Rigid policies that aren’t meant to protect safety or the bottom line can harm customer impressions. For an immediate customer service improvement, consider changing or flexing polices that make little sense.

A case in point where a customer service improvement is needed comes out of Malaysia.

I was passing through Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Malaysia, returning from a live web-cast presentation on a new e-learning channel.

One of my small indulgences after a good presentation is the soft chocolate-and-vanilla swirled ice cream available at the quick service restaurant just before Immigration at KLIA.

A young staff member was at the ice-cream machine. I asked her for the vanilla-and-chocolate swirl in an ice-cream sundae cup with a squirt of chocolate syrup on top. (I don’t have this very often, but when I do, I enjoy it.)

She said that I could only have the sundae with vanilla ice cream, not the vanilla and chocolate swirl. The three small nozzles for dispensing vanilla, chocolate and vanilla-and-chocolate were located side by side.

I asked again, very nicely, for her to use the vanilla-and-chocolate nozzle instead of the plain vanilla. Again, she declined. “The sundae comes with vanilla,” she said, “not with vanilla-and-chocolate.”

I’d had the sundae with vanilla-and-chocolate in the very same restaurant a few months earlier. I explained this to her and asked once more, hoping for a customer service improvement. Once again, she declined.

The store manager agreed with the staff: vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream was definitely not part of the sundae.

I pressed for a win-win solution to this unusual policy that called for a customer service improvement in a big way. The manager said, “You can buy the large ice cream cone in vanilla-and-chocolate, and then we can give you a plastic cup to put it in to make a sundae.”

“But what will I do with the ice-cream cone?” I wondered out loud.

Without a moment’s pause she replied, “You can throw it away.”

And that is exactly what we did.

I bought the large vanilla-and-chocolate ice-cream cone and the manager gave me the plastic cup for a sundae. I turned the vanilla-and-chocolate ice cream out of the cone and into the cup, and threw away the cone.

Then the young staff member politely put a squirt of chocolate syrup on top – exactly what I had wanted from the beginning.

But there was a bonus: the price of a sundae was $2.50, while the price of the large cone was only $1.60. They insisted on charging me only for the price of the large cone. Since they couldn’t figure out what else to do, the plastic cup and squirt of chocolate syrup were free.

The staff members did their jobs here, but the policy in question needs a customer service improvement. Baffling protocols damage customer relations and leave frontline people in difficult situations.

Key Learning Point To Make A Policy-Related Customer Service Improvement

In a world where customer choice is only a nozzle away, staff must be given the authority and responsibility to make obvious decisions in favor of the customer, and the company. Rigid policies can often benefit from a customer service improvement. Left alone, they limit choice and force staff into bizarre situations. The policies are often the problem, not the staff, nor the cone, nor the nozzles.

Action Steps To Make A Customer Service Improvement

What policies do you have in place that make your customers laugh (or cry)? What standards do your staff routinely run around to make an instant customer service improvement? Is tighter adherence to standards and controls the best or only answer? It’s a vanilla and chocolate world out there – make sure your staff and your policies adapt. Consider a customer service improvement you can make in regard to policies.