How to Bend the Rules for Customers Without Hurting Your Business

Policies are not rules, yet most businesses treat them as such. If you want to retain happy customers and employees, you need to see issues from their perspective.

Three days after I bought my laptop, I accidentally dropped it on the kitchen floor and smashed the screen. Kicking myself for not buying insurance when I had the chance, I tested my luck by returning to the store to ask if I could still purchase it.

The service rep understood the severity of the issue right away. His manager, not so much. She reprimanded her employee for allowing me to buy insurance so late but reluctantly allowed him to continue to help me.

The manager failed to realize that the service rep’s act of kindness made me feel appreciative of the store. In that moment, I vowed to continue giving them my business.

But the manager’s sour reaction reminded me that there are customer service professionals who would rather push the rules than help the customer. This can come with consequences.

How strict rules hurt your business

It’s difficult to build customer relationships when you’re just telling everyone “no” all the time. Policies are put in place to explain how the rules will be implemented, but are meant to leave room for bending.

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Enforcing unbreakable rules without policies is an outdated approach to customer service. Strict regulations may have been the earlier go-to solution for protecting a business’ likelihood, but today it feels robotic. If your service team is instructed to repeat the same insincere consolations and rule reminders, you might as well replace them with chatbots.

Frontline employees also lose their freedom to make good decisions when their hands are tied. This can lead to financial risks if an unhappy customer cancels his or her service plan and advises peers to do the same.

Customer service has since experienced a cultural shift away from extreme left and right approaches (strict rules versus the “the customer is always right” mantra). Some businesses, like Userlike , are striving to be “customer-centric" by bending the rules when necessary.

Here’s why:

Freedom to bend the rules empowers your frontline team

Your customer service policies outline the best practices for handling customer scenarios. Since every situation is unique, malleable policies make it easier for agents to find the right solution in unexpected situations.

Agents can then use their best judgment when handling corner cases and may even find new ways to serve customers .

Empowered employees and satisfied customers can also improve office morale and perception of your company . Not to mention the long-lasting relationships you’re bound to build from being empathetic to individual customer cases.

Relaxing strict rules may lead to increased revenue

Bending the rules may sound counterproductive to financial growth. Allowing customers to return clothes past their due date or buy insurance after they drop their new laptop could be seen as irresponsible. But you can’t look at these situations without context.

A major retailer tested three different customer service approaches and learned that extra friendly customer service was more profitable . Customers were more likely to make a purchase but not return their items when the policy and return process was relaxed and easy. However, when strict rules were in place, the store experienced an 11.2% decrease in sales.

SuperOffice CRM determined that the major cause of driving customers away is making them feel uncared for:

graph showing that customers leave your business when they believe you don't care about them
“5 Unique Ways to Increase Customer Retention (and Increase Profits!)” by SuperOffice

Bending the rules can help circumvent this problem and contribute to customer retention efforts. For example, I recently used Wi-Fi calling to make an international call to a friend back in Texas...or so I thought. Two weeks later I was disputing an extra $50 charge on my phone bill. Turns out I forgot to enable Wi-Fi calling, but the agent removed the charge anyway.

“It happens. I know I forget to turn it on sometimes too. I’m glad you called in so I could get this taken care of for you,” the rep told me. I’ve always received this level of care from my provider, but I still appreciate it every time. That’s why I’ve stayed their customer for over 10 years.

Customers will remain loyal

Like I mentioned above, caring for your customers and their unique circumstances can be profitable for your company. When a customer is comfortable and content with your service, like I am with my phone provider, they will stick with you.

Long waiting times, natural disasters and mistakes happen. How you handle it will determine the customer’s loyalty.

Make your goal clear to your employees ( management by objectives ), establish guidelines and give your team freedom to find the right solution. By cutting out obstacles and simplifying the resolution process , customers may feel more inclined to stay with you.

For example, when something goes wrong or the customer has to endure a long wait, skip the scripted response and give the customer something of value. Whether it’s a free upgrade or replacement item, show the customer that you’re willing to immediately own up to your shortcomings.

How to bend the rules but maintain control

To keep everything profitable and organized, give your team a budget or limit for bypassing the rules. If an agent exceeds his budget, you can analyze his individual decision cases. Is the agent too lenient? Are your policies too strict or unintelligible? Or is everything okay as it is and exceeding the budget was merely a statistical outlier?

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Perhaps your terms and conditions are unclear for customers, or your agent bent the rules for a slew of long-term customers as a favor to their loyalty. The situations can be complex.

You and your team can come up with solutions based on these customer interactions to minimize confusion and financial loss. Live chat makes it simple to keep track of customer conversations and look for trends when setting your rule bending budget.

Bend the rules a little to show that your company cares a lot

Behaving like the strict manager in my story risks hurting your business and turning customers off from your product or service.

But when you see issues from the customer’s perspective, you humanize your company and build long-lasting trusting relationships. Retain and earn customers by showing that you genuinely care and are willing to find a reasonable solution.