Minding Your Own Brand: Why can’t I get that with whipped cream?

18839803_mA few years ago, some friends and I were on our yearly trip to Nantucket. According to ritual, we stopped by our favorite ice cream shop as soon as we got off the boat. My friend asked for whipped cream on his small cup of chocolate ice cream. The clerk proceeded to tell him that whipped cream only comes with sundaes. Thinking it was a cost issue, he offered to pay the extra twenty-five cents that they charge to put candy on a cup of ice cream, which he felt would surely cover the cost of a squirt of whipped cream. The clerk refused the offer saying that was the only the “candy charge” and there is no way to charge him for just whipped cream. She went on to say, “The shop policy is that whipped cream can only be put on sundaes.” So in order to get whipped cream, he would have to order a sundae with no hot fudge, no nuts and no cherry.

He settled for his chocolate ice cream without the added calories, but for the rest of the weekend weall had to listen as he told the entire island (or at least the half that would listen) how ridiculous this policy was. Needless to say, we did not pay a visit to that shop on our way back to the boat, and it wasn’t our first stop on the island the next year.

Small things can turn a basic interaction into an extraordinary customer experience or a massive disappointment. This story illustrates how a too restrictive policy hurt the clerk’s chance to be extraordinary and ruined any chance of maintaining my friend as an advocate. All too often businesses that claim to be creating better and more standardized customer experiences end up micromanaging their way out of customer loyalty by creating inflexible rules and policies.

Honestly, I don’t know why the “no whipped cream” policy was in effect. Maybe it had something to do with inventory control, maybe the clerk didn’t know how to ring it up because it was not a standard sale, or maybe the manager emphasized during training to only put whipped cream on sundaes. Whatever the reason, the clerk didn’t feel empowered to solve the problem and create an extraordinary customer experience, and, therefore, the policy hurt long-term customer loyalty.

Instead of trying to create specific rules that dictate how employees should act in all situations, small businesses must instead examine all aspects of their business and define broader goals and values that guide the organization. The small business can then put employees in control of living up to these broader guidelines and encourage their staff to be responsible for determining what is adding to or subtracting from the customer experience and act accordingly.

The customer is NOT always right, but if you want to retain a loyal patron, you need to do everything you can to ensure that they have an extraordinary experience each and every time they are with you. By outlining the broader goals and values for the organization to follow, the employees are able to interact with the customer in a way that seems right for the situation, instead of going through a predefined set of motions that does not fit the situation and will never result in a positive outcome.

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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