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  • Writer's pictureJesse Good

3 Times I Broke the Rules (And Got Away With It)

Confession: I am a rule breaker. A policy bender. A statute flouter! “Why?” you might ask. Because I work in customer service.

The customer is always right, right? So what happens when your customer brings their own food into your establishment when you have


printed on your front door in twelve-inch letters?

The idea behind this policy is simple; if a customer cannot bring in their own food, they have to buy yours. I have spent a fair share of my career working in leisure and entertainment, so this is not a foreign policy to me. I don’t personally have any issues with this kind of policy. However, if your company policy is, “The Customer is Always Right,” AND you also have a company policy that states that there is, “No Outside Food or Drink Allowed,” you will need to decide which policy trumps the other.

Let’s put this into a real scenario and see what you would do. You work in a place that has a "no outside food" police, and a customer enters your establishment with food from another vendor. What do you do?

  • Not worry about it. They are a customer, and THE customer is always right.

  • Politely remind the guest for their next visit that no outside food or drink is allowed.

  • Ask them to put their food (like a pizza for example) in one of your boxes so that other customers won’t see it. You don’t want other guests to think it is okay to bring in outside food.

  • Curl up in a corner and cry because you don’t know what to do.

  • Ask them to throw it away.

  • Better yet, throw it away yourself.

  • Ask them to take it back outside. (For the service impaired, this is equivalent to asking them to leave. For the really service impaired, this is also the equivalent of telling them that you don’t want their business or their money.)

These answers were easy for me to come up with, because I have seen EVERY one of them in action. One of these infractions came from a district manager while two others were enacted by two different general managers (and I'm not talking about the first two suggestions). You’d think they would know better.

Just food for thought (pun intended), if a guest brings outside food into your business, there is a good chance that they do not know your policy on outside food. If they don’t know the policy, what is the most likely reason? They probably have not been to your establishment before (they are a first-time buyer). One of my favorite managers used to say,

“You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”

If a customer does not know your food policy because it is their first time to your business, you will NOT make a great first impression by asking them to get rid of their food, or better yet, asking them to leave and eat it outside. If someone calls ahead and asks about food, explain the policy. But if they have already arrived with food, tread lightly, the customer holds the trump card.

Following are three specific situations where your organization may see fit to break the rules for the benefit of your customer…and your business.

When You Are Putting People Before Policies. As I mentioned, I have seen a general manager ask a group to leave and take their outside food. If this doesn’t seem like a serious infraction, let me shed some further light. It was late at night and all of our food service equipment was shut down. When you are more concerned with the policy than people, you make bad decisions that discourage repeat business from your clients. Your desire to get more money has caused you to lose money. Imagine if I had hesitated in breaking the “No Lane Reservation” rule with a loyal guest who brought in over twenty people weekly. Read more about it here.

When it’s Easier For the Customer or the Company (or Both). I have been privy to a variety of situations, inside and outside the entertainment industry. Working in a corporate office environment, I have seen clients acquire products from a company without the necessary paperwork in place. However, because at that moment it was easiest, and made sense for the client, it was okay to break the rules. These were situations where perhaps the paperwork had been signed but not sent, or maybe the client had already paid, so products were shipped knowing the paperwork would soon follow.

When It’s the Right Thing To Do. In another venue where I worked, a customer had purchased an entertainment package from us only to learn ten minutes later that her father was in the hospital. When she explained her situation and asked for a refund, the manager on duty didn’t waste time explaining the “No Refund” policy. He simply gave her money back in exchange for her passes, and wished her well in checking on her father. Similarly, when I worked in a video store (back when they existed), the first task each morning upon opening the store was to check-in movies from the outside drop box. Anything that was due the day before (i.e. dropped off between closing the night before and opening that following morning), we would cancel the late fees.


According to Janelle Barlow and Dianna Maul’s Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds with Your Customers

  • Only 14% of customers who switch providers do it because they are unhappy with the quality of the product—most make the move because they are dissatisfied with the service they received.

  • The cost of gaining a new customer is nearly five times that of keeping an existing client.

  • The best service providers keep their customers nearly 50% longer than their competitors.

Knowing the value of a customer affirms that it makes sense to break the rules from time to time. This shows your customers that your organization cares more about their needs then just making money. Helping your clients understand their value to your organization is a great way to create loyal customers with lasting business relationships.

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Jesse B Good

Speaker, Author, Customer Experience Marketing Expert

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