The Lost Art of Common Sense

Have you ever wondered where common sense comes into play in decision making? I once encountered an executive who believed that if he could just explain to his customers why he has to charge what he does to make a profit they would understand. In a role reversal exercise, when he was the customer, he finally got the point that if the value isn’t obvious, you will never get the chance to explain it.

Or, how about policies created because a couple of people tried to cheat the system, so the system has been corrected so honest people are treated poorly? Many years ago my husband and I were arriving separately at our son’s baseball game, and I had his coach’s pass and he was planning on paying admission. The gal at the gate said, “Sure, you guys are going to try to both get in free,” and insisted that I pay. I told her I knew my husband wouldn’t do that and I would just wait at the gate. If he paid, I thought it only fair she apologize for assuming the worst. He did pay and she sneered an apology, sure we were the only people in the world who would be honest. How many businesses treat honest customers with suspicion because they once got burned?

Or how about the right hand/left hand issue. Your company policy is to deliver excellent customer service. Unfortunately, your processes aren’t designed to deliver it. Just today I ran into such an issue with the repair of my laptop. It was purchased from a well known manufacturer online a few months ago and has been incurring problems (like blue screens) from the beginning, with more idiosyncrasies in function popping up everyday. Our I/T tech determined there was a bad motherboard. The company, after a long phone call, agreed to order a replacement to it, the hard drive and the key board. Cool, right? So the parts arrive today along with a installation technician. Awesome! Only to find out they sent the wrong parts and there were even more things needing replacement. At this point, I suggested, “Why don’t we just exchange the laptop for a new one?” Surely, it would be faster for me and less expensive for them. I was told by the service tech that they could get in trouble for suggesting it. I talked to his supervisor and he said, without three separate “incidents” they wouldn’t authorize it; it was against policy. I asked “What if you have all your incidents at once—like a motherboard, hard drive, etc.?” Nope, no go. Later that afternoon, I heard from my tech that the company had reconsidered and to call them, give them the work order number and let them know if I would prefer a new laptop or the repair. So I called, gave them the work order number and….we started over, the work number didn’t pull up all the necessary information. By the end of the call they did agree that it made sense to send a new laptop, but it would be refurbished and maximum delivery time would be 3-4 weeks. Or I could get new parts, have them delivered the following working day to a technician who would install them same day. What I chose isn’t as important as why these teams—the repair people, and the customer service people—don’t work together and use common sense to see that at some point, they are spending more money to repair than to replace.

How many times have you heard business owners say, “I have to be reasonable in what I do for customers; I don’t want to lose money”? What is often not understood is that the cost of not making a customer happy is far more than the cost of the transaction. The true cost is the cost of a lost lifetime customer, and the cost of losing potential customers who are told their story. Sometimes a small loss on one transaction has big returns in the future.

Businesses that know better than customers, who set policies based on one bad apple and then then spoil it for everybody, who don’t communicate from one silo to the next making the customer carry the burden, or those that insist on holding their ground when they are “right”, may feel righteous, but lack basic business sense. Customers aren’t always right, but their perceptions are valuable.

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