I’m Sorry, It’s Our Policy …

I'm Sorry; It's Our Policy by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

Photo by Bo Nielsen, Available at www.Flickr.com

Are you surprised when you get good customer service? I am. Why? Why should I be surprised to get good customer service? Isn’t the meaning of customer service to “serve the customer”? Granted, some customer requests are just plain crazy. Recently a car dealer service man told me about a woman who had been rear-ended and wanted her car fixed for free. Why? Because she had a “bumper-to-bumper” warranty. No kidding. That’s crazy, but I’m not crazy and I want good service.

Recently, I received great customer service from Mitch at our local Costco warehouse. We buy eggs at Costco in bulk, typically a case of 90 eggs. (We eat a lot of eggs in our house.) However, it has been common for one or two of those 90 eggs to be cracked. Frankly, out of 90 eggs, I thought that was an acceptable breakage rate, but I also feel like I should get all the eggs I pay for. So I asked Mitch what to do. Mitch didn’t at all think that breakage rate was acceptable and said he would contact the supplier right away to work with them on fixing the problem.

Mitch demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in his product. He also demonstrated a strong commitment to serving the customer by telling me that the next time I found a broken egg I should bring in my receipt for a full refund on the full case. This would more than make up for the broken eggs in the past. He was very concerned about the quality of their eggs and the satisfaction of this customer.

I wasn’t surprised, though, to get good customer service at Costco. Good service is part of the Costco DNA. This DNA has vaulted Costco to being the third largest retailer in the US (nearly $100 billion in sales, 600 warehouses in nine countries, and 64 million members worldwide). Reflecting on the success of the company, retired Senior Executive Vice President of Costco, Dick DiCerchio said,

The things we learned as we grew up were the same things we did in our business. The things Mom taught you were the same things that Costco does. We didn’t lie. We didn’t cheat…. We always respected our people. This wasn’t just a statement on the wall.1

Rick Libenson, Costco board member talked about the early days of the company,

We always felt we were consumer advocates. It was the right thing to improve people’s way of life by selling for as little as we can, not as much as we can. For other retailers, it was the other way around.2

I don’t mean for this to sound like a commercial for Costco, but the truth is that service of this kind is rare. Another company that regularly provides good service is Apple. Recently, I contacted Apple for the third time regarding the same problem with a mouse. Their resolution was to upgrade the mouse, at no charge to me, to a better product (the “Magic Mouse”). No charge, not even a shipping charge. That is service.

Contrast these stories to typical customer (non)service. You probably have much the same experience I do. Call the company. Explain the problem. Present your proposed resolution. The answer? Nine times out of ten, you hear, “I’m sorry, our policy is …” something that is far from service.

Here are two examples of customer (non)service:

  • An online bank that prominently advertises its customer-oriented policies, told me it is against their policy for my wife, a co-signer on the account, to have access to online statements.
  • When my sons were 12 years old, I needed some information about their health insurance claims. The insurance company told me my sons would have to sign a release so that I could access this information. My 12-year old sons? I’m responsible to pay the bill, but I can’t know what I’m paying for? They explained it was their policy to protect my sons’ privacy. (Long story short, it turned out this was due to a misinterpretation of the emancipated minors provision in the HIPAA laws.)

What can we learn from Apple and Costco about good service? Lots. Here are just two lessons that come to mind:

  • Apple wants their customers to be excited about owning and using Apple products. This requires good service. Are your customers excited to use your products? Are they eager to call for help when they have a problem?
  • Costco wants their customers to enjoy coming to the warehouses and to enjoy discovering new products on every visit. This also requires good service. Do your customers enjoy their experiences with your company? Do they look forward to something new in each interaction?

There are many ways to develop and deliver good customer service, but I can assure you that your company will not succeed unless your employees enjoy working for you. Do you provide good “customer service” to your employees?


1: David W. Fuller, Tim Talevich, & Brenda Shecter, “The Empire Built On Values,” Costco Connection, January 2012, 25.

2: Fuller, “The Empire Built On Values,” 26.

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