At our local grocery store, there’s a program where young children can get a free apple or banana on each visit. For each child you have, they give you a “kids credit card” with pictures of fruit on it, and when you checkout, you simply present the card to the cashier to receive your fruit. The only rule is: 1 piece of fruit per kid. It’s a fun program and we always appreciate the extra produce.

However, the other day I ran into the store for a quick item while the rest of our family waited in the car. When I got to the cashier, I showed our free fruit card, explained that our kids were in the car, and asked if it was possible to get a piece of fruit. She told me, “No,” and said that I have to have my kids with me to get the fruit. Fair enough.

Or is it?

In a case like this – and in countless other cases your customer service reps will face – discernment is needed. You have to let your people make judgment calls. In this example, while it’s understandable that the grocer doesn’t want to get cheated out of free fruit, their employees must be aware of one key fact: The only way to get a kids credit card is if you have kids. The mere fact that someone is presenting a free fruit card means that they’ve already met the prerequisites (i.e. having children).

Empower your people to override your policies

Policies and procedures can be helpful. But when they prevent you from actually serving your customers, you must examine them more carefully. More than anything, you have to empower your customer service and sales folks. They must have the freedom to override policies when necessary. Let them make judgment calls throughout the day. (And if you’re worried that certain employees will make too many wrong calls, you probably shouldn’t have hired those people in the first place.)

So there’s two lessons:

  1. Hire the right people
  2. Empower them to make important judgment calls (even if it means neglecting certain policies)

Your customers will thank you.

And so will your employees.