When should the customer come first?

When should the customer come first?

When should the customer come first? When you are running a business, it is good business sense to have processes in place that everyone needs to abide by. It improves customer service ultimately. That is when they are well thought through.

Empower your staff on the ground. They have the intel!

Test your SOPs, get feedback from your staff on the ground and, once the processes are implemented, train your staff to use them and enforce them. However,  and most importantly, empower them to recognise that there are times that the rules don’t make sense and processes should be tweaked. Obviously the larger the organisation, the harder this is to monitor, but that shouldn’t stop you empowering your staff to flag when things don’t work. It’s your staff that get the flak from the customers at the end of the day, not top management. An example of this in action is one hotel I know that gives their frontline staff a daily budget to delight guests and carte blanche to bend the rules in favour of delivering excellent customer service.

What am I talking about here? Banishing rules for rules’ sake that are enforced “to the letter” despite the customer trying to reason the lack of logic. In other words, not caring about the question – when should the customer come first?

That’s how my mum’s always done it

when should the customer come first

It reminds me of the story of the leg of lamb. I always use this example in my training. You’ve probably heard it, or a version of it, before but, just in case, let me tell it here.

There was a newly married couple. On their first Sunday married, the wife prepared Sunday roast, a leg of lamb. Her new husband watched her prepare it and, as she chopped off the end of the joint and discarded it, he asked her why since there was plenty of room in the roasting tray for the full joint. Her reply was that it was what her mother always did, so she followed.

The next time he visited his in-laws, the husband made it a point to ask his mother-in-law why she always chopped off the end of the joint. The mother-in-law replied that she wished she could cook the full joint but her roasting tin was too small to fit the whole leg.

The daughter had followed her mother’s processes without questioning why.

If it doesn’t make sense, question why!

If it creates friction in customer service, question why!

When should the customer come first?

What inspired this post today? As with a lot of my posts related to customer service, or lack of it, this piece is inspired by a visit to the bank today.

I had to make a visit to submit a form. Yes, even in this digital age and despite Covid, the bank isn’t up to digital transformation. Sigh.  Anyhow. Needs must. So I submitted the form and was told to wait outside the branch (Covid safety). The staff came back after a long wait to say my postcode was wrong.  This is something I’d been through with them at length mid last year. The postcode I use is correct. I should know.  It’s my office. I work there. I signed the lease – the one with the postcode on it. The bank seems to feel it should be another number belonging to a building across the square, NOT my office.

It was my bad. I should have used the number the bank had and was happy to change it to whatever they had in their records. “Just tell me which postcode you want me to put and I’ll countersign the change,” I said in resignation, just hoping to complete the visit quickly. This was done and off he went to get approval once again, only to return with the observation that the phone number I had put as my business line was wrong.

I’m sorry? Wrong? Now I don’t know my own phone number as well? He explained that it wasn’t in their records. Aah. OK, so it wasn’t wrong then. Just not known. I said it had changed last year and that it was correct. I asked if he could change it in their records. My signature was now on this form twice after all. Surely that was authorisation enough?

But nooooo.


That would be too easy.  I would need to fill out another form for that. Could I step back into the bank, he asked, to complete the form.

I didn’t have the time to go through that. Last experience in the same branch to fill out the change of address form took over an hour and then another three months to get them to accept an address they thought was valid. I didn’t have any reason to believe changing the phone number would go any more smoothly. Again I asked:  what phone number would you like me to put? Would my mobile be OK? You have that on file.

He agreed and I countersigned the change. Three signatures on one form now.

At least I had the form submitted and could get on with my day. But it still left me wondering – when should the customer come first?

How it could (should) have gone …

Can I check your postcode and phone number as they don’t match our records? (.i.e. get all info at one time and check it in one conversation rather than going back and forth.)

After my explanation on both points …

OK. I understand. Could I trouble you to change the postcode to the one we have agreed to have on file while I update your new phone number in our records since the signature here matches our records.

I know that’s asking a bit much.  They have rules in place and there’s data protection to consider and all that. But do they serve? When should the customer come first? Could staff be empowered to update contact records on the spot with a signed authority that can be scanned and filed as proof? I may have left as a happy customer.


I’d like to think my customers aren’t put to unnecessary trouble just to follow rules for rules’ sake. I hope yours aren’t too.


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