Crazy Things Companies Do: Why Let HR Policies Drive Customers Away?

Can highly personalized customer service and HR policies co-exist? (Photo by istockphoto.com)

Karen works in the post office four blocks from my house. She’s an institution in my neighborhood.

She’s friendly, informed, incredibly patient. She has a brother, and loves Prince and roller coasters. I don’t visit her often, but whenIi do, it’s always a pleasure.

The reason I know so much about Karen is because her slot at the homely post office is chock-a-block full of her personality.

There’s the photo of her at Dorney Park, screaming while on a roller coaster. The purple needlepoint tissue cover with Prince’s emblem. There’s another photo of her and her brother hamming it up with celebrity wax figures, and, many other personal effects.

Why the personal touch really matters

And truly, I’m not so daft as to enjoy going to the post office. The lines are agonizingly long and the environment — excluding Karen’s cheery spot —miserable. But somehow, Karen rises above all of this.

Every day, day after day, she stands within her carefully crafted haven and guides mail-challenged people like me (should I send it certified, express mail, insured mail, or registered mail?!) to the right solution — no more, no less. Amidst the anger and irritation that accompanies any post office experience, she maintains a level disposition I’ll never know.

If you were her boss, what would you do: cheer her on? Instruct her to train others? Give her a raise?

Here’s what her boss did: He told her to clean up her act. Literally. Box up that tissue cover. Strip down the walls. Pack away those photos. Seems the policy manual frowns on personal effects as unsuitable décor for a government institution.

I don’t visit Karen anymore. Turns out what made visiting her worth the extra blocks and the wait was her flair.

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Do HR policies create barriers for customers?

Now I visit the independent competitor a half block from my house, the one that never has a line, lets me drop off boxes and, if i’m in a hurry, come back to pay when it suits my schedule. They call my house when they receive a package for me, and provide other concierge-like services that help me get over the premium they charge.

Imagine — all this time I added hassle to my life because of Karen’s uniqueness.

Here’s the point: we think our HR policies affect only those within the company’s walls, but these policies also create barriers between companies and their customers, stripping them of that little sumthin’ sumthin’ that keeps customers coming back.

Ciao, Karen. Tell your boss it was real.

This article was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.

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7 Comments on “Crazy Things Companies Do: Why Let HR Policies Drive Customers Away?

  1. I see both sides of this and lean towards the clean and uncluttered work space policy. Karen's manager may have recieved complaints about her workspace from other customers to the point her manager had to take action.

    Many times I have been been turned off by cluttered and messy personalized workspaces that leave me with a bad impression of the organization.

  2. Though it is true that we all like to be in contact with people who have a pleasant personality, the problem is that we don't always agree on what that means (i may like something that you dislike).

    I therefore tend to agree with Rich – in some business areas, personalizing your workspace can be very useful, but when dealing with the public, i think it has both advantages and disadvantages and since managers are probably not willing to take any risks, most of them will decide to discourage such practices.

    And finally, as much as i like personalized workplaces, that is not one of the reasons that make me choose a specific postal office (or any provider for the services i need).

  3. This is a great post and I can really relate — we have a grocery checker like that. Her line is always the longest because people want to interact with her. In fact, she was recently featured on CBS http://huff.to/b4Bxpm . I've been thinking about this because I am conducting a search for a VP, Compensation & Benefits for a major restaurant chain — they “get” the connection between the employee experience and the customer experience — their commitment to an outstanding customer experience translates to how they treat their employees. You've got to love that.

    Thanks for sharing this important thought.

  4. i think you nailed it with the “because people want to interact with her.” for me, that's the essence of what karen pulled off. people don't mind waiting in line because she turns the post office into a community hangout, she makes you laugh as you wait, and she's focused on helping you get the right solution. it's less about her personal stuff decorating her cube and more about her personal vibe affecting us all.

    f

  5. gabriel and rich, trust me, if karen didn't deliver premier customer service, no fancy or festive decor would've caught my attention. like chris, i believe the manager focused on the wrong thing — a blanket policy, not individual behavior.

    f

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