Customer Disservice: Policies That Repel Customers

We've been thinking about customer service lately, inspired by a trip and a book.


I was in Chicago recently and I had to use the restroom. I saw this little hot dog place. I thought that I could grab a dog for lunch and use their bathroom. As I approached the door, I saw a sign. The sign said, “No Public Restrooms.” So I stopped, looked around, and noticed a McDonald’s down the street. So I went to McDonald’s.


I could see a business limiting the use of their facilities to patrons, because some people will just use the bathroom and leave. But to not even let your customers use it … that seems a little extreme to me.


I learned this lesson the hard way. One of my earliest businesses was a Ben Franklin store – the old “five and dime.” We didn’t let the public use our bathrooms. There was one particular day every year when the town held a huge community sale. We got tons of traffic on that day, many needing to use the bathroom. People would come in and walk out because we said, “No”. Why wouldn’t they? We hadn’t served their immediate need. So we changed our policy – and most people who used the restroom did buy something.


This makes me think of the book, Our Toilets are Not for Customers by Floyd Coates. He tells the story about shopping for light fixtures. His house had been severely damaged by a tornado. He had to buy lights for his new house, so he went to a lighting store. He was about half done with his list – having already selected about $2,000 worth of merchandise – when he got the call of nature. He asked a clerk where their bathroom was. She said, “Our toilets are not for customers.” She went on, “There’s a place a couple of blocks down the street.” So he left … and he didn’t return – they didn’t get a dime out of him.


One of my professors, who became one of my mentors, said that most policies are created for 3% of the people – the exceptions – rather than the 97% who are responsible for the success of the business.


The #1 … and #2 … ways businesses flush money down the toilet

#1 – Create policies for 3% of their customers
The hot dog place in Chicago is the perfect example of this. Would more than 3% of the people who walk through the restaurant’s doors do their business without doing business with the restaurant? Yet all of their customers are affected by this policy.

#2 – Create policies for 3% of their employees
The renegades, you might call this 3% of employees. But the other 97% suffer for it. This results in lower morale among all the employees – especially the ones who did nothing wrong. Lower morale leads to lower productivity.

What’s that sound? Oh, that’s the sound of money getting flushed down the toilet!

This 3% rule is a good thing to think about before making any policy decision that affects customers or employees.

We’ve given one example, but there are so many more. What have you seen – as a customer or an employee? How do businesses flush money down the toilet?

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(Image by Leo Reynolds, CC 2.0)

5 replies
  1. Cara
    Cara says:

    When your employees don’t know about your products, you are flushing money down the toilet. I hate it when I’m shopping, have a question about a product, and the person who is “helping” me, knows as little about the product as I do!

  2. Mary-Lynn
    Mary-Lynn says:

    Cara, I’m with you on that. Or how about when you can’t find anyone to help you? I’ll go to a smaller store and pay a higher price to get some quality help when I need it!

  3. rsomers
    rsomers says:

    I completely agree on the foolishness of creating policies for the 3% (it’s usually less than that). My take is that this is often due to fear of confrontation.

    Example: in my workplace (an office) senior management recently sent a memo advising us that, since customers and vendors regularly come through our office, napping on the couch in the public area is forbidden.

    Far fewer than 3% of the 450 employees here would ever nap on that couch. In fact, I’d venture to say that only one person has ever napped there. And that person should be dealt with directly. Take them aside and say “hey, maybe you missed something, but in a professional office environment we don’t sprawl out and snooze on the furniture.” That would have dealt with the problem directly and effectively.

    Instead, they chose to send a memo. The one person who should get the message may not even read it. Meanwhile, senior management undermines their own credibility by creating the impression that they are focused on trivial issues.


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