When company policy is bad policy

Janet Kelly
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In the early stages of planning our trip to the western part of the province this month, I made an online booking at the KOA campground near Rocky Harbour.

I did so knowing that we would be travelling in peak season and also knowing that there would be a fee of $10 if I cancelled without at least 24 hours’ notice.

A few days before our scheduled arrival, we decided to take our chances at the coastal Green Point campground instead. I called KOA and advised them of the change in plans.

I was immediately issued a refund minus fee, just as expected. I had no problem with the fee because this company policy was clearly stated on the website and it seemed reasonable.

But there have been times when I’ve questioned the application of company policy. Especially when those policies don’t seem to make sense, or worse, don’t seem to be understood by the employees trying to enforce them.

Reader Elayne e-mailed me an interesting point in this regard. She writes:

“I really worry that the instinct to be obliging and helpful will be bred out of us by business models which scream service or customer relations but don’t deliver, and front-line reference to ‘company policy’ without understanding that ‘policy’ is a guide for the usual way of doing things, not a law and not meant to cover all extenuating circumstances.”

I’m sure many can relate to this thought. Even if it’s just a small thing, for a customer, it can be frustrating when the person they’re dealing with feels that they must go by the book in all situations.

When I read Elayne’s comments, I was reminded of two encounters that I’ve had with company policy, one recent and one not-so-recent.

Although they were both laughably small incidents, I won’t soon forget them.

First, I recalled an experience at Tim Hortons several years ago.

 I ordered a tea bun and asked to have it buttered so that I could eat it on my way back to work. The hostess advised me that this was not possible, because a memo had been issued by Tims corporate office stating that tea biscuits were not to be buttered.

The supervisor on duty concurred, telling me that this policy was in place because staff would be blamed in the case of a crumbled biscuit, whereas if the customer applied the butter, any crumbling would be their own fault.

In spite of my assurance that I’d take full responsibility for any crumbling that occurred, my request was refused.

I decided to email the company, whereupon I learned that no such policy was in place. I still wonder sometimes where that memo came from. Isn’t it funny when someone stands behind a rule that doesn’t exist?

Just last week, I had a second experience that was reminiscent of the tea biscuit incident.

This time, it was at Mary Brown’s, and all I wanted was to share the currently promoted Downhome Deal with my husband.

The large sign in the storefront showed a four-piece meal with a 591 ml drink included, the same as advertised in their monthly email newsletter.

As the cashier rang up my order, she casually mentioned that they had no bottles of drink left. She asked if it was OK if she gave me a tin of drink instead.

Would the price be adjusted? No. Add a small salad? Also no. There could not be any changes, because it was part of a combo and they are not allowed to make any changes to combos.

A co-worker agreed through the kitchen window. It was clear that Mary Brown had laid down the law.

Of course, not all those in customer service feel the need to adhere so strictly to company policy. Some are willing to assist and have been empowered to do so. Take, for example, my experience at the customer service desk at Canadian Tire on Elizabeth Avenue recently, where flexibility in company policy was of great help.

An air compressor that I purchased last fall stopped working. I knew there was a one-year warranty, but I didn’t have the box or the receipt. I decided to try my luck with Canadian Tire customer service anyhow.

I approached the counter fully aware of the sign high on the wall stating that returns without receipts may not be accepted. Although somewhat brusque, the woman who assisted me at the returns desk was accommodating as I made my case. With a firm warning that the replacement would be one-time-only due to the lack of receipt, I received a new compressor and was merrily on my way in mere minutes.

I was impressed that this particular employee decided to go with the may in “may not be accepted,” because it would have been just as easy to deny me.

So, what advice would I give to someone who is faced with the old “it’s policy” line? All I can say is, don’t be afraid to ask. Sure, it might not get you anywhere, but you might be surprised by someone who’s willing and able to help you out.

janet@janetkel.ly

Organizations: Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire

Geographic location: Rocky Harbour, Green Point, Elizabeth Avenue

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Recent comments

  • Jay
    July 22, 2013 - 07:46

    So when was company policy bad policy? At Tim's where there was no policy, and you could easily have buttered a bun yourself, at Cdn. Tire, where they bent over backwards and broke the well communicated policy to accommodate you, or at Mary Brown's where you had to drink that rotgut from a can instead of a bottle? And your going to remember this minutiae for a long time! If that's all you have to worry about, you're doing well.