customer.

Last week I had two experiences that showed this may be over.

A driveway light at my house was destroyed. It was a Vista LED light. I was an early user of LED lighting at my Arizona house because the bulbs don’t burn out for 10 years. I knew that getting a replacement light was a bit of a challenge since I had done it once before. I found the lighting distributor, Ewing Irrigation, and called to order a new light. First rule of Ewing–we don’t take credit cards over the phone and we don’t order without payment. No problem, go to Ewing and hand them the credit card. Not so easy. We can’t take the order because the light you need is not in our system. I leave and call Vista customer service and ask them if they can call Ewing and give them the part number so they can put it in their system. On my way home, I stop back at Ewing. Did Vista call and give you the part number? Yes. So we can place the order? No. We can’t put a new part number in our system. If someone had ordered that part we could order it, but until we have the part number in our system, we can’t order. Can you call your main office and have the part number put in the system? No. Can’t or won’t. Can’t.

Ewing is not on the satisfy the customer program. The two young men could care less if they lost the sale. They followed company policy. I called the regional rep for Vista and he was unhappy with Ewing. He gave me another distributor’s name and a contact. In 5 minutes I had my order placed on the phone.

My five grand kids and their parents are coming for their winter visit. I need 9 Cubs tickets. I find 9 together from JL Tickets. I order the tickets. I get a call from JL Tickets that they can’t ship to a different location than the billing location. Whoa? Your order process gave me the option to do just that. Well, if we do that we need to clear it with your bank. How do you do that? Your bank has to verify that you have a second address. But, my bank has no idea that I have a second address. Doesn’t matter, policy. So she calls the bank and sets up a three way phone call. Bank says, we have no idea Mr. Robertson has a home in Arizona. I ask the bank if we can cancel the charge since JL Tickets can’t deliver? JL Tickets, we have a no cancellation policy. JL Tickets will ship to my Illinois address by Fed Ex with signature required. Doesn’t matter if there’s no one there. Doesn’t matter that I’m in Arizona. Just matters that this surly lady follow company policy. No I can’t talk to her supervisor.

Logic is totally lost. She is talking to me on an Arizona area code. The game is in Arizona. The bank verifies that all credit card charges for the last two months are in Arizona. When the lady from the bank asks me if I want to cancel the transaction, all changes. Now the bank is the enemy. She repeats the no cancellation policy. The lady from the bank says I can cancel the change if JL can’t deliver. OK, tickets are coming to Arizona.

But, the policy is Fed Ex, signature required. Can’t deviate from policy.

Here’s two classic examples of customer be damned, policy rules. Are we going backwards in customer focus? Has the Internet caused this? Will it just get worse? Is this a contributor to business losing business today?

I don’t profess to have those answers, but it does seem like we are going in reverse in these two instances. In either case an employee could have saved a sale or a customer relationship. Ewing and JL Tickets will never get my business again.

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