Turn grey areas of customer service blue

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Recently, I had the experience of booking a conference for a very special inaugural event. It was a significant milestone for us, with much excitement and anticipation leading up to it.

Unfortunately, our experience during the booking and planning phase led to a feeling of disappointment and dread. I’ll spare you the full story, but I will provide one major detail: the event staff refused to speak to us on the phone. All correspondence was to be via email. You can imagine the nervousness and frustration this policy created for us. The rigidity of their communication meant that by the time we got to the day of our conference, we had very little confidence or trust in the venue.

No matter how efficient you are at following rules, they can cloud your judgement about how to meet your customer’s needs.

From our point of view, as a customer, it appeared that the staff at the venue had not been empowered to make decisions that fell outside of their rulebook. No-one wins in this situation. It’s incredibly frustrating for employees to feel their hands are tied and they can’t make a decision outside of the rules.

In today’s demanding, confusing and ever-changing world, we are continually living in the grey. Taking a rigid approach to work and life will therefore make things challenging – we all need to be able to bend and flex a little to suit different situations, and to keep an open mind. Policies, procedures and rules are usually put in place for good reasons, but context is everything – and if a customer’s needs change, sometimes the rules need to change. Staff need to be empowered to make good judgement calls and decisions in a leader’s absence.

In the Service Habits book, Habit 20 is Bend Blue Rules. ‘Blue rules’ apply to decisions that can’t harm the organisation in any way – such as operational procedure or a refund policy – meaning they can be broken if necessary. Not everything is black or white, and blue rules allow staff to feel empowered when they’re working in the grey!

Blue is the colour of calm and creativity – who wouldn’t want that in service staff, prepared to think about alternative solutions for the customer’s satisfaction? By establishing what rules can be bent and giving teams a framework for how to speak to the customer, they become more confident about dealing with grey areas.

“Rules exist to serve people, not enslave them.”

– Jaquie Scammell


Where do you see an opportunity to be more adaptable in your own role?


Take a set of standards or procedures you have in place currently and map them alongside various customer scenarios. How bendy are you? Can you see alternative ways to meet customer needs, if the opportunity arises?

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