Bad Policy = Bad Marketing

?????As this forum is specifically for examining the art of marketing, I’m purposefully leaving individual company names out. My goal is not seeking public vengeance for a bad experience; I can do that on my own time. That said, I recently had a bad experience…

In a nut shell, I ordered something that I later decided I didn’t need. I tried to return it (unopened, mind you) to the tune of a $30 reimbursement for the original shipping (I can ship a bike for less than that), and a 20% restocking fee. All together, that amounted to half of what I originally paid – not to mention then shipping it back. So now I’m going return this item only to receive 40% of my money back? “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do. That’s our return policy.”

[Side bar: Remember the old adage, “the customer is always right.” Yeah, well, I was directly told: “Sorry. It’s not our fault you bought it for the wrong reason.” I could go off on that comment alone, but that’s not what this post is about.]

It frustrates me when I encounter a company that clearly doesn’t understand the roles policy plays in its overall brand experience. I suspect, if given the choice of one or the other, the average customer would rather want assurance that a company is doing whatever it can to put the customers’ interests at the forefront of their business, than see overpriced, irrelevant, and superfluous noise coming from that company’s marketing machine. Yeah, Super Bowl commercials are entertaining and all, but you better take care of me as a customer when the time comes or your half time monkey commercial means squat to me.

We’ve all been on the phone or at the counter with a customer service rep and encountered those five disheartening little words: “Sorry, but that’s our policy.” Customer service and policy are like a classic good cop/bad cop routine. “Look, if it were up to me I’d do it, but it’s the policy that’s to blame.” Sure, companies need baseline guidelines to establish consistent business practices, but it’s how those companies choose to establish those policies that make the true impact.

“I’d like to help you, but I can’t. That’s just our policy.”

I could take this post in several directions, but I’m going to focus on one specific word in that all-to-common phrase: “can’t.” There’s a big difference between “can’t” and “won’t,” and all too often companies get them confused. Policy is a fallback scapegoat to “can’t,” but what it’s really saying is that you won’t. Of course you CAN give me a full refund on that item I decided I do not need. Of course you CAN accept this one-day expired coupon. Of course you CAN give me an extra bag of peanuts upon request. It’s just that you WON’T, and that’s the point at which you decided that the customer experience is not what’s most important to your company.

Perhaps we’re now all spoiled by the likes of Zappos whose corporate policy seems as though it were completely written by customers. (Hmm, now that’s a refreshing perspective.) It’s this level of transparent, do-good-by-the-customer approach that makes you want to shop there time & again. Why a company would choose otherwise is beyond me. Seth Godin touched on this topic in his recent blog post “Do you love your customers?” It’s a compelling insight that poses the questions- Do you love your customers because they give you money? Or do you love your customers, who sometimes happen to give you money? The answer creates a critical juncture for a business and leads decision-makers down one of two roads. And thus, policy is born.

So go ahead and stand by your ill-advised policies. You may have won this round and weaseled your way into my wallet, but rest assured it’ll be the last time. I’d like to continue giving you business, but I regret I can’t. It’s just my policy.

%d bloggers like this: