Policies, procedures, standards and guidelines — you have to have them. I believe in them. I have written, rewritten, researched and taught others about them during my career as both an overseer of multiple shops and as a trainer in the industry. It seems most conversations with other operators ultimately revolve around what the policies should be, how the procedures need to work or if there is a standard. All of these traits are paramount to running the shop in an effective way. But with all that being said, I do not like needing to have them. You see, once you put into writing what the policy is, it becomes the “law of the land,” and like most laws, it takes an act of Congress to change them. But, I really don’t like them, because sometimes our own policies prevent us from achieving our goals — in particular, our customer satisfaction goals. As the saying in the shop goes, “Customers are like Momma, and if Momma ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy!” As an example of company policy gone wrong: The other day, my wife called our local electric company to ask a question about a recent bill. In our community, the power company is a city-owned entity, the only power company in town and as far as power companies go, a relatively small organization. The point is, everyone who works there is local, all of their customers are local people and my wife and I have done business with them for almost 30 years. My wife called them to ask a question about our bill, and the lady at the power company told her she could not answer my wife’s question because the bill was not in my wife’s name. Never mind the fact that for almost 30 years they have accepted a check with her name on it. Sweet Mrs. Holt wasn’t trying to change the service, add service or cancel anything. She just had a question, but according to the employee, the “company policy” prevented her from answering the question. Irritated, I called the next day and spoke to the same lady, who was humiliated that she couldn’t answer the question for my wife. She then told me the answer, started to apologize and implied that “company policy” prevented her from “achieving the company’s slogan of customer-first blah, blah, blah…” I told her not to apologize but instead commended her for following the policy. I then asked what needed to be done so my wife could inquire about the account. After all, it wasn’t the lady at the power company’s fault — she was just following policy. To give you another example, closer to our industry, last month, I was in a shop on the West Coast and watched as a frustrated technician tried unsuccessfully to explain to a new customer why she needed the new customer’s name and contact information. In her frustration, she finally said, “Honestly, I don’t know why I have to get your contact information. It’s just our policy.” The customer left equally frustrated. He just wanted to get his car serviced. Policy and procedure shouldn’t be the “law of the land” but, rather, a guideline for how and why the shop operates the way it does. Most trainers in our industry use a 90-percent rule, meaning that 90 percent of the time the shop should operate as instructed. The other 10 percent of the time the shop should be flexible enough to meet the customers’ needs. In the case of the lady at the power company, she could have written down the question, verified authorization and called back with the answer. I prefer using word tracts for employees, and hers could have been, “I am sorry. I am not sure what the correct answer is to your question. Let me find out, and call you back.” In the case of the frustrated technician, she could have said, “No problem; let’s get your car taken care of.” She could have then gotten the manager to explain the reason why they needed the information, and then the manager and the customer could decide if getting the customer’s address and phone number was worth losing a customer over. I came across this explanation from Parinita Bahadur, a human resource professional, several years ago about the difference between guideline, procedure, standard and policy: Guideline A piece of advice on how to act in a given situation; recommended but non-mandatory control Example: employment discrimination guidelines, screening guidelines Extras: “guide” + “lines” — meaning instructions for guiding purposes only Procedure A series of detailed steps to accomplish an end; step-by-step instructions for implementation Example: standard operating procedures, a medical procedure Extras: derived from “process” — it’s an established way of doing something Standard Acceptable level of quality or attainment; quantifiable, low-level, mandatory controls Example: standard of living, standard size Extras: “yardstick” — we don’t make or write standards, we follow them Policy Recommended, high-level statement, protecting information across the business; business rules for fair and consistent staff treatment and to ensure compliance Example: dress code policy, sick leave policy, email and Internet policy Extras: “police” — ensure discipline and compliance
No question we need these disciplines in the shop. Without them, we would have chaos and complete inconsistency in how we operate, but remember the 90 percent rule and allow for flexibility. It will give you higher customer satisfaction, more confident employees and a healthier bottom line.